Ocean Breeze proposals sail in, Delray is deadlocked and other news and notes

Golfball on yellow tee.

At Monday’s workshop meeting, the Boca Raton City Council will review nine proposals for purchase of the western golf course. If the council decides to take any formal action, such as selling the course, it will happen at Tuesday’s regular meeting.

The offers range from $45 million to $73 million for the nearly 200 acres. Interest will be highest around the offer from Lennar, which proposes a deal under which Lennar would convey to the city the roughly 200 acres of the Ocean Breeze course in Boca Teeca.

Wells Fargo owns the property. Lennar has a contract to buy it. Mayor Susan Haynie set the idea of a swap in motion last summer, when she changed her mind about wanting to “get the city out of the golf course business.”

With that in mind, here are a few observations ahead of this big vote:

— Boca Teeca residents have organized a campaign called Keep Golf In Boca. A more honest name would be Keep Development Off Ocean Breeze.

Wells Fargo closed the course last summer. A deed restriction, which only Boca Teeca unit owners can lift, limits use of the land to golf. But fewer and fewer Boca Teeca residents wanted to become members of Ocean Breeze. The number of rounds dwindled, as did the money to maintain the course. It’s happening to courses throughout Palm Beach County.

If Ocean Breeze continued to deteriorate, pressure might build to allow development. Nine years ago, the community did approve development on a portion of the course, but the project never was built. Turning Ocean Breeze into a city course would solve Boca Teeca’s problem. One almost could call it a bailout. The question will be whether the bailout also would benefit the city.

— If the city council likes the Lennar proposal, one key point will be the supposed value of Ocean Breeze. Lennar places the value at $10 million, and would deduct that amount from the $51 million the company is offering for the city’s golf course.

But given the deed restriction, is Ocean Breeze really worth that much? Lennar apparently based the value on what it was willing to pay. According to city staff, the company would reimburse the city for an appraisal during the inspection period if council members favored the deal but were skeptical of the value.

— Politics will be a factor, and Ocean Breeze knows it. Boca Teeca Unit Owners Association President Sallie Friedman estimates that about 2,000 voters live within the community. City elections are in March.

Former Councilman Peter Baronoff re-emerged recently, after being out of office for eight years, to support the waterfront ordinance that blocked use of the Wildflower property for a restaurant. Amid talk that he will challenge Mayor Susan Haynie, Baronoff told me last week that he will speak at the meeting in favor of the Lennar deal.

— Boca Teeca will be most unhappy if the council doesn’t go for the Lennar deal. When I asked Friedman about the community’s past resistance to, say, widening Northwest Second Avenue, she said the community “has been nothing but cooperative, and it’s a two-way street.” As for the idea that the city might use the land for non-golf recreation, Friedman said, “We want a golf course.”

— Several policy decisions are involved. Does the city want to retain an 18-hole golf course, as opposed to just the pitch-and-putt course at Red Reef Park? If so, what kind of a course? Is there enough of a market to make the course at least break even? How much support would come from the Greater Boca Raton Beach & Park District, which supports creation of a new golf course?

The staff report also notes the “significant costs” of acquiring a closed golf course and says the council would need to consider a “pre-purchase” agreement to address that issue. Lennar would maintain the course before any makeover, but not the buildings on the property.

The Lennar deal probably is atop the leaderboard, but undeveloped parcels of this size are rare in South Florida. The other bidders will make strong pitches. They just won’t have the gallery rooting for them.

Delray city manager search

Delray Beach’s search for a new city manager got tougher Tuesday night.

The city commission was unable to agree on an appointee to complete Al Jacquet’s term, which ends in March. From among 10 applicants, Mayor Cary Glickstein and Commissioner Jordana Jarjura favored Yvonne Odom and Mitch Katz and Shelly Petrolia favored Josh Smith. Jarjura had supported Jim Chard in the first round. The deadlock held during the second and third rounds, after which the commission delayed the decision until Nov. 29.

I don’t expect a different result. Jarjura told me Wednesday that she wouldn’t change her vote. So did Katz. Glickstein said he would change his vote for “a deserving candidate who has put in the time.” He doesn’t consider Smith in that category, Glickstein said, because Smith hasn’t been around City Hall since losing a commission race in 2015. “In contrast, Ms. Odom has been engaged publicly at virtually every (commission) meeting and outside (commission) activity,” and thus is “current on the issues we are dealing with.”

Petrolia didn’t return my call, but she seems locked in on Smith. Because of the rules that govern the voting, the commission can’t reconsider any other applicants.

There obviously is strong sentiment that Delray Beach should not have an all-white commission. (Jacquet is Haitian-American.) Glickstein said “the optics” would be bad in such a diverse city. Glickstein and Jarjura said they favor Odom because she has support from representatives of Delray Beach’s heavily-minority northwest and southwest neighborhoods. Glickstein noted that he didn’t even receive a call from Smith in support of his application.

