Saturday, April 13, 2024

Scrutiny on Boca’s open space and Delray’s festival schedule

Space case     

The Boca Raton City Council will hear the downtown open space report on April 11, when the council meets as the Community Redevelopment Agency.

       A city spokeswoman confirmed the date Monday. City staff members have been reviewing whether Boca Raton has properly applied the 1988 ordinance providing that 40 percent of downtown projects must be open space, though not necessarily public space.

       Late last year, City Manager Leif Ahnell told the council about a 2003 memo from the city’s then-director of downtown projects. Robert George titled his memo “Interpretation of Open Space under Downtown Development Order, Ordinance 4035,” which some council critics immediately portrayed as evidence of an attempt to undermine the ordinance, which the city approved in 1988 and voters updated in 1993.

       In fact, said the city’s then-CRA director, George Camejo, Robert George wrote the memo as a guide for newer employees in the Development Services Department. Staff members have spoken with Camejo as part of the review. George, who has since died, was described to me as one of the most honest people ever to work for Boca.

       As noted earlier, this strikes me as a manufactured conspiracy by people already upset about downtown development. If the staff report concludes that the city has applied the ordinance properly, don’t expect that to quiet the critics.

Traffic woes

       For a change, the Boca council spent Monday afternoon talking a traffic issue unrelated to downtown.

       Despite the griping about downtown congestion, real or imagined, Boca’s biggest two-way traffic chokepoint is the intersection of Glades and Airport roads. Drivers on Glades or leaving Interstate 95 are trying to get downtown to work or home from work, to Florida Atlantic University, to Boca Raton High School, to University Commons, to entertainment spots on Airport Road and to Town Center Mall. There are several rush hours, and they aren’t always during normal weekday commutes.

       The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) wants to widen Glades Road from six lanes to eight lanes between Butts Road, just east of the mall, to 13th Avenue, at the main entrance to Florida Atlantic University. Boca Raton’s comprehensive plan, however, calls for no lane widening, though the city acknowledges the congestion.

       Two years ago, the council opposed the state’s original lane-widening plan for Glades Road. FDOT representatives presented the new plan to the council at Monday’s workshop meeting. It was a lovefest.

       As Doug Hess, the city’s traffic engineer, explained, the state would use an “innovative design” to bring the new lanes over Airport Road and thus eliminate the city’s earlier concerns. Mayor Susan Haynie thanked the FDOT representatives for making the modifications.

       The project would require three new bridges over I-95 and the CSX Railway tracks. There also could be “substandard loop ramp geometry.” In plain English, drivers could face some really tight turns getting on and off the highway.

       Technically, Boca Raton couldn’t have stopped the project, but the state probably wouldn’t push any major work onto a city that didn’t want it. The agency has lots of other projects that local governments want.

       In 2011, Boca Raton successfully fought the county’s attempt to widen Palmetto Park Road from I-95 west to St. Andrews Boulevard. Neighbors objected. County Commission Steven Abrams, a former mayor, recalled Monday that for all the disruption the project would have raised the level of service from an F only to a D-minus.

       The Glades Road project, however, doesn’t run along residential areas. And as Councilman Robert Weinroth said before the meeting, there is no certainty that the new I-95 interchange at Spanish River Boulevard will divert enough traffic to make Glades and Airport significantly better.

       Boca now will ask the Palm Beach Metropolitan Organization, which sets transportation priorities for the county and which Haynie chairs, to make the project part of the I-95 work that will add express—meaning toll— lanes. Hess said linking the project could move it up from 2022 to 2017 or, more likely, 2018. The Spanish River Boulevard interchange is scheduled to open in the fall of 2017.

Delray special events review

       Tonight, the Delray Beach City Commission gets its first look at the plan for approving special events.

       The problem of having too many events, of course, is one that many cities would love to have. Delray Beach’s downtown has become so popular that event organizers want to be there. Over and over, especially between October and May. As with other issues, Delray Beach has been approving permits—many requiring road closures and city expenses—as they come, with no set procedure. City Manager Donald Cooper’s plan covers 12 pages and was compiled after seven months of work.

       The commission wants to reduce the number of major events—which would be defined as drawing more than 10,000 people, lasting one day or more, costing the city more than $20,000 and closing a road—around Old School Square and the Central Business District. Other commission priorities have been to allow no new events in those areas for the next two years due to expected construction and to close Atlantic and Swinton avenues “only for the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, Veteran’s Day Parade, Holiday Parade and Delray Affair and when public safety requires street closings,” Cooper wrote. The commission also wants a food truck policy.

       Cooper proposes a new Special Events Office that would handle most requests, with employees moving over from the Parks and Recreation Department. The commission’s only role—after passing the ordinance—would be to approve new major events. Cooper and city staff would deal with everything else. Money for special event-related city services would be in the budget.

       The goal, Cooper wrote, would be for the city to recover all costs associated with special events. There would be four categories—Major, Intermediate, Minor and Run-Walk-Bike. The policy would take effect Oct. 1.

       There’s a certain amount of bureaucratese in the proposal, but some is inevitable. Delray Beach, with good reason, is trying to formalize what has been informal. And for those who might be wondering, here’s the proposed definition of a “special event”:

       “Any planned meeting, activity, gathering, or group of persons having a common purpose, design, or goal, and any other similar event, that is to occur on City-owned or controlled property or that overtly impacts the municipality requiring support of city staff, financial, and /or other resources. Events include but are not limited to: a festival, fundraiser, theatrical exhibition, concert/musical performance, public show and/or entertainment, runs, walks, or races, parades, sporting events, and transient amusements or other exhibition and/or outdoor gatherings.”

       I would expect a passionate discussion. The new policy might help some events and hurt others. The commission, however, probably can’t achieve its goals without upsetting someone.

The Congress Avenue initiative

       As Delray Beach is trying to get people off Atlantic Avenue, the city also is trying to get more people onto Congress Avenue. That effort is the subject of the other item on tonight’s workshop agenda.

       The Congress Avenue Task Force will present its report. Chaired by former Mayor Jeff Perlman and comprised of business and civic folks, the task force wants Delray to develop a 10-year plan for improving the 4.1 miles west of I-95 and east of the E-4 Canal.

       In Boca Raton, the report notes, Congress is a corporate hub. In Boynton Beach, Congress is the city’s main commercial/retail area. In Delray Beach, Congress is more of a six-lane “thoroughfare,” with people eager to get north or south.

       Redeveloping Congress into Delray Beach’s “Next Great Street,” as the report advocates, would mean slowing the speed limit, beautifying the road and creating a new identity, among many other things. Obstacles include “housing, crime and code” problems.

       Many of the suggestions are predictable: speed up city approval of projects in the area; “jumpstart” development of the former Office Depot headquarters; seek to create “transit-oriented development” around the Tri-Rail station; leverage new attractions like Saltwater Brewery.

       The report spends considerable time urging the city to work with the county on its aging, south-county government complex just south of Atlantic Avenue. If the county commission places on the November ballot a one-cent sales tax increase for 10 years and voters pass it, $40 million-plus would go toward a new complex. If that money isn’t available, the county has no alternate plan.

            Tom Lynch, another former mayor, has suggested changing the Community Redevelopment Agency boundaries to add part of Congress Avenue and remove areas that have redeveloped. The task force doesn’t include that idea, but the commission should not reject it without at least discussing it.

      

      

        

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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