Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Park Square Bites The Dust and Changes Come to Delray’s Services

Boca Raton’s controversial adult living facility known as Park Square is dead.

For now.

In a letter last week, Development Services Director Brandon Schaad told the attorney for Whelchel Partners that its application has “automatically expired.” In December, the city had told the developer that the application could not be processed. Though Whelchel Partners submitted a new proposal, Schaad said it “does not address the noted deficiencies.”

As such, Schaad said, the application is “null and void.” If Whelchel Partners wants to keep pushing the project, the company will have to start over.

The proposal became controversial for two reasons.

Neighbors of the 3.6-acre property near Addison Mizner School in the Boca Square neighborhood complained that the facility would be too large for the site. Park Square would be three stories tall with 128 beds. Its square footage would be about the same as the school’s on a site one-third smaller.

They also argued that traffic would overwhelm the single-family neighborhood where Southwest 12th Avenue is one lane in each direction. Traffic was a problem when Addison Mizner was an elementary school. It is adding middle-school grades.

In addition, approval of the facility would have effects throughout the city. Because current rules do not permit adult living facilities on that site, the city council would have to allow them on similar sites elsewhere in Boca Raton. Otherwise, approval just for that property— now home to a closed church—would amount to spot zoning, which is illegal.

Opposition has been fierce. Even though the project never was scheduled for a vote before an advisory board, Boca Square residents have been speaking against it for months at council meetings. “Save Our Neighborhood” signs are in almost every yard around the school.

Holli Sutton’s house adjoins the property. She organized a petition drive against the project. It has obtained 620 signatures.

On Monday, Sutton said she expects Whelchel Partners—whose principals are two children of former Mayor Susan Whelchel—to try again. “I think they see a chance to make a lot of money.” The company’s contract to purchase the property is contingent on approval of the ALF.

According to the city, Whelchel Partners—which does not plan to manage the facility—must submit a comprehensive plan for the property and did not do so by the city’s deadline. Ele Zachariades, the attorney for Whelchel Partners, disagrees.

Zachariades told me Monday that her client is “pretty shocked” by the March 1 letter. She has requested a meeting with city officials “to have a discussion and resolve this.” No meeting has been scheduled.

Because the project would require a land-use change, a council member must sponsor the amendment that would allow one. Monica Mayotte sponsored it the first time. I didn’t hear back from Mayotte by deadline for this post as to whether she would do so again.

Beyond the dispute over a plan requirement, it is apparent that city planners have many issues with the project. A Dec. 23 letter to Zachariades lists staff comments about the ALF, among them: which trees would be on the site, where the dumpster would be located and how trucks would get there, whether the operating schedule would conflict with school dropoff times and whether power lines would be buried.

Near the end, the letter reads, “Staff continues to have major concerns about the intensity of the project as proposed. The scale and look of this institutional building is not compatible with the character of the surrounding neighborhood.”

In her response, Zachariades says, “We do not concede that the proposed assisted living facility is institutional.” She then lists changes to keep the ALF farther from neighbors.

Staff also challenges Whelchel Partners’ characterization of the project as “residential.” The letter says, “While people will be living there, the use is institutional in nature, much like a nursing home, and the proposed scale and intensity is much more comparable to a multi-family building. . .”

Zachariades responds, “Park Square is a residential community which allows older adults to continue to live an independent lifestyle while receiving care and support with activities such as bathing and grooming.”

Whelchel Partners contends that the church already amounts to an “institutional” use and also notes that a fire station once existed across the street. Because the site is “not suitable for single-family homes,” Zachariades said, “multi-family is permitted.” She adds that Park Square is asking for less density than it could request.

Schaad said last week’s letter “shall in no way limit the city, and the city expressly reserves the right to ease or elaborate on any issues relating to the applications in the future.” 

School Board to talk about Blue Lake school boundaries

blue lake elementary
Blue Lake Elementary rendering courtesy of the School District of Palm Beach County

During Wednesday’s workshop meeting, the Palm Beach County School Board will discuss the proposed boundaries for the new Blue Lake Elementary in Boca Raton on Military Trail south of Spanish River Boulevard.

Superintendent Mike Burke recommends that the board approve the revised plan that emerged from meetings of the advisory boundary committee. Creating boundaries for Blue Lake, which opens in August, affects boundaries at Calusa and J.C. Mitchell elementaries and Addison Mizner and Verde, which have expanded to K-8 schools.

As the staff memo notes, the greatest impact would be to relieve severe overcrowding at Calusa, roughly two miles north of Blue Lake. J.C. Mitchell would gain students. Fourth-graders and their siblings could stay at their current schools. But they no longer would qualify for school district transportation.

At the workshop, board members could make small changes to accommodate parents in certain neighborhoods. The board will have to approve the plan at a regular meeting.

Revised rate hikes in Delray?     

In January, a consultant advised the Delray Beach City Commission that monthly water and sewer rates for average customers might rise from about $58 to roughly $80 in five years to finance the new water plant. Some commissioners had sticker shock.

So at today’s meeting, commissioners will hear what the staff describes as a “revised” presentation. The consultant will make “recommendations on future water and sewer rate options.” Since that first presentation, the city has announced $10 million from the federal infrastructure bill to help pay for the plant.

City Manager Terrence Moore would like to seek a bond issue by summer. Underwriters will want to see a proposed rate structure because customer revenue will finance the bond.Trash collection changes in Delray

New trash collection in Delray

Delray Beach also faces decisions about another basic service — trash collection.

Waste Management has told the city that the company doesn’t want to renew its contract after the Sept. 30 expiration date. Today’s agenda will feature a presentation “to help consider direction and opportunities to define goals and objectives for the city’s future solid waste collection services.”

Legislator seeks new mandates for water conservation districts

Sen. Travis Hutson, from flsenate.gov

Few people know that the Palm Beach County Soil and Water Conservation District even exists. But one state legislator seems focused on all such agencies in Florida.

That would be Sen. Travis Hutson, R-Palm Coast. The latest version of his bill would require all district supervisors, as they are known, to be working in agriculture or retired from it.

Such a limitation might apply to the districts’ role in land, but the agencies also deal with water quality. And the platform can be useful.

Rob Long, a Delray Beach resident, is chairman of the county district. He criticized the level of cancer-causing “forever chemicals” in the city’s water. Long’s comments caused Mayor Shelly Petrolia to suggest that he be removed from his seat on the planning and zoning board.

Long owns a marketing company and thus would not qualify to serve. Hutson’s family owns a homebuilding company. He also is sponsoring legislation that would make it nearly impossible for cities to regulate businesses.

Long has criticized Hutson’s bill as one more attempt by Tallahassee to throttle any group—however obscure—that tries to advocate for Florida’s environment. The bill has passed the Senate. The House version is on the chamber’s calendar. The session ends Friday

Delray ready to end state of emergency

Two years after the COVID-19 pandemic began, Delray Beach is prepared to lift the city’s state of emergency. If the commission agrees today, the city would end the requirement to wear masks in public buildings.

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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