Friday, April 12, 2024

Plans Submitted to Develop Housing at Palmetto Park Square

A proposed development project in Boca Raton supports the idea that when retail goes, housing will follow.

Atlanta-based Selig Enterprises owns the 23-acre Palmetto Park Square property just east of Interstate 95 on Palmetto Park Road. For decades, a Kmart store on the west side anchored the retail/restaurant plaza with a Publix on the north side. The Kmart closed in 2019.

Now Selig has submitted a plan to the city seeking to build 319 rental apartments in the middle of the property and move the Publix to the old Kmart site. The Publix, which now generates more revenue per square foot than any other store in Florida, would be 70 percent larger.

According to documents filed with the city, stores in the northwest corner would remain. Those on the northeast corner and east side, however, would move to the center. They would be between the parking lot serving Publix and the apartments.

Selig has filed its application under the state’s Live Local Act. The company would designate 10 percent of the residential units as affording housing as the state defines it and another five percent workforce housing under the city’s definition. Live Local projects do not go before the city council. Staff members decide whether to approve them.

Michael Marshall is Selig’s attorney. He notes that the company’s proposal might change because the council still must approve the ordinance that applies to Live Local projects with the 10 percent designation. “It’s early days,” Marshall said.

This makes the fourth project submitted to Boca Raton under Live Local, which the Legislature approved to address the state’s affordable housing crisis. The difference is that Palmetto Park Square is the first that would be next to a single-family neighborhood. The others are in commercial areas.

Council members tried to put rules applying to neighborhood-adjoining projects into the ordinance and finalize it. Councilman Marc Wigder, though, said, “It was too much to chew.” Plus, local officials throughout Florida lobbied Tallahassee this year for an update to Live Local, which the Legislature approved.

Among other things, that “glitch bill” allows flexibility in deciding whether projects next to single-family neighborhoods must get the highest density a city allows. Marshall said the change likely would apply to height and setbacks.

Council members first must schedule a workshop meeting to discuss the ordinance. “There’s still a huge amount of work,” Wigder said. “There are lots of complexities involved.” The ordinance would apply to similarly located projects. Wigder said there are many potential sites along Federal Highway.

Marshall said Selig wants to make the Palmetto Park Square project as compatible as possible. The apartments probably would be no taller than five stories, and the buildings could be 100 feet from adjoining homes.

“They want it to be low scale, neighborhood-serving,” Marshall said. He envisions “a sort of mini-Mizner Park.”

Developers like Live Local because, in theory, it keeps small groups of neighbors from packing meetings and blocking multi-family, rental housing. Council members understand that they could get criticized anyway. What happens with Palmetto Park Square could affect what happens across the city as commercial property owners look past retail to residential.

Boca Housing Authority criticized for poor communication

Council members have no direct control over the Boca Raton Housing Authority, but they keep hearing directly from residents who are unhappy with the authority.

On the agenda for the council’s March 11 workshop meeting was interviews to fill a vacancy on the agency’s board. A routine discussion became anything but routine.

Current board members and others continued to criticize what they consider poor communication from the agency staff about the makeover of Dixie Manor, the city’s major public housing complex. Atlantic Pacific Communities will demolish the existing 95 units on Dixie Highway near Glades Road and build a new complex, to be called Martin Manor, that could have double the units.

The comments surprised and frustrated council members. After previous complaints, they expanded the authority board from five members to seven, with more representation from Dixie Manor residents. The council also asked for better communication. If the comments two weeks ago reflect wider sentiment, the agency hasn’t taken the hint.

Complicating matters was that the only applicant was John Scannell. He was executive director when the authority approved the deal with Atlantic Pacific. Ashley Whidby succeeded Scannell after serving as deputy director.

Council members were concerned enough that they did not fill the vacancy at their March 12 regular meeting. The item is not on the agenda for today’s meeting. Other people have applied for the vacancy.

By law, the council’s only role is appointing the agency’s board members. Money for Martin Manor is coming from the federal government. Mayor Scott Singer noted that if there is dissatisfaction with Whidby, the board that appointed her can act.

