Monday, May 20, 2024

Delray’s Uptown Project Goes Up in Price, Boca Watch Questions, and More



The developer who wants another chance to buy six acres of public land in Delray Beach has raised his price from $1.2 million to $2 million.

That’s the headline in the purchase agreement between the city’s community redevelopment agency and John Flynn of Palm Beach Gardens-based Equity Enterprises. The CRA had set a deadline of Friday to reach the new deal. Flynn had one from 2013, when the CRA chose him to develop the three blocks east of the Fairfield Inn. But the CRA terminated the deal three years later because Flynn couldn’t get financing.

The CRA, whose board now includes the city commission and two appointed members, will debate the agreement at its Aug. 15 meeting. The board could reject it, but that’s unlikely. The new commission abolished the CRA board right after the March election. Flynn asked for a second chance in April. The new commission/CRA majority has made clear that Flynn is its man.

If approval comes, Flynn would have 90 days to inspect the property. After that, he would have 120 days to apply for permits. Some approvals remain from Flynn’s first attempt with what he called Uptown Atlantic, but the development application must be updated.

Thirty days after Flynn obtained permits would come the closing on those six acres. Following the closing, Flynn would have 300 days to start construction, meaning the start of site preparation, defined as “excavation, fencing of the project site, installation of the construction trailer, the clearing of the property and the pouring of the foundation for the first building within the project.” If that didn’t happen, the city could buy back the land.

Mayor Shelly Petrolia and others on the CRA have said they favor going with Flynn because he could complete the project quicker than a new bidder. Under this new schedule, though, work might not start for about 18 months. And any emergency declaration that covers Delray Beach would further stretch that out.

One of the priorities for whatever project goes on this site is a grocery store to serve residents along West Atlantic Avenue. The agreement calls for a store of at least 22,000 square feet, but it doesn’t specify a chain grocer. The hope has been for a Publix. And if Flynn couldn’t find a grocer within two years after closing, he could lease that space—the easternmost block—to a “mutually agreeable tenant.”

The project would be compromised of three buildings. It would have at least 112 apartments—with 20 percent of them designed as workforce housing—50,000 square feet of retail and 23,000 square feet of Class A office space. Flynn also would have to give consideration to existing tenants on the property.

Petrolia and Flynn’s other supporters will note that $800,000 increase in the purchase price. It still remains, however, well below figures in letters of interest from other developers. It’s even farther below the appraised value of $15.5 million. And under the agreement, the city might have to pay Flynn $400,000 if he met infrastructure and hiring goals. So the city would get $1.6 million for those six acres, not $2 million.

I will have more before that Aug. 15 CRA meeting.

Singer files complaints                                     

Acting Mayor Scott Singer

Boca Raton Mayor Scott Singer has filed complaints with the Florida Elections Commission against BocaWatch and Publisher Al Zucaro, who is challenging Singer in the Aug. 28 special election.

Singer contends that Zucaro is operating the BocaWatch website as an “unregistered political committee” to support his candidacy. BocaWatch, Singer said, is Zucaro’s “campaign mouthpiece, generating favorable uncharged, reported coverage to his campaign and other allies running for local office.”

Last week, BocaWatch endorsed Kathy Cottrell in the Seat A race. Cottrell has the endorsement of Councilwoman Andrea O’Rourke, whom BocaWatch and Zucaro backed in 2017.

Singer also argues that Zucaro uses BocaWatch to raise money for his campaign and its email list to promote himself.

“No reasonable review of BocaWatch,” Singer said in the complaint, “could conclude that it is a legitimate press entity.”

Zucaro has registered BocaWatch as a non-profit company, so it doesn’t have to file a tax return that would show its sources of income. Zucaro could disclose them on his own, but he has declined to do so. He has said that BocaWatch operates on “advertising and contributions.”

With his complaint, Singer is accusing Zucaro of running campaign contributions through BocaWatch, to avoid the disclosure that comes in financial reports filed with the city. Singer notes that BocaWatch once operated a political action committee—whose contributions must be reported to the statez—but closed it last year.

None of this will be resolved before the election. If contributions are going to Zucaro’s campaign through BocaWatch, however, that is the sort of “dark money” that BocaWatch has criticized when it has gone to candidates Zucaro doesn’t like. And win or lose in three weeks, Zucaro will be around, and the state will decide whether there is probable cause to investigate. Disclosing where BocaWatch gets its money would be the sort of transparency Zucaro often demands of others.

