Sunday, April 14, 2024

Singer on the Wildflower site plus Delray events update, Boca budget, trains and sober houses


Visioning for Wildflower site

One week from Monday, Boca Raton City Councilman Scott Singer (above) will hold what he calls a “visioning session” for the Wildflower property and Silver Palm Park. Though the city’s official policy is to lease the Wildflower site to Hillstone Restaurant Group, Singer claims that he’s not going rogue.

In an email, Singer described his gathering—from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the Downtown Library—as “an interactive discussion with residents and planners to discuss what residents would like to see at the Wildflower site and Silver Palm Park. The discussion will be broad and is not geared to an alternative to a Houston’s-style restaurant,” as Hillstone envisions for the property on the Intracoastal Waterway north of the Palmetto Park Road Bridge.

The “discussion,” however, comes as a vote looms in November on a referendum that would prohibit Boca Raton from using the site for a restaurant. Residents who live near the site and oppose the restaurant got the deceptive referendum on the ballot through a petition drive. The referendum language refers neither to a restaurant nor to a park. Instead, the ordinance would restrict city-owned waterfront land to a few public uses.

The discussion also comes after Singer stated that he might challenge Mayor Susan Haynie in the March election, rather than run for a new council term. Sources tell me that Singer has been seeking deep-pocket backers for such a campaign, but has not found one. My email to Singer on Wednesday seeking an update on his plans was not returned by deadline for this post.

Singer recently broke publicly with the council on the restaurant issue, saying he preferred something besides leasing the site to Hillstone. On Wednesday, he said, “Architects and volunteers will be leading table-by-table discussions.” Because Singer has advertised the meeting—as Haynie did for her architects roundtable in June—other council members and members of city boards can attend without violating the state’s open-meetings law.

Singer plans to invite his council colleagues during one of next week’s many meetings, and said he would issue a report to the council on the session. Singer said “staff” would be present, but on Wednesday a city spokeswoman could confirm only that a city employee would be there to record the minutes.
For his part, Singer disputes the idea that he has changed positions on the Wildflower site. In an email, he took issue with my recent comment that Singer for some time had been tipping his hand on the Wildflower. “First, I don’t believe it was a ‘shift,’ as I had not stated something contrary. Second and moreover, your statement that this so-called shift ‘had been coming from months’ is incorrect.  There was no basis for you to say so unless you were able to read my mind during that time.

“I think you do your readers a disservice when you make guesses to one’s intentions and characterize your surmise as fact, when it is merely your guess.”

So call it an educated guess, based on Singer’s recent and repeated appeals to those who oppose the restaurant and regularly speak at council meeting. I can say with confidence that his colleagues notice those appeals—and when they make Singer look inconsistent.

Example: Singer introduced the ordinance on filling council vacancies that voters approved last week. He stressed that the public, not the council and city “insiders,” should decide.  Yet Singer also favored having the council simply adopt the waterfront ordinance, rather than put it to a vote in November. Singer’s position was that of the restaurant opponents, who also regularly urge the council to “let the people decide.”

Example: Singer opposed the council’s decision to approve rezoning that would allow a restaurant on the Wildflower property. He said the council should wait for the vote on the waterfront ordinance. Yet Singer’s session also comes before the vote, and will be separate from a city consultant’s work on a citywide waterfront plan.

We should not presume that nothing helpful can come from this gathering. We also should not presume that the gathering is free of politics.

And that bogus referendum

Those restaurant opponents behind the deceptive referendum are continuing their deception.

James Hendrey, who lives on the Intracoastal northeast of the Wildflower property, led the petition drive. This week, in a post on the BocaWatch website, he touted the idea of a water taxi on the Intracoastal and referred to the Wildflower site as the city’s “gateway property” and a “downtown waterfront park.”

In fact, the property isn’t a park. And it can’t be a “gateway” when the main entrances to Boca Raton are miles away. So when Hendrey urges support for the waterfront ordinance “to keep our waterfront parks available for recreation, boating, public gathering places, fun and more,” that’s false. If the ordinance fails, all those actual parks still would be available for those enjoyments.

Also, the water taxi pictured with the post is from Toronto. Might want to pick something closer to home.

And the Delray event exodus

Festival Management Group has cancelled a third Delray Beach event, and city officials remain as unmoved as they were after the first two cancellations.

Those were Garlic Fest and the Wine and Seafood Festival. Now, it’s the Bacon & Bourbon Fest. In an email Friday to Assistant City Manager Francine Ramaglia, Festival Management Group’s Nancy Stewart said, “After careful consideration and many internal discussions, we have decided to withdraw our event application for the 2017 Delray Beach Bacon & Bourbon Fest.”

