Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Petrolia Leads Charge to Fire City Attorney, Boca P&Z Looks at Several Projects and More News Of Note

With no notice, the Delray Beach City Commission on Tuesday night fired City Attorney Max Lohman.

Mayor Shelly Petrolia brought up the issue at the end of the meeting, during commissioner comments. Commissioner Ryan Boylston was absent. The meeting was almost an afterthought, scheduled as it was on the night of the midterm elections.

Yet Commissioners Adam Frankel and Shirley Johnson quickly agreed. Commissioner Bill Bathurst didn’t. He correctly compared the proceeding to the recent ambush of Community Redevelopment Agency Director Jeff Costello, who did keep his job.

Petrolia cited a litany of complaints against Lohman, all of which he rebutted. Lohman then accused Petrolia of having already struck a deal to replace him with Jamie Cole, who works for a Fort Lauderdale firm that has represented the city in several issues.

There appears to be no backup plan. Petrolia said she wanted to discuss a temporary replacement during next Tuesday’s workshop meeting. Lohman said he had spoken with all of the city’s in-house lawyers and that they weren’t interested in the assignment.

I will have more on this next week.

Camino Square

Camino Square

Camino Square finally is about to undergo a second review in Boca Raton.

The mixed-use project, which would go on the former Winn-Dixie-anchored shopping center just off Camino Real, is on Thursday night’s agenda of the Planning and Zoning Board. That area—bordered on the west by Third Avenue and the east by the FEC railroad tracks—very much needs redevelopment. The Winn-Dixie closed nearly a decade ago and all the other storefronts are vacant. Yet the staff recommends that the board deny the application.

Kimco owns the roughly nine-acre site and proposes a two-phase project. The first would be construction of 350 apartments in a pair of eight-story towers on the east side, closer to the railroad tracks. The second would be retail space on the north side, where the Winn-Dixie stood. The apartments would have between one and three bedrooms and run from 700 square feet to 1,500 square feet. The real estate division of sugar grower Florida Crystals would design and build the residential.

The current version is different from one that went before the Planning and Zoning Board last January and was unanimously rejected. Given that vote, the developer didn’t ask for a hearing before the city council.

City planners acknowledge that the developer has made “significant design changes” that have “improved” the project. The staff memo, however, also notes that the developer has rejected suggestions that the staff believes would make the interior more pedestrian-friendly.

Another problem is that the plan is vague about the retail phase. City planners counter that they can’t properly evaluate the project without knowing how the phases would mesh, since the tenants would have to go through Phase 2 to leave Camino Square. Kimco mentioned at one point that the retail operation might be an organic grocer such as Natural Oats, but there are no details.

Since the nearby intersection of Camino Real and Camino Gardens Boulevard is a chronic bottleneck, traffic dominated the discussion last January. The developer proposes a roundabout for the intersection as a way to move traffic more quickly. The staff memo, however, notes that the added cars would back up southbound traffic on Third Avenue so far that it would block the driveway into Camino Square.

Even though this site is west of Dixie Highway, it’s on the southwest edge of downtown. In their memo, planners say Camino Square would violate portions of Ordinance 4035, which governs downtown development. As such, it is “not advisable” for the city to approve it.

Hospital expansion update

Rendering of new buildings at Boca Raton Regional Hospital (Courtesy of Boca Raton Regional Hospital Foundation)

In contrast to Camino Square, Boca Raton Regional Hospital got a favorable staff recommendation for its item on the Planning and Zoning Board agenda.

This is the second review for Boca Regional’s parking garage, which will replace the large lot east of the main building on Meadows Road. The city council previously approved a change to allow construction of a garage. The project is back for site plan review.

The garage is part of Boca Regional’s $260 million upgrade, which also will include a new, inpatient tower with more operating rooms and nicer patient suites. The lot has 407 spaces. The garage will be roughly 48 feet high and will have 970 spaces. The hospital also wants to have 95 surface spaces north of the garage.

Boca Regional wants three technical deviations. It wants to increase the amount of reserved parking from 10 percent to 17 percent, to provide 164 spaces for doctors. It wants the surface spaces to measure nine feet by 18 feet, rather than 10 feet by 20 feet. It wants to provide 44 short-term spaces for bicycles but no long-term spaces.

A proposed new inpatient tower (Courtesy of Boca Raton Regional Hospital Foundation)

In addition, the hospital wants to eliminate six spaces at the Christine E. Lynn Women’s and Wellness Institute. The alteration would allow construction of a new driveway onto Meadows Road. City planners support the requests.

Tunison Palms is the single-family neighborhood south of the hospital. Spanish Oaks is the apartment complex to the west. Spanish Oaks unsuccessfully sued to block the garage. Tunison Palms residents worried about the garage being too near their homes and too bright.

Louvered windows will help to block the light. The garage meets setback rules in both cases. Planners worry, though, that the type and number of trees wouldn’t provide enough of a buffer between the garage and Tunison Palms. The planning and zoning board will deal with questions about landscaping and lighting that arose during the project’s hearing at the Community Appearance Board.

Dixie Highway application

One other item on the Planning and Zoning Board is worth noting.

It’s an application to change the use of the building at 2300 N. Dixie Highway. City planners are studying whether to craft new zoning rules that could redevelop and perk up Dixie Highway between Glades Road and Spanish River Boulevard. The idea came from a local Realtor and has support from homeowners east of Dixie.

The issue in this case is parking. The staff recommends approval, with conditions, of the use change and a request for fewer spaces.

James Batmasian is the applicant. It will be the first Batmasian-related item to seek city review since the arrest last April of former Mayor Susan Haynie. She faces seven counts related to what prosecutors claim is public corruption tied to votes on Batmasian issues. Conviction on all counts carries a maximum term of 23 years in prison.

Haynie update

Former Boca Raton Mayor Susan Haynie

Speaking of Haynie, her next court date is a Jan. 15, 2019 status hearing. Bruce Zimet, who represents Haynie, told me this week that Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Glenn Kelley “most likely” will set a trial date at the hearing.



Elementary school dust-up

(Photo by Randy Schultz)

A misunderstanding created a short-term controversy in the rebuilding of Addison Mizner and Verde elementary schools in Boca Raton.

The city donated 15 acres next to Don Estridge Middle School—west of the Spanish River Library—for a new elementary school that the Florida Board of Education still hasn’t approved. Portable classrooms on the city land will house first Verde students and then Addison Mizner students during construction.

According to school board member Frank Barbieri, however, district administrators believed that the city had restricted used of the land to minimize the impact on “green space.” So the district announced that some of the portables would go on Estridge’s track and an athletic field. Estridge parents were mad. Barbieri heard from them.

So last Friday, Barbieri met with the administration to explain things. Mayor Scott Singer also attended, Barbieri said, to explain the misunderstanding.

“He told them, ‘You can use whatever you need.'”

As a result, the portables won’t displace anything at Estridge. Parents at all three schools have been helping to put out that message.

Barbieri acknowledged that the timetable for the new schools is “aggressive.” The plan is to move the Verde students for the 2019-20 academic year and Addison Mizner students for the 2020-21 year. That depends on the new schools being completed on time.

If that happens—and the state finally agrees—work would begin on a permanent elementary school at the site next to Estridge. The design would allow expansion to middle schools grades if demand existed.

Amendment 1

Boca Raton, Delray Beach and all cities in Florida expected to face hard choices next year. They assumed that voters would approve Amendment 1 and add $25,000 to the homestead exemption. But the amendment failed, getting a majority but less than the required 60 percent.

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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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