Will Seniors Cost Boca? Modernizing Medicine Expansion, Chabad East Boca Saga Continues

New development—for the old

Two examples may not make for a trend in Boca Raton, but they could signal a new phase in the type of development projects that come before the city.

At its July 20 meeting, the planning and zoning board unanimously recommended approval of an adult living facility (ALF) on Royal Palm Road. A subsidiary of Penn-Florida would build 193 units, with 63 of those devoted to memory care. The project would displace an apartment building just east of 327 Royal Palm, the luxury condo that is under construction.

Artist's rendering of
Artist’s rendering of 375 Royal Palm, a proposed senior living community on Royal Palm Road.

The developer’s pitch is that the city—especially East Boca—needs such development because the population is aging. Another developer proposes a similar project for property on North Congress Avenue just south of Delray Beach. The planning and zoning board rejected that proposal because of incompatibility with plans for that section of the city. Still another ALF was planned for the downtown site that is now Trader Joe’s.

Land-use attorney Charles Siemon noted that the Royal Palm Road project would net Boca Raton about $275,000 more in property taxes. In their report that recommended approval, however, city planners took the unusual step of noting in boldface type the added cost to the city from ALFs.

Indeed, the report estimates that such projects can require 15 times more emergency medical services calls than regular apartment buildings. Approving an ALF, the report said, essentially would mean approving another rescue unit for the fire department. Each rescue unit costs about $2 million a year. Board member Rick Coffin raised that issue, but staff said the board can’t cite added costs as a reason for denial.

Several issues are coming together. City Manager Leif Ahnell warned during the May goal-setting meetings that even the traditional multi-family projects opening throughout Boca Raton don’t generate the same level of property tax revenue as single-family neighborhoods, though they often demand more services.

Though the Royal Palm Road project didn’t get a favorable vote from the community appearance board, Siemon cited the favorable staff recommendation several times. And only one person—who lives across the street from the site—criticized the plan. Former council member Constance Scott, who lives just to the west, spoke in support, noting that the neighborhood already is residential and the impact from traffic would be light.

That issue of cost, though, remains. Growth may not pay for itself directly, but Boca Raton could have a problem if demand for high-end senior living keeps rising and large, lopsided projects begin to dominate.

City’s response to Chabad East Boca case

Boca Raton has filed the city’s response to the latest legal filing in the Chabad East Boca case. The city’s argument remains coherent and persuasive against the rants of two beachside plaintiffs.

A federal judge twice has dismissed Gerald Gagliardi’s and Kathleen MacDougall’s theory that the city used a “secret directive” and “sinister labels” to conspire with the chabad so the congregation could build a new facility now at 770 East Palmetto Park Road and not in the Golden Triangle across Mizner Boulevard from Mizner Park—where the chabad tried to build nearly a decade ago. This supposed conspiracy, the plaintiffs contend, amounted to unconstitutional help for a Jewish group at the expense of the Christian plaintiffs.

Now Gagliardi and MacDougall want the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to indulge them. The city responds that the plaintiffs have no standing to sue—and that even if they did, their alleged damages are nothing but “conjectural.” Which is true.

As the city’s lawyer states, “This case is a typical zoning dispute that (the plaintiffs) have attempted to transform into constitutional litigation simply by virtue of the fact that the proposed offending development is for religious assembly.”

Gagliardi and MacDougall claim that the chabad would harm the character of their neighborhood and worsen the chance of flooding. These supposed “injuries,” the city says, “would be exactly the same if the city were to have permitted … commercial, office or retail use on the property,” and thus are “tangentially related to the core concerns of the establishment clause, equal protection clause, or the due process clause.”

Aside from the non-existent case, it might seem odd for another reason that Gagliardi and MacDougall press on. A separate, state lawsuit successfully challenged the city’s approval of a museum/exhibit hall as part of the project. The approval that so annoyed Gagliardi and MacDougall was overturned. How can they claim damages from a project that can’t be built?

The only explanation must be that, because the chabad can submit a new plan without the museum, Gagliardi and MacDougal hope to head that off and kill the project once and for all. Parts of the debate in 2015 over the chabad were ugly to the point of being anti-Semitic. Beneath the constitutional veneer of this lawsuit is more ugliness.

One more tidbit on that

It won’t matter for the court, but the city’s brief misspells MacDougall as MacDougal. The city’s previous filings got the name right.

Modernizing Medicine expansion

There is so much to like about Modernizing Medicine.

