And they’re off!
It will surprise no one, but Jeremy Rodgers has filed for re-election to the Boca Raton City Council.
Rodgers won Seat C two years ago in a three-candidate race. He was expected to seek a second term, despite balancing council work with raising four young children, having a job with IBM that involves considerable travel and serving in the Naval Reserve.
In a text message, Rodgers said he raised $7,500 on his first day of fundraising, “most of it from residents and friends.” Rodgers said he would file his first campaign finance report this week. No one has filed to challenge Rodgers—the election is in March—but based on that early fundraising spurt Rodgers is running as if he will have an opponent and thus hoping to discourage challengers.
That’s also how Robert Weinroth is behaving. Weinroth is seeking a second full term in Seat D. He won a contested race in 2014 to fill out the last year of the term, and then he won reelection without opposition.
According to his first report filed with the city, Weinroth raised $16,100 in June. And if Weinroth worries about a campaign against him because of his votes for development projects, his contributions don’t show it.
Most of that $16,100 came from big donations. Eleven contributions are for $1,000. The law firm that represents Mizner 200 gave $1,000. Entities of Penn-Florida, developer of Via Mizner and University Village, donated $1,500. Jamie Danburg, developer of the Park at Broken Sound Residences, gave $1,000. Weinroth received $3,000 from an individual and entities representing Gemini Financial. He got $1,000 from Pinnacle Advertising. Its owner is Peter Gary, who operates the Boca Voice website.
And to reinforce the fact that Weinroth is the establishment candidate, he got $250 each from Boca Raton Regional Hospital CEO Jerry Fedele and Boca Raton Airport Authority Director Clara Bennett.
Weinroth, by the way, was the only council member to ask in public about the planned $20 increase for homeowners in the city’s fire fee. The fee went up another $20 in this year’s budget. City Manager Leif Ahnell said the operating budget pays for only 56.1 percent of fire-rescue services.
Thus the need for what the city calls a fee and I call a stealth tax. Given the lack of questions, you can presume that the increase will go through. The amount of increase will be higher, on a scale, for commercial properties.
There was a long debate about Midtown at the Boca Raton City Council’s June workshop meeting. After the council asked Angelo Bianco of Crocker Partners to work with city staff on traffic projections for new residential development in Midtown, east of Town Center Mall, Bianco agreed. He added, however, his hope that Midtown could be on the council’s July workshop agenda.
That didn’t happen, which might have been good for Bianco. An exhausted council would have been dealing with that big issue after its seven-hour meeting as the community redevelopment agency.
Now, however, Midtown won’t be on the Aug. 21 workshop agenda, either. “The city,” Bianco said, “is still working on responding to the traffic study we provided to them in May.” The plan now may be to put the proposals, which could allow as many as 2,500 residential units, before the planning and zoning board at its Sept. 7 meeting.
Mullaugh’s next chapter
Term limits forced Mike Mullaugh off the Boca Raton City Council last March. Supporters gave him a sendoff at Tanzy Restaurant the next month. Mullaugh, though, is not leaving city politics for good.
Mullaugh told me that he would contribute commentary for ForBoca, the website started as a counterpoint to BocaWatch. Indeed, his first piece—on the city’s waterfront plan—ran last week. In keeping with Mullaugh’s reserved style on the council, the article was not the sort of scorched-earth commentary ForBoca runs when discussing BocaWatch Publisher Al Zucaro.
Apartments still hot?
Critics of downtown Boca Raton projects have argued that the market won’t support the many new rental units the council has approved. At this point, however, the market disagrees with that argument.
The Palm Beach Post reported last week that Monogram Residential Trust bought Boca City Walk, the 229-unit apartment complex across the street to the north from Trader Joe’s. The price was $80.5 million. It is the company’s second investment in downtown Boca Raton. Monogram, which is based in the Dallas suburb of Plano, bought the Mark at Cityscape two years ago. That price was $82 million. The Mark has fewer apartments—208— but it also includes retail space.
Across South Federal Highway from Boca City Walk is Via Mizner and its 366 rental units. Monogram presumably doesn’t fear the competition from Via Mizner or from Camden, another high-end rental property four blocks north of Boca City Walk, or Palmetto Promenade. The money likes where downtown Boca Raton is headed.
