Friday, April 19, 2024

The Ocean Breeze issue, festival conflicts and other news of note


More Ocean Breeze

Here are some cold-eyed thoughts after Monday’s Boca Raton City Council discussion of the city’s western golf course and the Ocean Breeze course at Boca Teeca.

First, it would be in the city’s best financial interest to simply get the best offer for the municipal course and sell the land. Major developers have made offers or sent letters of interest for the property north of Glades Road just west of the Florida Turnpike. The city has received seven proposals, and more may be coming. Open land anywhere in South Florida is rare. Open tracts of this size—roughly 200 acres—are even rarer.

For Boca Raton, the 27-hole course is a loser. It ran a deficit of $232,000 last year. Other golf courses in the area —Mizner Trail, Hidden Valley—have closed in the last several years. According to the National Golf Foundation, the number of players nationwide peaked at 30 million in 2005 and has declined to about 25 million.

Second, Boca Teeca’s fight to keep Lennar Corp., or any other company from developing Ocean Breeze is not Boca Raton’s fight.

Some Boca Teeca residents contend that legal documents show that the land must remain a golf course, or at least open space. Boca Del Mar residents made that argument in their attempt to keep development off the former Mizner Trail Golf Course. They lost.       More important, the city is not part of the Boca Teeca fight, and the council should not inject the city into it.

Cities, of course, are not corporations. Roughly 3,000 people live in Boca Teeca, and the city holds elections in March. Boca Teeca residents turned out Monday because Mayor Susan Haynbie has reversed her position on wanting the city out of the golf course business. Those residents see the perfect solution: Boca sells the western golf course to Lennar, which then conveys Ocean Breeze to the city.

If Boca Raton makes that result the priority, however, the city gives up most of its bargaining power over the coveted western course. The council might as well tell the staff to negotiate a deal with Lennar.

Councilman Robert Weinroth correctly called the two issues “concurrent,” not a package. Why would a redone Ocean Breeze be more successful than the current course? (The National Golf Foundation did find that millennials may be starting the sport in big numbers.) If Boca Raton acquired Ocean Breeze, would a golf course be the best use? What role would there be for the Greater Boca Raton Beach and Park District, with which the city already is arguing over budget and other issues?

An outcome that pleases Boca Teeca and benefits the wider city may be possible. But Councilman Scott Singer was wrong to call the many issues “not all that complex.” City Manager Leif Ahnell correctly responded that “multiple parties” are involved.

One is Palm Beach County. The western golf course is on county land. Any sale price would depend on how much the buyer can build. Even if the city gets a reasonable guess from the county, any sale would be contingent on county commission approval.

Haynie told me Monday that deals like this happen regularly between private companies. The city’s role makes things more complicated. Haynie ended the discussion by saying, “There’s more work to be done.” Much more.

One more festival down

Delray Beach is losing another festival, as the city’s new policy on special events kicks in.

City Manager Don Cooper said Nancy Stewart-Franczak, a principal in Festival Management Group, informed the city that she had withdrawn her request to stage the Wine and Seafood Festival in November. Stewart-Franczak earlier had moved Garlic Fest to John Prince Park west of Lake Worth after the city denied her request to hold the event downtown next February.

In an interview with the Sun-Sentinel, Stewart-Franczak complained that even though Delray Beach had approved the Wine and Seafood Festival, the process took so long that it left her with inadequate time to plan. As Cooper said, however, the organizer “is part of that process, and the process is dependent upon what the city is provided in the application.”

In an email, Assistant City Manager Francine Ramaglia said Delray Beach received the application for the Wine and Seafood Festival on Feb. 18. But it arrived without a site plan, which Ramaglia said is required before the city can begin to process an application.

Ramaglia said the city didn’t receive the site plan until May 11. Twenty days later, the Special Events Technical Advisory Committee gave conditional approval. On June 28, the approval was rescinded because the festival would have been the second major event downtown in November. The new policy is one per month.

On June 28, Ramaglia said, Stewart-Franczak submitted a new site plan. She got conditional approval on July 6. Three weeks later, she cancelled the event. Ramaglia added that “we were told several times prior to and during the application process” that the Wine and Seafood Festival “was likely not to take place.”