In an email, Zucaro said Singer’s complaints contain “errors of fact and law,” but he did not have a “specific rebuttal.”

FAU conspiracy theorist files appeal

Former Florida Atlantic University Professor James Tracy, who lost his job and then his lawsuit against FAU, is appealing that defeat in court.

Last December, a federal jury ruled that FAU had fired Tracy not for falsely claiming in a personal blog that the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting was a hoax, but because he had failed to properly disclose the blog to the university. In their brief to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Tracy’s attorneys cite four issues for review: whether the blog disclosure policy is “unconstitutionally vague,” whether the policy “inherently constitutes a content-based viewpoint discriminatory violation of the First Amendment,” whether U.S District Court Judge Robin Rosenberg “erred” in resolving Tracy’s First Amendment claims and whether “any reasonable jury could have concluded that controversial blogging was not a motivating factor in FAU’s decision to fire Tracy.”

What Tracy calls “controversial blogging,” though, was a falsehood. The Sandy Hook shooting did happen. Twenty first-graders and six faculty members did die.

Coincidentally, some Sandy Hook parents last week asked a federal judge in Texas to allow their defamation suit against Alex Jones to proceed. His Infowars website promoted the Sandy Hook hoax along with multiple other crackpot conspiracy theories.

One of those couples who lost a child told The New York Times that they have had to move seven times since the shooting because Jones’ followers find their address and harass them. In December 2015, Tracy sent a letter to the South Florida Sun Sentinel. He accused those parents of “profiting handsomely from the fake death of their son.” Tracy blamed the tone on his being “distraught.”

Tracy’s lead attorney shares his client’s sentiment. After the verdict, he said reporters had reported the Sandy Hook shooting “as if it actually happened.” But plaintiffs don’t get to appeal just because they lost. They must cite mistakes that could have resulted in a different outcome. There is no timetable for 11th Circuit to decide whether it will hear Tracy’s appeal.

Delray police shooting

Something happened Saturday in Delray Beach for the first time in 13 years—a police officer fatally shot a suspect.

According to the department, two officers answered a call at about 6:30 a.m. that 38-year-old John Randolph had threatened his mother with a gun. He had been living in his parents’ Homewood Park neighborhood home.

The officers attempted to speak with Randolph, but he “was not cooperative, appearing agitated, shouting and refusing to come out.” Just before 8, the department said, Randolph ran out of the house “brandishing a handgun.” At least one officer fired. The two officers—Christine Suarez and Tremayne Barnes—are on paid leave while the Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigates the shooting.

Based on that early report, this fatal officer-involved shooting won’t generate anything like the last one did. In 2005, Officer Darren Cogoni, a white man, shot and killed 16-year-old Jerrod Miller, an African-American. Miller had been at a school dance.

The case had nuance. Cogoni fired at Miller’s car as he drove away, so the car wasn’t a threat. But Miller was unlicensed. His uncle had given Miller his car.

Still, the case ended inconclusively and badly. Then-State Attorney Barry Krischer ordered an inquest, with a judge finding probable cause to charge Cogoni with manslaughter. Krischer, though, then took the case to a grand jury, which declined to indict Cogoni.

The department did fire Cogoni. The city settled a federal lawsuit with Miller’s family for $1 million.

Kevin McCarty

Kevin McCarty died Sunday of pancreatic cancer.

The husband of ex-Palm Beach County Commissioner Mary McCarty went to prison in 2009 after pleading guilty to federal charges that he didn’t turn in his wife for voting repeatedly to give his firm bond underwriting business that brought him $300,000 in commissions. Mary McCarty was sentenced a few months later.

The McCartys also accepted roughly $10,000 worth of free or discounted lodging from Delray Beach-based Ocean Properties. Mary McCarty also voted to give Ocean Properties the contract for a convention center hotel that did not get built.

Mary McCarty started out in Delray Beach politics three decades ago and reportedly remains involved. Kevin McCarty was 69.

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Randy Schultz
Randy Schultz
Randy Schultz, a native of Hartford, Connecticut, has been a South Florida journalist since 1974. He worked for The Miami Herald until 1976 and for The Palm Beach Post from 1976 until 2014, where he served as managing editor and editorial page editor. Since 2014, he has written a politics blog, commentaries and other articles for Boca magazine. His writing has earned first-place awards from the Florida Magazine Association and the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors. Randy has lived in Boca Raton with his wife, Shelley Huff-Schultz, since 1985. His son, daughter-in-law and their three children also live in Boca Raton.

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