Public forum sought related to iPic
It’s the pivotal week for the proposed iPic project in Delray Beach.
At tonight’s meeting, the city commission will vote on an item that is not related directly to iPic but has become indirectly related to iPic because it involves land that would be conveyed to any developer who builds where the iPic project would go—on the site of the old library and chamber of commerce. On Thursday at 6 p.m., Mayor Cary Glickstein will hold a public forum on the iPic project, formally called Fourth and Fifth Delray. That will take place at the new library. Five days later, the project goes before the city commission for a final vote.
In an interview, Glickstein said he woke up Friday morning and called City Attorney Noel Pfeffer to ask if holding the forum would present any legal issues. Told that it would not, Glickstein asked the city’s public information office to release the news.
At commission meetings, Glickstein said, “there’s no way to have a discussion between us and the public.” Speakers have their three minutes, and commissioners listen. On Thursday, Glickstein doesn’t want to hear from “the prolific e-mailers and speakers.” He wants to “get beyond the surface level” dialogue. “There’s a lot of information out there, and there’s a lot of misinformation.”
Specifically, Glickstein wants to hear from opponents of the project what they want for the site if the commission votes against iPic. From supporters, Glickstein wants to hear how the new demands from iPic wouldn’t overwhelm an area already facing demands from Atlantic Crossing, which would be just a block away.
IPic CEO Hamid Hashemi would argue that it’s unfair to link his project—a luxury theater, plus office and retail space—with the very controversial Atlantic Crossing. Indeed, were it not for Atlantic Crossing, I believe that iPic would have much more public support. It might have received a favorable vote from the planning and zoning board rather than a rejection.
Practically speaking, however, iPic has to deal with Atlantic Crossing. Many who spoke against iPic before the planning and zoning board invoked Atlantic Crossing when they complained about potential traffic problems. Ipic’s representatives fared badly when questions arose about their assumption that staggered show times would enable traffic management. What if people went to a movie, stayed to eat on Atlantic Avenue and didn’t get back to their cars for two hours?
Yet there is plenty to like about the project. The theater would enhance Delray’s entertainment district, not detract from it. Rapidly expanding iPic would put its corporate headquarters in the project. The remaining Class A office space would fill a void downtown the way it would not on Congress Avenue. Perhaps those traffic issues would arise just on Fridays and Saturdays.
Glickstein correctly calls iPic “not an easy decision” for the commission. “People I thought would be against it are for it, and vice versa.” He sees the divide in public opinion without having to leave home. One of his daughters supports the project. The other doesn’t.
And their father? “I remain very uncommitted.”
CRA payment and land transfer
To assemble land for the site where iPic wants to build, Delray Beach conveyed land to the community redevelopment agency, which chose iPic from among five applicants to the CRA’s request for proposal.
On tonight’s agenda is a proposal to speed up the CRA’s payment to the city for that land. According to Pfeffer, the city would get an extra $1 million this year, and would receive the full $2.27 in six years rather than 10 years. The CRA would save about $200,000 in interest.
This seemingly simple transaction, however, has taken on a legal angle. Members of the George family, one of Delray’s most prominent, have questioned whether the transfer— made possible by previous commission votes, the most recent coming last July—is legal. Commissioner Shelly Petrolia has expressed their questions and concerns in a series of e-mail exchanges with Pfeffer.
Petrolia remains “unsatisfied” she told me Monday with Pfeffer’s conclusion that while some of the city’s work on the agreement has been sloppy—Pfeffer didn’t become city attorney until afterward—he considers the conveyance of land to be legal and recommends that the commission approve the amended payment system. Petrolia contends that the change would be premature, and should wait until the commission rules on iPic.
Though the commissioners likely will be divided tonight on this issue, they likely would agree that it highlights the disconnect between the commission and the CRA. The minutes of the CRA’s Aug. 22, 2013 meeting, when the board chose iPic to develop the library/chamber site the CRA had assembled, make no mention of a potential problem with the land swap.
The commission probably will approve the new payment schedule, but city staffers aren’t counting on it. That added $1 million is now out of the budget.
Boca Beach Renourishment
An item on tonight’s Boca Raton City Council agenda offers another example of why the debate about cutting federal spending is more complicated than presidential candidates make it out to be.
Every year, coastal cities in Florida must submit long-range beach beach renourishment plans to the Department of Environmental Protection. Cities pledge that they will be able to provide the local share of the project’s cost, and thus make themselves eligible for state and federal money. Boca’s next request is for money to pump sand onto roughly 1.5 miles of beach at Spanish River Park. It would be the fourth renourishment project for that location in the last 27 years. Sand washes away, and we put it back, knowing that it will wash away again.
Though cities like that state money, the federal government pays most of the cost to renourish beaches. Boca Raton’s budget for this project through 2025-26 lists $17.4 million worth of work. Of that, the city is projected to pay just $4 million. The feds are projected to pay $9.4 million, with the state picking up the rest.
As City Manager Leif Ahnell points out in his memo to council members, many benefits come from wider beaches. Boca Raton gets more protection from storm surges, even though this side of the state is less prone to them than the Gulf of Mexico coastline. Sea turtles get more space to lay their eggs, and this is shaping up to be a record year for nests.
One could argue, however, that cities and states would be more likely to seek longer-lasting solutions to the problem of eroded beaches if they paid all the costs. Or one could argue that the federal government gets a good return on investment because storm protection cuts the potential costs of a natural disaster.
Either way, don’t expect to hear Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio argue that the first place to stop that out-of-control spending in crazy Washington is by ending Washington’s role in pumping sand onto Florida’s beaches.
Cooper on a roll
For a guy who just started in January, Delray Beach City Manager Don Cooper seems to have caught up.
For tonight’s commission meeting, Cooper has prepared a list of 42 “outstanding issues,” each with a status report. The issues range from the transition to a new trash hauler—it’s going well—to the Federal Highway makeover —should be complete this month or next—to the hiring of another assistant city manager—interviews start this month —to the future of the Old School Square Christmas tree— there are options.
If any commissioners have additional issues or questions, Cooper said, they should ask him. Here’s one: When do you sleep?
About the Author
Randy Schultz was born in Hartford, Conn., and graduated from the University of Tennessee in 1974. He has lived in South Florida since then, and in Boca Raton since 1985. Schultz spent nearly 40 years in daily journalism at the Miami Herald and Palm Beach Post, most recently as editorial page editor at the Post. His wife, Shelley, is director of The Learning Network at Pine Crest School. His son, an attorney, and daughter-in-law and three grandchildren also live in Boca Raton. His daughter is a veterinarian who lives in Baltimore.