Bring on Festivus. Or Satan.
Or whatever and whoever.
That was the overwhelming sentiment Tuesday night when the Boca Raton City Council heard from residents about an ordinance that would have prohibited private displays at Sanborn Square. Last December, a high school teacher—filled with the holiday spirit and a sense of vainglory—put up a “monument to Satan” as “a sacred memorial” for those “burned alive at the stake in city squares by righteous believers.”
Vandals repeatedly attacked the display, damaging the park in the process. The Boca Raton Interfaith Council put up a banner calling the satanic display “offensive and harmful to our community’s well-being.”
Yet a council representative was among the many who on Tuesday night criticized the ordinance, which the council had proposed. It would have allowed the city to display a Nativity scene, a menorah and a Christmas tree. Private citizens could not have repeated what happened last year. Yet the public still could have held rallies and demonstrations at Sanborn Square and carried signs honoring Satan et al.
No. The crowd, which overflowed from the council chambers, regularly invoked the U.S. Constitution in asking the council to back off. Members of St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church wanted the privilege of being able to place their crèche at Sanborn Square, not the city’s crèche.
The ordinance was well-intentioned. It sought to make the celebration of Christmas and Hanukkah less of a cause for conflict while not having the city violate the First Amendment.
Obviously, however, the council could not approve it, given the opposition. The ordinance failed unanimously. Still, Councilman Scott Singer warned the critics about getting what they wished for. If 50 private displays go up this year in Sanborn Square, Singer said, the ordinance could look much more appealing.
What’s in a recommendation?
The Boca Raton City Council made clear this week that a staff recommendation on a development application is just that—a recommendation.
Example 1: Mizner 200
Last month, the staff recommendation was for approval of the 384-unit luxury condo project. Instead, the council agreed with critics who argued that—contrary to what the staff said—Mizner 200 did not comply with the downtown ordinance.
On Monday, the council— as the Community Redevelopment Agency board—unanimously approved yet another revision to Mizner 200. Much of it happened on the fly, and much of it will depend on trust. The architects for Elad Properties presented drawings that they, city staff and representatives of the critics contend will make the project intrude less on the Townsend Place condo to the south and fit better into Boca Raton’s maturing downtown.
If the staff recommendation had held, the council would have approved the previous version. A lawsuit from the critics might have resulted. If the council had held out for too much, though, a lawsuit from Elad might have resulted. The company’s lawyer repeatedly cited that staff recommendation, arguing that the project complied with the downtown ordinance. Before the vote, Bonnie Miskel told me again that Elad had been asked, “to do more than anyone else has been asked to do.”
If the mood in the council chambers Monday holds, all will be well. Council members congratulated both sides and all participants for making the project better. Elad CEO Amnon Safran high-fived council members. Now it’s up to the same staff the council ignored to make sure that all sides get what they are expecting.
Example 2: The Goray-Rosemurgy adult living facility on North Congress Avenue
It was on the city council’s regular meeting agenda Tuesday night.
The planning and zoning board had recommended that the council deny the application. So had the staff, saying that the facility and memory care unit were incompatible with the land use in that northwest sector. The staff report also warned about a sharp rise in calls for emergency medical services and the potential budget impact. The project, however, had timing and connections going for it.
On Monday, the council—as the CRA— approved a similar project downtown on Royal Palm Road. Though staff had recommended approval, the memo noted that such projects typically demand lots of expensive services.
The developer, though, suggested that the net overall impact might be slight. Many residents, the theory went, would be moving from elsewhere in Boca Raton. Service demand that had been scattered now would be concentrated, but the numbers citywide would not rise, or at least would not rise very much.
After the staff presentation on the North Congress ALF, Councilman Robert Weinroth asked if the expected burden on services really would materialize. Development Services Director Brandon Schaad called that “a great question.” Other council members noted that the land-use rules for the area are dated. With an aging population, they said, Boca Raton needs more such facilities.
For connections, the developer touted Boca Raton Regional Hospital. It will have an urgent care facility in the project, and the memory care unit will work with the hospital’s Marcus Neuroscience Center. There also will be a partnership with Florida Atlantic University.
Co-developer Gerald Goray claimed that the project—high-end like the one downtown—would seek to actually reduce the service demand. The council’s unanimous approval came with several conditions related to that promise and the loftier vision, which came from the developer’s attorney, to “make medical care better.”