During the Garlic Fest debate, Stewart-Franczak angered city commissioners by casting them as opposed to charitable groups that received donations from the event. She also refused to consider a compromise under which she could have held Garlic Fest in February for one more year —while she sought another location in the city—even though doing so would have violated the one-major-event-downtown policy.

In contrast, Mayor Cary Glickstein has praised Howard Alan, who organizes five events in the city. Glickstein and the commissioners asked for the new policy because residents complained that the high number of events was disruptive. The new policy seeks to reduce the number of events, especially downtown.

Ramaglia confirmed that Alan has agreed to drop three craft festivals and keep the Thanksgiving Weekend Art Festival and the Downtown Festival of the Arts in January. The change will further the commission’s goal of going for quality over quantity in special events.

Organizers also will have to deal with Delray Beach’s new cost structure. The city wants to recover all costs resulting from events. Ramaglia said those expenses include public safety, maintenance and public works, as well as administrative costs and parking charges, “which are based on number of spaces per day.”

Though the special event policy is set, the debate obviously continues. Stewart-Franczak’s website still is advertising the Bacon & Bourbon Fest in March and Delray Affair in April. Glickstein told me Monday that he expects some discussion of the policy at the Aug. 16 city commission meeting, the first after the summer break.

And in Boca?

And now downtown special events aren’t just an issue in Delray Beach.

At Monday’s Boca Raton City Council workshop, the organizer of the Boca Raton Fine Arts Show said staff had told her that she wouldn’t be able to hold the event next January, the usual date. Patty Narozny said she had received the news just two months ago, which didn’t leave her enough time to seek a new location. The festival is held on Federal Highway north of Palmetto Park Road.

Like Nancy Stewart-Franczak, Narozny related the history of her event and touted its successes. Like city commissioners in Delray, Boca city council members had discussed at their annual goal-setting session the need to cut the number of downtown events as more and more projects draw people to live downtown.

On Monday, Councilman Robert Weinroth reminded Narozny that the new Hyatt Place Hotel would open soon, on the southeast corner of Federal Highway and Palmetto Park Road. Also coming soon are the apartments at Via Mizner, at Federal and Camino Real. Narozny and others, Weinroth said, would have to look for other locations.

Unlike Stewart-Franczak, Narozny seems ready to take the council’s offer of one more January date on Federal Highway. City Manager Leif Ahnell confirmed that staff had notified Narozny in mid-June, after the goal-setting session in May. Narozny said alternative sites could include even Florida Atlantic University. The council made clear, however gently, that Narozny needs to start looking for one soon.

Waterfront land referendum

At tonight’s meeting, some supporters of the deceptive waterfront land referendum again may ask the Boca Raton City Council to adopt the ordinance. It won’t happen.

Mayor Susan Haynie and council members Mike Mullaugh, Jeremy Rodgers and Robert Weinroth told me that they would vote to place the referendum on the Nov. 30 ballot. I did not hear back from Scott Singer.

Adopting the ordinance, which would restrict city-owned land along the Intracoastal Waterway to a few public uses, would kill the deal to put a Hillstone restaurant on the Wildflower property near the Palmetto Park Road Bridge and bring the city millions in lease payments. Securing the lease has been a council priority for several years. Organizers of the petition drive for the referendum live near the site and oppose the restaurant.

Train accident

The death of a woman on the FEC railroad tracks in Delray Beach is as baffling as it is tragic.

Why did Robin and William Landes, who lived in Boca Raton’s Hidden Valley neighborhood, try to cross the tracks roughly 50 yards north of the crossing at Atlantic Avenue last Wednesday evening? What caused Robin Landes to fall? Why was William Landes unable to get his wife out of the way in time?

The tragedy was compounded a day later, when the Landes’ daughter found her father dead in his home. Grade crossings are maintained to provide the safest places for pedestrians to cross, but people cross at many unauthorized places, to save time.

According to a Delray Beach police spokeswoman, the Palm Beach County Medical Examiner’s Office did toxicology tests on Robin Landes. The results haven’t been announced. The department has no plans for a public education campaign on train safety because the incident “thankfully, doesn’t appear to be a trend.”

Still, another 32 trains are supposed to be running on those tracks next year when All Aboard Florida’s Brightline passenger service begins. That will mean 32 more reasons not take a short cut.

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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