The electronic health records company, which is based in the Florida Atlantic University Park of Commerce, announced plans last week to add 838 jobs over the next five years, which would increase its workforce by 150 percent. As part of that expansion, Modernizing Medicine will lease 50,000 square feet in the former IBM headquarters. In May, the private equity giant Warburg Pincus invested $231 million in Modernizing Medicine.

Many obvious reasons suggest themselves. Dan Cane, who founded Modernizing Medicine in 2010, had a track record. He started the education software company Blackboard. Record-keeping of all kinds, especially when it comes to health care, is going digital. Walgreen’s years ago created a drug database, allowing customers to fill prescriptions at any store.

But I was curious to know why Modernizing Medicine anticipates this hypergrowth now. What factors are in play? A company spokeswoman gave this response:

“Many of the legacy health IT companies are still using older technology, but with the changes in pay for performance and compensating physicians on value rather than volume, systems that collect data differently are needed. Because Modernizing Medicine is still a relatively new vendor, our software was built from the start to collect structured data, and increasingly people are recognizing the importance of this.

“Our software makes it easy for physicians to accurately document the patient visit, get paid for the work they do and provide information to keep their patients healthier.”

I want to make clear that the next observation is mine alone and isn’t from Modernizing Medicine. Gov. Rick Scott came to Boca Raton for last week’s announcement, and the company—correctly—is receiving incentive money from the state, county and city.

That shift in health care to compensation for outcomes, not just services, had been coming, but the Affordable Care Act accelerated it. Congress passed the law in 2010. A year earlier, as part of the economic stimulus plan, President Barack Obama and Congress allocated billions in subsidies to encourage health care providers to go digital.

The debate about the shift continues. Electronic records can reduce mistakes from miscommunication, but some providers have found the transition costly and clumsy. Still, I tend to agree with the Mayo Clinic’s chief medical information officer, who in 2012 told The New York Times that, despite the challenges, the potential benefits were “enormous.” Electronic records can increase safety and promote better outcomes.

Scott has opposed the Affordable Care Act from the start. So I note the small irony of the governor touting a company whose clearly impressive product is aligned with policies and a president the governor opposed.

Bridge improvements

Driving between the El Rio Canal bridge in Boca Raton to Dixie Highway can feel like riding on a boat in heavy seas. That stretch of Southwest 18th Street rises and falls. Because it’s the site of the city’s old landfill, the ground sinks.

Living nearby, I take this short, ocean-like voyage often. But so do commuters who live farther west. Fortunately, the city is putting money in next year’s budget for reconstruction of the road to level and repave it. Work should begin in October or November, after construction of a water main for irrigation. Boca Raton uses reclaimed water for irrigation of public land.

The city is simultaneously developing the second phase of El Rio Hillsboro Park on the south side of 18th Street. Though a city spokeswoman says the projects are not related, the improvement will be especially helpful when the new park amenities draw more traffic.

Boca’s plans to spend on neighborhood

Also in next year’s budget is money to start sprucing up a neglected Boca Raton neighborhood.

It’s North Dixie Highway beyond Glades Road. Mike Weppner, a Realtor, recently sent a flier to residents of four neighborhoods adjoining Dixie Highway to the east. He wants to stimulate investment along the Dixie corridor that would raise property values. The flier proposed a zoning change that would allow work-live units where there now are mostly duplexes.

The landscaping work will beautify the corridor starting at 20th Street. The city must work out issues with Florida East Coast Industries, which owns the railroad tracks. Another factor regarding redevelopment will be the 32 daily trains from the new Brightline service.

For all the talk of new projects, Boca Raton has many sections that are ripe for development, which would then generate new tax revenue. Dixie Highway also could be a key part of the planned student district linked to Florida Atlantic University. Boca Raton has lots of possibilities the city still hasn’t explored.

Theater by and for kids

Director Marjorie Waldo keeps pumping out news about the new Arts Garage.

Waldo emailed this week to say that the group raised nearly $2,000 in less than two days to sponsor children who attended the group’s arts camp. And today, at 1 p.m. in the Robert and Linda Schmier Black Box Theater, Arts Garage will hold its Musical Theater Workshop, with children performing skits from “Wicked,” “Hamilton” and “Matilda.” Part of the city commission’s charge to Waldo was to have Arts Garage serve more at-risk children.

Even if Arts Garage isn’t ready to again stage professional theater, the organization can start making future patrons enjoy theater.

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