Saturday, March 18, 2023

Publix Coming to West Atlantic? And Stewart and Coleman Cleared

A Publix could be coming to The Set.

BH3, which the Delray Beach Community Redevelopment Agency in April 2019 chose to create a mixed-use project called Fabrick on three blocks east of the Fairfield Inn, has a “binding letter of intent” from a grocer. CRA board members and the community have made the grocery store a priority for that part of Delray Beach, which is a “food desert.”

The letter to the CRA from Neil Schiller, BH3’s attorney, does not specify the name of the grocer. But City Commissioner Ryan Boylston confirmed Monday that the grocer is Publix. CRA Executive Director Renee Jadusingh said the agency has been in contact with Pasadena Capital, the investment firm that represented Publix during earlier negotiations for a store on West Atlantic Avenue.

That isn’t the only news about the project. After getting what Schiller called “lots of community feedback,” BH3 has reduced the number of residential units from about 170 to 69. All will be workforce housing, which was another CRA and community priority.

Though there would be 150 parking spaces for the Publix, gone are the excess spaces that BH3 had proposed as an amenity. The community, Schiller said, “did not want to be the parking garage for East Atlantic Avenue.”

The Publix would be on the 600 block, farthest east, in a one-story building with other retail facing West Atlantic. Five townhouses would be on the south side of that block.

Sixty-four apartments would be on the middle block with a “water feature.” The developer would preserve what remains of the historic Frog Alley. A parking garage would be available for residents, employees and the public. The westernmost block would have space for small offices, stores and restaurants. No building would be taller than three stories.

“The retail and restaurant spaces proposed,” Schiller said in his letter, “will offer an array of goods, services and cuisines with the objective of targeting local businesses as tenants. We recognize that medical uses, walk-in clinics, pharmacies and financial institutions are uses strongly desired by the community, and we are working with the top brokers in Florida to bring them to the project.”

Making this happen, Schiller said, would require another amendment to the purchase and sale agreement granting the developer more time. BH3’s revised proposal and request go to the CRA on Thursday. BH3 wants an extension of 10 months from execution of the new amendment. That extension would allow for site plan application, review and approval.

Schiller says the request “should not be unforeseen,” given pandemic uncertainty. He adds, “The new and improved Fabrick is a result of what the CRA and the community want, and this is what the development team at BH3 is going to deliver.” Publix has its “own development process, procedures and timelines. . .and it is in the best interest of all parties to accommodate same.”

I’ll have an update after the meeting.

Coleman and Stewart vindicated

The lawsuits by Michael Coleman and Jamael Stewart against Delray Beach just got stronger.

Coleman and Stewart were the top two officials in the Neighborhood and Community Services Department when they resigned in June 2019. The two men then sued the city, claiming whistleblower status and alleging that the city retaliated against them.

According to the lawsuits, Coleman and Stewart were summoned to a meeting with the city’s human relations director. At that meeting, they allege, they were given a choice: resign or be fired. Coleman and Stewart say they were told that the Palm Beach County Commission on Ethics, the state attorney’s office and the Office of Inspector General were investigating them for allegedly misusing grant money to help favored organizations.

In fact, Coleman and Stewart allege, they were forced out for documenting mismanagement by former Assistant City Manager Suzanne Fisher. A month earlier, Internal Auditor Linda Davidyan had filed a complaint against both men with the Palm Beach County Commission on Ethics. The mere filing of a complaint, however, does not mean that a formal investigation will follow. The state attorney’s office took no action against the men.

On Nov. 21, the ethics commission cleared Coleman. Staff attorney Christie Kelley found “no evidence” that Coleman “used his position in any way, including circumventing the grant process, to give a special benefit, financial or otherwise, to any person.”

On Sept. 23, Kelley also cleared Stewart. Similarly, she found “no evidence” that he had misused his position.

Though the ethics commission found problems with the grant program, none was determined to have been nefarious. Instead, the staff inquiries noted that Davidyan slanted her complaint to make Coleman and Stewart look as bad as possible. Former City Manager George Gretsas made a similar accusation about Davidyan’s role in his controversial firing last month.

City Attorney Lynn Gelin has scheduled an executive session with the city commission on Dec. 14 to discuss the Coleman and Stewart lawsuits. The men want their jobs back and they want back pay. In the worst case for the city, a loss means they also could collect damages.

Fisher was a key player in the Gretsas firing. Davidyan was at the center of three terminations that resulted in lawsuits. After Coleman and Stewart came former City Manager Mark Lauzier and Gretsas. Three cases make a pattern. One wonders if the commission will discuss that aspect of the case next week.

Boca Bowl gets a new sponsor

The Boca Raton Bowl has a new sponsor.

It’s, a Georgia-based company that specializes in roof restoration. RoofClaim and ESPN, which operates and broadcasts the game, have signed a four-year sponsorship deal.

On the agenda for tonight’s Boca Raton City Council meeting, however, is approval of just a one-year agreement for what would be the seventh Boca Bowl on Dec. 22 at Florida Atlantic University Stadium.

Not surprisingly, this is a pandemic-year agreement. Because of COVID-19, some college football games have been cancelled just hours before kickoff. The proposed agreement contains provisions in case this year’s game can’t take place. Even if it can, there won’t be the usual week of local events leading up to the game.

The University of Central Florida Knights have accepted an invitation to play in the game after a 6-3 season. Their opponent has not yet been determined.

ESPN’s Doug Mosley said the network, the city and the county “made a joint decision in the summer to set aside the work on the long-term agreements and do one-year agreements that took into account the changes brought on by the pandemic.”

Mosley added, “We’ll come together again after this year with an eye toward new long-term agreements. The commitment from ESPN and Disney is firm on the future of this bowl game and we’re really excited to have on board as our title sponsor through 2023 with options to extend beyond that.”

Doc’s gets another look

The proposal to save Doc’s All American in downtown Delray Beach goes to the city commission today for second reading.

As I wrote earlier, the plan is to combine the property on Swinton Avenue that is home to Doc’s—with its popular soft ice cream and burgers—and the adjoining parcel on West Atlantic Avenue where a Dunkin Donuts sits. The developer would put an office building on the Atlantic Avenue parcel and combine it with a glitzy makeover of Doc’s.

For that to happen, the developer would have to obtain historic preservation for the Doc’s parcel. But the developer won’t commit to that until the commission approves the rezoning for the West Atlantic parcel. Once that happened, of course, how could the commission be sure that the historic designation would happen?

Commissioner Ryan Boylston said that conflict would make him vote against the rezoning. He told me Monday that the city’s legal staff examined ways to work around that conflict, to no avail. He likes the concept, but he wants certainty that it would happen as advertised.

Similarly, the Downtown Development Authority board voted 4-3 to recommend approval—conditioned on “preserving the existing Doc’s building.” The planning and zoning board recommended approval 6-1.

If it appears that Boylston’s position reflects that of the commission, the developer could ask to postpone the item and keep trying to work out a compromise. I’ll have an update after the meeting.

Boca student apartments get final look

On tonight’s Boca Raton City Council agenda is second and final reading of a proposal that would allow a four-story apartment buildings aimed at college students. It would on Northwest Fifth Avenue across the El Rio Canal from Florida Atlantic University.

City planners continue to recommend denial. The project could mean six times the units currently allowed in that mostly single-family residential neighborhood. The developer wants to combine a vacant eight-acre parcel with adjoining land that is now the site of a church.

To rally public support, the developer has been sending an email survey asking residents if they want “safe and accessible housing” for students that would reduce traffic by enabling them to walk to campus. The developer would build a pedestrian bridge over the canal.

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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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