Council’s plans for Ocean Breeze sale
In Congress, Republicans wanted senators to vote on a health care bill they hadn’t seen. Tuesday night, Boca Raton City Council members introduced an ordinance they had seen but the public hadn’t.
The ordinance lays out how the council will proceed in selling the western golf course. The issue has been delayed while the city waits to hear details of the Greater Boca Raton Beach & Park District’s contract to buy the former Ocean Breeze course.
The council and the district board will meet on Sept. 26. Art Koski, the district’s executive director, is supposed to document the case for the $24 million purchase and the city underwriting bonds for the course and the cost of improvements. The meeting will take place from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. in the city’s complex at 6500 North Congress Ave. Given Koski’s drawn-out remarks at the May joint meeting on the same subject, it will be a race to finish in time. The council’s regular meeting is downtown at 6 p.m.
After all the delay since May, however, the ordinance shows that the council finally is turning into the wind on the western course. The three finalists—Compson, GL Homes and Lennar—must submit a $100,000 deposit by Sept. 18. Those that do must submit a contract by Oct. 18.
At the Nov. 14 meeting, the city council will hear staff analyses of each contract. Finalists will have 15 minutes to make their final pitches and five minutes for rebuttal. Finalists could raise their bids at that time, but they could not change the contract terms, which will cover such issues as how long the western course could stay open and how county approval of development on the course might affect the net price. The council could make a decision that night or extend it.
That’s where Ocean Breeze could come in. The district wants to close on that sale in October, and the council has resolved to keep golf in the city. Council members, though, also don’t want to be pushed.
And what if the council sells the western course, balks at the Ocean Breeze price and still wants a golf course in the city? “We could always condemn it,” Councilman Weinroth suggested. Ouch. It would shock me if Boca Raton wrapped up every golf issue in 2017.
Delray CRA’s new goals
For the new board of the Delray Beach Community Redevelopment Agency, it’s decision time.
After realignment in June that brought three new members to the seven-person board, the priority for new Chairwoman Annette Gray was communication. “There had been a lack of it,” she said Wednesday, “on the CRA side and on the city commission side.”
Gray started on her side. The board and the CRA staff held a daylong workshop to go over the basics—such as what the agency can and can’t do, based on the legislation that created it. “To have common goals,” Gray said, “we need to have common understanding.”
It has been commonly understood for some time that the city commission wants the CRA to align more with the commission’s priorities. Perceived failure to do so nearly led the commission to take over the CRA and did lead to Mayor Cary Glickstein offering suggestions to the CRA.
Most notably, the commission wants the CRA to pay for more services within the CRA district, so the commission can direct more money to needs outside the CRA. Consider the annual requests for money from non-profit agencies, such as the library, Old School Square and Arts Garage. The CRA board will discuss those requests at tonight’s meeting.
Old School Square wants $600,000 for master plan improvements. The group cites a revenue drop from the new special events policy and higher costs from its new lease with the city. Reserves, Old School Square says, are depleted, though Old School Square promises a three-year plan to improve private fundraising.
Arts Garage wants $275,000—the same amount as this year. The nonprofit that runs the library wants $453,000—a $9,000 increase. The Delray Beach Community Land Trust wants nearly $200,000.
Over the four years of Gray’s term, she wants the nonprofits to become “self-sustaining.” The CRA likely will grant most or all of next year’s requests, but Gray wants the agency to put the groups on notice. “It is not fiscally responsible” for nonprofits to assume that CRA funding “will continue into infinity,” especially if they plan to add services without checking first on money.
CRA & commission workshop
Next Wednesday, the CRA board and the commission will hold the first joint workshop since the commission made the new board appointments. With each body set to approve its budget next month, expect there to be last-minute shuffling on who pays for what.
Delray public budget meeting
Speaking of budgets, Delray Beach City Commissioner Mitch Katz will host a public session on the city’s budget from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Saturday at Pompey Park. The commission must approve the budget before the fiscal year starts on Oct. 1.
I reported incorrectly that Boca Raton Police Chief Dan Alexander had supported the proposed ordinance to ban private displays at Sanborn Square. A police department spokesman said the chief was not asked to provide any statement on the ordinance, which failed unanimously after every speaker criticized it. This post has been edited to reflect this correction.