Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Restaurant Row Seeks Approval, United Returns to Boca Regional and Gretsas Starts Soon

Boca Raton’s next Midtown battle is about to begin.

The larger one is in court, over the city council’s refusal last year to approve rules for redevelopment that would have transformed the whole area east of Town Center Mall. This one is over a much smaller project. It goes before the planning and zoning board tonight.

An entity of Crocker Partners wants to build a row of restaurants at the intersection of Butts Road and Town Center Road. Crocker owns the office building on that roughly nine-acre site. The five restaurants would be mostly on Butts Road, facing the 140-foot building.

To accommodate the dining space, Crocker wants to reduce the number of parking spaces from 866 to 669. That doesn’t appear to be problematic. Crocker says there’s a glut of spaces now.

City planners, though, have “serious concerns” with the site plan. They want the restaurants to face out, toward the public sidewalks. The current design, they contend, would undermine the “public realm.” They also want Crocker to plant more trees along Town Center Road and Commercial Trail.

Notably, the staff memo cites the need for compliance with the “small area plan” for Midtown. That is the device council members used to avoid voting on rules that would have allowed residential development. Current rules prohibit it. The memo says a different design and more trees would improve “walkability.”

Yet under the original proposal from Crocker and the other Midtown landowners, they would have paid for extensive improvements—such as new sidewalks—to make Midtown more pedestrian-friendly as the area became a residential neighborhood. Because the city council rejected that offer, Midtown will get only piecemeal development like the restaurant project. It would be a nice amenity, but it would have been much better, say, as part of a revamped Boca Center. The “small area plan” thus undercuts the goal of the “small area plan.”

Despite those “serious problems,” the staff recommends that board members send the application to the council with a recommendation for approval. The council could get the project next month.

United back at Boca Regional

boca regional
Boca Raton Regional Hospital. Photo by Aaron Bristol.

United Healthcare is back in the Boca Raton Regional Hospital network.

A news release last week announced that United policyholders will regain access on Dec. 1. The two sides had been unable to agree on a July 1 renewal. That rupture came as the hospital’s merger with Baptist Health South Florida took effect. A spokeswoman said the new contract is a “multi-year agreement.”

Trinity property update

trinity church

As expected, several residents of Boca Square want the city to buy the roughly five-acre property in their neighborhood now home to Trinity Church of God.

The church will close next summer. The property is not far from Pine Breeze, another pocket park, but residents say it would better serve Boca Square. The likely alternative would be a sale to a developer who could build about 20 single-family homes. According to the property appraiser’s website, the land’s market value is $3.4 million.

Councilman Andy Thomson said he supports the idea. Mayor Scott Singer said, “Our usual practice is not to comment on particular parcels to be acquired, but I would welcome the city manager pursuing interesting opportunities as a general matter.” Councilwoman Andrea O’Rourke said, “I would need to gather more information.

According to a city spokeswoman, the staff is “looking into” the idea of buying the land.

Delray’s Gretsas has start date

george gretsas
George Gretsas

There’s a start date for new Delray Beach City Manager George Gretsas. He begins work Jan. 6. Interim City Manager Neal de Jesus will return to his former job as fire chief.

Though de Jesus has made several personnel moves since taking over from Mark Lauzier last March, he has pulled back since the commission hired Gretsas six weeks ago. De Jesus has named only interim heads for such departments as Finance and Neighborhood & Community Services. He has declined to fill one of the two assistant city manager positions.

It will be a busy start to 2020, with Gretsas settling in and two commission seats up in the March election.

Delray public comment

neal de jesus
Neal de Jesus during his tenure as fire chief

They don’t say it publicly very often, but high-level administrators in Boca Raton and Delray Beach get irritated when elected officials assume that residents who speak during public comment are telling the whole story. They also get irritated when a stray comment becomes a request for the staff to investigate.

During his two stints as interim manager, de Jesus regularly has pushed back against commissioners who he believes try to overload the staff. He also pushes back against narratives that come from public comment.

Example: Recently, several people complained about “aggressive panhandling” at Linton Boulevard and Military Trail, west of Interstate 95. They had emailed about this issue up many times. Why hadn’t the city done something?

De Jesus responded by saying, “Email is one side of the story. I can create any scenario I want.” He went on to note that the site of the “aggressive panhandling” is private, so there is little that the city could do.

His response seemed to take the steam out of the criticism. It will be interesting to see how Gretsas handles such matters. Public comment during commission meetings in Delray Beach can be quite passionate.

More questions than answers in IPIC takeover

ipic delray
IPIC Delray

I reported Tuesday that the Retirement System of Alabama now owns the IPIC movie chain after outbidding others in bankruptcy court.

We can presume that IPIC no longer will be a publicly traded company. RSA will operate the company for the benefit of those in the state pension fund.

But who will run IPIC? What’s the company’s future in Boca Raton and Delray Beach? Those answers won’t come soon. After I relayed questions to a public relations representative, RSA’s response was “No comment.”

Band trip?

During annual budget hearings, representatives of non-profit groups ask the Boca Raton City Council for money. In most cases, the council agrees.

A late request came last week from Boca Raton High School. The band wants $15,000 so members can go on a field trip. The council previously has helped that band pay for trips where the group will perform and thus represent the city. Council members considered this request high enough and unusual enough that they asked staff to check it out.

Of course, with the city poised to spend about $25 million for a train station and golf course, council members can’t say that they don’t have the money.

Wildflower under review

wildflower park
Wildflower park rendering (Courtesy of City of Boca Raton)

Boca Raton City Councilwoman Andrea O’Rourke made clear last week that she wants to review every detail of the consultant’s plan for Wildflower/Silver Palm Park.

That discussion probably will happen at Monday’s workshop meeting. O’Rourke said she wants to be sure that the consultant follows the council’s direction. O’Rourke has championed the park since joining the council in 2017. It’s unusual, though, for a council to get this deep into the details of a park.

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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