Delray parking blues
Last week, the Delray Beach City Commission walked right up to a big decision—and then walked back.
The issue was parking. It wasn’t scheduled for a vote; it was a presentation on the latest options from the staff. Still, many residents and business owners with a stake in the decision told the council that they opposed all three options because the proposed meter rates were too high.
Of course, Delray Beach reached this point because everyone also agreed that the city needed a better parking system. Example: Too many cars take spots on Atlantic Avenue early in the day and stay there. Customers of businesses on the avenue can’t find a nearby place to park.
The city’s consultant argued persuasively that the smart-meter system could solve most of the problems by using a tiered pricing system that would discourage long-term drivers from monopolizing those prime spots. Commissioners heard how similar programs in other cities made parking easier and brought in revenue. Some downtown business owners, however, worried that they—or their employees—couldn’t afford the added expense. Other business owners worried about security if employees used spots that were cheaper but far from the job.
So the staff will craft a new option modeled on the Downtown Development Authority’s collective wish for cheaper rates on Atlantic Avenue. In the presentation, rates for those prime spots ranged from $2 to $3.50 to—depending on time and day—$1.50 to $2.75. Whatever the commission does likely will be modest. Commissioners must approve the budget next month, and they won’t want to approve an option that might leave the city short.
“I understand the fears and concerns of the retailers,” Mayor Cary Glickstein told me. “It’s more than just parking meters.” He means competition from online discounters. “My preference would be free parking everywhere. But in the job I have, personal preference takes a back seat.”
Glickstein sees the meters as a way to “expand the city’s revenue base” in a way that helps downtown retailers. The city, Glickstein said, could reinvest parking revenue “to keep downtown safe and attractive.”
Commissioner Jim Chard agrees on the challenges Delray’s merchants face, but he disagrees with Glickstein on revenue. “The city shouldn’t lose money” on the parking program, Chard said, “but it shouldn’t be a big moneymaker.” He also noted the “many moving parts” of the issue. If the city encourages more people to use garages, do the garages need better lighting and security?
Chard acknowledges, however, “The research shows that (meters) work.” But at least for now, the politics of parking meters don’t work in Delray Beach.
The Delray Beach City Commission’s decision last week to evict Caring Kitchen might seem harsh, but it was fair and overdue.
Caring Kitchen’s mission of feeding the poor might be noble, but Delray Beach never would have allowed such an organization into an affluent white neighborhood. The city did allow Caring Kitchen into a middle-class African-American neighborhood, leasing a city building for $1 a year. CROS Ministries can keep serving food on Northwest Eighth Avenue until Nov. 1 and can distribute food from that site for another nine months.
Caring Kitchen may be gone much sooner. Commissioner Jim Chard said the group lacks vehicles and warming dishes. “I think it will be very hard for the churches to do the distribution.” Caring Kitchen’s future became complicated by its inability to raise private money.
At one point, the commission had hoped to find a new home for Caring Kitchen as part of a plan to sell the old train depot near Atlantic Avenue and Interstate 95. It became clear, however, that finding the right buyer could take a long time—if it ever happened. Meanwhile, Caring Kitchen would be just as incompatible.
Since her election in March, Commissioner Shirley Johnson has pushed for a decision on Caring Kitchen. Johnson lives near the site, but as the commission’s lone African-American she personified the racial aspect of the issue and the attendant double standard.
Mayor Cary Glickstein said the city has been lucky that “only petty crimes,” not something more serious, have happened in the area around Caring Kitchen. He also noted “the incredible patience” of the residents. “This neighborhood,” Glickstein said, “deserves the same opportunity to achieve prosperity” as any other in the city.
In last week’s item about fast-growing Modernizing Medicine, I said the company is based in the Florida Atlantic University Park of Commerce. Director Andrew Duffell emailed to clarify that “the full name of our facility is the Research Park at FAU.” The company’s growth, Duffell said, is “exactly what the concept of research parks was created to achieve.”
Missed the last City Watch?
Visit our City Watch page and also sign up for our City Watch e-newsletter, where you’ll get the latest column delivered directly to your inbox.