Sunday, September 24, 2023

Old School Square On Split from City of Delray, Boca Approvals Abound & More

If you are planning to attend a performance at Old School Square or take a virtual class between now and early February, you should be fine. If you have been planning to hold an event at Old School Square after February, you may not be fine.

After 32 years, the Delray Beach City Commission has evicted Old School Square for the Arts from Old School Square. Chief Operating Officer Holland Ryan, who has been with the organization for 21 years, must oversee the transition of the property to the city or some other non-profit. Then there’s the question of what will happen to Old School Square for the Arts itself.

We spoke on Tuesday. Ryan confirmed that all scheduled events and classes would go on during the roughly six-month transition. But weddings, bar mitzvahs and other events are “booked out” at the Fieldhouse and Pavilion after the handover. Ryan doesn’t know what will happen with those bookings.

Ryan has not spoken with City Manager Terrence Moore. “There needs to be more clarity,” Ryan said, “about the transition.” The commission has asked Moore to search for a new management company. Moore told me Wednesday that he would have an update on Friday.

When the city issued a stop-work order for renovations to the Crest Theater, the work was about 80 percent done, Ryan said. A $1.4-million donation from Margaret Blume financed the project. Blume, Ryan said, will have to be “made whole.”

One option could be a refund to cover the balance of the construction. “It’s work in progress,” Ryan said, and the unfinished work one of countless items the city and/or a successor group will have to resolve.

Much is uncertain because of the abrupt decision—without public notice—of Mayor Shelly Petrolia and commissioners Juli Casale and Shirley Johnson to end the city’s lease with Old School Square for the Arts. They did so without cause, meaning they didn’t have to give reasons.

The lease allows Old School Square to take all the equipment the group has bought over three decades. The value, Ryan said, “is well into the millions.” Beyond that, “We’ll have to find out.” The group will retain a donor list and a network. And if supporters are right, it also will retain the name Old School Square.

Perhaps the expected lawsuit from Old School Square will sort out the disagreements. Ryan claims that while the group did “make a mistake” on a submission of financial reports, “We didn’t know we needed to do it.” Over the last few years, several city administrators have served as the conduit to Old School Square. The city and the group acknowledge that there have been communication problems over the nearly 50-page lease of the property.

The transition, Ryan said, needs to be “mutual, not one side over the other.” Perhaps some of that “clarity” will start to come on Friday.

Recertification requirement approved in Boca


The Boca Raton City Council has unanimously approved a safety recertification requirement.

At Tuesday night’s meeting, council members heard from Development Services Director Brandon Schaad that the city has identified 242 buildings that will fall under the ordinance. It requires electrical and structural inspections 30 years after construction and every 10 years after that.

Because the number is so high, Schaad said, there will be “an immediate backlog.” So the city will prioritize by location, starting with structures on the barrier island. Then will come those between the Intracoastal Waterway and Dixie Highway and those west of Dixie to Military Trail. Buildings in the far west will be last.

Schaad estimates that it will take four years to deal with just the backlog. The city plans to hire an engineer, a code enforcement officer and a clerical person to oversee implementation of the ordinance. A second option could be to hire a contractor rather than a staff engineer.

Remarkably, given potential costs to condo owners for the inspections and possible repairs, almost no one spoke against the ordinance as it zoomed through city review. On Tuesday, one man asked that the council delay approval until investigators determine the cause of the Surfside collapse. He cited a news report that the tragedy might have been “a one-off” because of unique circumstances.

Like her colleagues, Councilwoman Andrea O’Rourke dismissed the idea. “Moving forward is important.” Waiting for the investigation “could take years.”

Mayor Scott Singer praised the cooperation of the Beach Condo Association. Peter Sachs, whose Sachs Sax Caplan law firm represents many homeowner associations, praised the ordinance.

Despite a couple of minor changes, the ordinance remains quite close to the staff’s original version. Schaad acknowledged, “This is completely new to us,” but the first notices will be going out soon.

After the Surfside condo collapse in late June, Boca Raton officials faced a flood of calls from worried residents. Becoming the first city to enact such an ordinance is the city’s response.

Boca Brightline plan approved


Approval of the site plan for Brightline’s Boca Raton station took maybe 10 minutes Tuesday night.

The unanimous vote caps a roughly two-year process that began with Singer approaching the company—then still affiliated with Richard Branson’s Virgin empire—about a station. The company formally expressed interest in a July 19, 2019 letter.

It was an almost anticlimactic moment, considering the commitment. Brightline will lease roughly half of the seven-acre downtown library site. The city will contribute $10 million toward the cost of the parking garage.

The project has displaced the Junior League’s community garden, which the city moved to a location near Meadows Park. Boca Raton had designated the site for a train station, though at the time a coastal version of Tri-Rail seemed the likely scenario.

A Brightline spokesman told me Wednesday that something should be coming “soon” on when construction will start. The company plans a groundbreaking.

Boca Chick-fil-A beats appeal

Also at Tuesday night’s city council meeting, Chick-fil-A won without a fight.

City staff members had appealed the planning and zoning board’s approval of a restaurant near Interstate 95. They had wanted conditions attached to the approval that board members considered excessive.

Rather than hear the appeal, Councilwoman Monica Mayotte proposed dropping it from the agenda. Yvette Drucker and Andy Thomson agreed. Singer and O’Rourke disagreed, arguing that the company had offered concessions that might make the project better.

Ele Zachariades, the company’s local attorney, said she spoke with council members, the city attorney’s office and the staffers who handled the application and had sought the appeal. Drucker, Mayotte and Thomson might have taken seriously a strong memo from a litigator—whom Chick-fil-A hired—arguing that the appeal was illegal.

Zachariades noted that the staff memo to the planning and zoning board recommended approval without the conditions. The staff added them later.

Construction is expected to begin four to five months after the company gets permits for the site.

Developer beats Boca on oceanfront appeal

Boca Raton has lost its appeal in the case of a developer that wants to build on the ocean.

In 2019, the city council denied a variance that would have allowed a four-story duplex on a 0.4-acre lot at 2600 North Ocean Boulevard. The developer needed the variance because of how close the structure would be to the water.

After the denial, the developer sued, claiming that Mayotte and O’Rourke had prejudged the issue by stating publicly beforehand that they would oppose the project. A panel of county circuit court judges agreed and ordered a new hearing, with Mayotte and O’Rourke not participating.

Last week, the 4th District Court of Appeal declined to hear the case. The judgment of the circuit court stands. Presumably, the city will have to schedule that new hearing on the variance.

Delray firefighters union agrees to vax mandate

The firefighters union has agreed to be part of Delray Beach’s new COVID-19 protocols.

When he started three weeks ago, Moore announced that all non-union employees would have to show proof of a vaccination or submit to regular COVID-19 testing. Because such a requirement is not part of contracts with firefighters, police or general employees, the unions would have to consent.

Moore is “really grateful to the leadership” of the International Association of Firefighters. A department spokeswoman said early this month that roughly 63 percent of employees have been vaccinated.

As part of the program, the department is administering vaccines and conducting tests. This will be the third of four Fridays that the department hosts a mobile vaccination site at Worthing Place on East Atlantic Avenue. Anyone can get a shot between 3 p.m. and 9 p.m.

Supporting Haiti

The Wayne Barton Study Center in Boca Raton is accepting donations to help Haitians after the latest earthquake to strike that impoverished nation.

Those wishing to contribute money can go to The center also is asking for donations of baby food and formula, diapers and baby wipes, personal hygiene products, non-perishable food, towels, paper products and sleeping bags. Those can be dropped off at the center–269 Northeast 14th Street.

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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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