Stewart and city officials had been scheduled to discuss what Stewart called “waiver requests” Sept. 16. City Manager Don Cooper said the event had received conditional approval and that the two sides “were dealing with the few remaining issues,” adding that “considerable time had been expended on this event.”

Festival Management Group had opposed the new policy that restricts downtown events and sets higher fees, so the city can recoup its costs. If Stewart believes that the cancellations will force the commission to change the policy, that doesn’t seem likely.

Commissioner Shelly Petrolia said, “The city worked long and hard to accommodate each (of the three) festival’s requirements, only to see each canceled, one by one. The commission’s recent compromise of a three-year weaning from taxpayer festival cost subsidies apparently wasn’t enough. And that is unfortunate.”

Mayor Cary Glickstein said, “What folks need to understand is there is a reason why we had/have so many events: They are highly profitable when subsidized by taxpayers. When those costs are borne by the private promoters, as they should be, we will see fewer events.

“When and if the city has more fiscal flexibility and has better addressed its core functions and wants to again subsidize events, it can choose to do so with surplus funds, rather than reducing scarce funds today to meet more important needs that went unaddressed for years.”

Based on my conversations with the mayor’s colleagues, I believe that Glickstein speaks for the commission when he says, “We want less manufactured themes, more creative Delray-themed events with less impacts, particularly family and athletic events consistent with our Healthier Delray initiatives.

“There was a time these events were about economic development, and they would be still during the off-season or in-season at other less-traveled locations, but selling resin-coated tree stump clocks and carnival food at Old School Square or on Atlantic Avenue in February isn’t filling stores, restaurants or hotel rooms that aren’t already at capacity.”

Tonight’s agenda

Final adoption of that special events policy and the accompanying guidebook for organizers is on tonight’s Delray Beach City Commission agenda. It’s a rare Thursday night date to avoid conflicting with county and school district budget hearings. Also on the agenda is the first hearing for the city’s budget.

Arts Garage lease

Delray Beach and Arts Garage also need more time to finalize the group’s lease of city property. Another item on tonight’s agenda would extend the temporary lease until Nov. 16.

Boca Budget hearing

Boca Raton holds its first budget hearing on Monday at 6 p.m. As in Delray Beach, the tax rate is mostly unchanged, but most bills would go up because of increased property values. The new budget adds police officers and paramedics, mostly to serve new residents in the city’s northwest section.

And at Monday’s workshop, the city council will discuss the proposed task force to set development rules for the area along Palmetto Park Road between the Intracoastal and the beach.

Train tracks safety barrier?

There is an update on Delray Beach’s discussion with All Aboard Florida and its parent company over a safety barrier north of the downtown railroad crossing at Atlantic Avenue. Last month, a Boca Raton woman was killed when she fell on the tracks and her husband could not move her in time.

As Mayor Glickstein correctly points out, the “quiet zone” along the rail corridor from Boca Raton to West Palm Beach will please neighbors. Safety improvements to prevent drivers from going around gates will obviate the need for trains to sound their horns.

At the same time, pedestrians will hear no warnings, and next year 32 trains providing All Aboard Florida’s Brightline service will pass through downtown Delray Beach and other cities. There also will be two tracks. While he praised the company for its “substantial investments,” Glickstein said the absence of horns and the higher speed of the passenger trains will make the tracks “much more dangerous” because “it will be much harder for people to judge just how fast trains are traveling.”

Despite the safety upgrades, Glickstein said “We know people will cross the tracks in between crossings at great peril, making our downtown inherently more dangerous.”

So Glickstein will meet next week with representatives of All Aboard Florida and Florida East Coast Industries, the parent company. They will discuss the “need for additional pedestrian safety features between intersections in high-activity areas. At the very least, we will ask them to install, at their expense, safety barriers near certain intersections to make it more difficult for pedestrian trespass across the tracks, and to push pedestrian crossings to protected intersections.”

In addition, Glickstein has asked Palm Beach Metropolitan Planning Organization Executive Director Nick Uhren to place on the MPO’s meeting this month a request to the companies for such pedestrian barriers all along the Florida East Coast Railway right-of-way. U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel’s office, Glickstein said, has agreed to contact the Federal Railroad Administration and seek help with the city’s requests.

Sober house update

Speaking of Rep. Frankel, she had hoped to hear as early as last month from the Obama administration on revised fair housing rules regarding sober houses that could allow South Florida cities to regulate them. August came and went, however, without that new joint statement from the departments of Justice and Housing and Urban Development.

On Wednesday, a staffer in Frankel’s local office emailed to say that Frankel had spoken Tuesday with DOJ and HUD officials and “expressed disappointment that no agency guidance had yet been published” and urged them to “act quickly. The agency officials assured the congresswoman that they know how imperative it is to address this issue, and that they are doing everything possible to complete the new Joint Statement on Group Homes as soon as possible.”

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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