Singer reiterated that point Monday, when council members heard a presentation from Whidby and others on Martin Manor. After taking numerous questions, Whidby pledged to work more on communication. Among other things, council members found that most—but not all—residents will be able to return.

Council members appreciate the history behind Dixie Manor, which once housed Blacks serving in World War II. Residents also are the council’s constituents. Fairly or unfairly, some residents remain wary of what will happen during construction. What will happen to residents who want to return and those who don’t?

There seems much good about a project that will replace an aging complex—the newest units are 40 years old; there’s no central air-conditioning—with one that will go on the tax roll for the first time. For some, the message isn’t getting out.

Boca passes on hiring Black P&Z board member

It’s so rare for Black speakers to address the council that members clearly take pains to be attentive when it happens, as with Dixie Manor two weeks ago.

Then consider what happened the next day.

Council members were filling three openings on the planning and zoning board, perhaps the city’s most important advisory panel. The board has no Black members. Among the applicants was Charles Graves, a Black man whose resume shows extensive experience in development and planning.

Yet council members chose three White men—including a new applicant, like Graves. The other two have been on the board since 2015 and 2006.

All the applicants were qualified. But the council unanimously passed on a change to integrate the board.

FAU’s new president search could begin soon

Photo by Alex Dolce

After Wednesday, Florida Atlantic University could be closer to its new presidential search.

On the agenda for approval at the Board of Governors (BOG) meeting are changes to board policy for searches. The board voided last year’s search based on violations alleged in an inspector general’s report.

Then-Trustee Chair Brad Levine named himself to chair the search committee. The changes would prohibit that dual role. In fact, new Trustee Chair Piero Bussani would have to get agreement from BOG Chairman Brian Lamb on who chairs the search committee. Lamb also would decide which BOG member serves on the committee.

In addition, the changes set rules for how the committee could rank applicants. BOG members said the previous committee’s straw poll violated state law. If the committee recommends fewer than three finalists, the committee must “discuss” whether there should be more.

If the BOG approves the changes, Bussani presumably could consult quickly with Lamb on who will chair the committee. Bussani will pick the other members. With luck, the search could begin as early as May.

Dusty May to leave FAU for Michigan

FAU Head Basketball Coach Dusty May

With Interim President Stacy Volnick running FAU since January 2023, many top administrative positions still don’t have permanent appointments. Into this fluidity now comes the choice of a men’s basketball coach.

Having led FAU to the Final Four last year, Dusty May is leaving for the University of Michigan. He will move from the American Athletic Conference to the Big 10, one of the Power Five conferences, and make three times the $1.25 million that FAU was paying him in the first year of a 10-year extension.

With basketball, FAU finds itself in the same position as when Lane Kiffin left after three years as football coach. Kiffin had become an exile from the high levels of the sport. Then-President John Kelly offered FAU as a lifeline. The deal worked out both ways. Kiffin took the Owls to a pair of unprecedented 11-win seasons and got himself hired at Mississippi, which is paying him roughly $9 million a season.

In contrast, FAU was May’s first head coaching job after working as an assistant for five teams. He had a winning season every year. His predecessors had five in 25 years. No football coach has come close to matching Kiffin’s record.

May’s success gave FAU tons of free marketing, and applications surged. It would be hard enough to hire someone who could approach May’s record even with a permanent president. It will be harder after the State University System kept FAU from hiring someone last year.

El Rio Canal bridge delayed…again

It will surprise no one in Boca Raton that the county again has delayed the date for completion of a new bridge over the El Rio Canal.

The project, on West Palmetto Park Road, originally was supposed to be done 18 months ago. For the last several months, the date became “spring” of this year. Meanwhile, only two lanes of that key four-lane road are open.

According to last week’s newsletter from County Commissioner Marcie Woodward, who represents Boca Raton, the latest date is “summer.” Fittingly, she doesn’t say what year.


I wrote that Delray Beach City Commissioner-Elect Thomas Markert is a Republican. He is No Party Affiliation.

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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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