Katz said he favors Smith because Odom—during her interview with Katz—praised the records of Jacquet and Angeleta Gray, another former commissioner. Katz said both had cast votes that hurt the northwest and southwest neighborhoods, notably the first Auburn Trace deal in March 2014.

If no votes change in two weeks, the commission likely will operate with four members until the March election. The charter calls for a special election, but Supervisor Susan Bucher has made clear that the city would have to hold that on its own, which would be a pointless expense. No election could come until January. The winner would “serve” just two months.

If that happened, what would it mean for the city? Glickstein said, “Having a 2-2 commission isn’t the worst scenario, given what’s coming up over the next three months, and if there are logjams forward of an election it gives the public a look at two very different ways of handling this job—thus what type of commissioner do (voters) prefer in that role for the open seat?” Katz basically agreed. “I think most things between now and March would be 4-0.”

Jarjura, however, called the deadlock a sign of “harmful dysfunction” on the commission. Behind this deadlock is a struggle over who will be the permanent commissioner and how that choice could tip the balance. Jacquet was seen as more aligned with Glickstein and Jarjura, though that didn’t hold up on all big issues. Example: Atlantic Crossing, when Glickstein voted with Katz and Petrolia to take the developer to court.

In the spring, the commission will make its biggest decision: the choice of a manager to succeed Don Cooper. Many good candidates will run from what they perceive as a split commission and hidden agendas. Stalemate on a Jacquet successor might not matter that much now. After March, it could matter a lot.

The Jacquet sentiment

The love for Jacquet in the commission chamber for his last meeting two weeks ago was gone Tuesday night.

In addition to Katz’s criticism of Jacquet’s voting record—he expressed it during the meeting and to me over the phone—Glickstein expressed his support for Yvonne Odom by saying that she “has spent more time in this chamber over the last few months than the man she’s replacing.” Or would replace.

Jacquet’s attendance was famously spotty, which he sometimes blamed on his campaign for the Florida House. In fact, Jacquet long had been known as the Marco Rubio of the Delray Beach City Commission—a personable politician who had trouble showing up for work. Until this week, however, I had heard that only off the record.

Goldman hits another homer

One could see Tuesday night why Delray Beach Police Chief Jeffrey Goldman has such community support in a time of tension elsewhere between some departments and the people they serve.

Goldman appeared before the city commission to urge approval of a $1 million, five-year contract that will equip all officers from the rank of lieutenant on down with body cameras. The money will cover not just the cameras but also the considerable cost of storing the tapes.

Such programs have been controversial. Goldman said the department sought “buy-in” from the officers, saying that cameras could protect them, not only civilians. Goldman said the 20 cameras already in use had “cleared” two officers. A department spokeswoman said the complaints never became Internal Affairs investigations, but one officer was accused of yanking a man off a bicycle and another of being “rude.” In both cases, the spokeswoman said, the tapes showed otherwise.

As Goldman acknowledged, the cameras can’t eliminate officer misconduct. In some high-profile cases outside of Delray Beach, cameras weren’t on. But the fatal shooting last year of Corey Jones—an African-American man who worked in Delray Beach—by a Palm Beach Gardens officer who wasn’t wearing a camera made the issue even more of a priority for Goldman.

Several African-American residents spoke Tuesday night in favor of the cameras. Goldman said, “This is going to be the norm in law enforcement.” Count Delray Beach as ahead of the curve.

Waldo too

Marjorie Waldo’s opening number before the Delray Beach City Commission was a hit.

Waldo appeared Tuesday night as the commission considered the new, five-year lease of city space to Arts Garage. Its board just made Waldo the new CEO.

As she sought and received changes to the lease, Waldo pronounced every development “awesome” and “spectacular.” She pledged to carry out the commission’s wish that Arts Garage programming attract more minorities. The commission approved the amended lease unanimously. From the back row of the chamber, longtime Arts Garage patron Chuck Halberg blew Waldo a kiss.

Boca Villa

At tonight’s meeting, the Boca Raton Planning and Zoning Board will consider a project in an area of the city that receives too little attention.

Boca Villa is a 53-unit apartment complex on Hidden Valley Boulevard just east of Dixie Highway. To the west is the former Hidden Valley Country Club golf course. Like Ocean Breeze, it’s closed. Unlike Ocean Breeze, there’s no talk of reviving it.

The owners of Boca Villa want a land-use change that would allow them to add three buildings and a clubhouse, expanding the complex to 108 units. BV Boca LLC also proposes to install security gates.

Approval would allow the doubling of a complex on barely 7 acres. But new investment in the north end has been a council priority for more than a decade, and the Environmental Advisory Board was OK this week with payment in lieu of a conservation easement. I can see why the planning staff recommends approval.

Correction

In my Tuesday post I said U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel’s newly drawn U.S. House District 21 does not include Delray Beach. The district includes Delray Beach and areas north to West Palm Beach. District 22, which Ted Deutch will represent, includes Boca Raton, plus West Boca to the Florida Turnpike and Highland Beach.

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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.