Monday, August 8, 2022

Status Updates on Everything from Boca Hospital Garage, Mizner Elementary & More

Boca Raton Regional Hospital and the neighboring Spanish Oaks condominium are “very close” to an agreement that would end the condo’s lawsuit, according to an attorney for the plaintiffs.

Spanish Oaks went to court last summer after the city council approval of the hospital’s plan for a parking garage on what now is the main surface lot. The hospital made design changes that satisfied owners of single-family homes to the south, but Spanish Oaks residents—who live east of Boca Regional—remained unhappy.

The legal issue was whether the council should have approved the garage in a quasi-judicial hearing, which requires sworn testimony and allows for cross-examination. Approval came as a normal legislative action. Lawyers for Spanish Oaks raised that issue during council debate. City Attorney Diana Grub Frieser responded that the council was following the law.

The plaintiffs had proposed two procedural options for dealing with the case. Two weeks ago, Palm Beach County Circuit Court Judge James Nutt chose one and transferred the case to the appellate division of the circuit court, which handles administrative law matters.

In one of their briefs, the plaintiffs seem to all but concede that they would have no case if the council simply rescheduled the item for a quasi-judicial hearing and approved the garage that way. Boca Regional also wanted to be as accommodating as possible yet not slow down the garage. It is part of the roughly $260 million next phase of redevelopment. The plan includes the garage, a new inpatient tower to replace the original and a power plant.

A proposed new inpatient tower. Photo courtesy of Boca Raton Regional Hospital Foundation.
A proposed new inpatient tower. Image courtesy of Boca Raton Regional Hospital Foundation.

Robert Rivas is with the firm of Sachs, Sax and Caplan, which represents Spanish Oaks. He told me Wednesday that negotiations between the hospital and the condo have been ongoing and are near a deal. I didn’t hear back from the hospital’s lawyer, but the talks most likely have been about making the garage as compatible as possible with the neighborhood.

Renderings of the garage and tower were on display Saturday night at the hospital’s annual ball. The project would bring the core portion of Boca Regional, which just celebrated its 50th anniversary, in line with all the gleaming new additions around it. All rooms would be private. A spokesman said the garage could come first, but there would be no groundbreaking on the tower and power plant until at least 2020.

I will update if the two sides reach a settlement.

Concept rendering of a new hospital lobby at BRRH. Image courtesy of Boca Raton Regional Hospital Foundaton.
Concept rendering of a new hospital lobby at BRRH. Image courtesy of Boca Raton Regional Hospital Foundaton.

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Midtown decision postponed

Delray Beach residents who had packed the city commission chambers Tuesday night to talk about Midtown went home early. The meeting that might have run well past midnight ended at 9 p.m.

That’s because Hudson Holdings showed up with new proposals designed to address criticism of the project by preservationists. The developer had proposed five waivers related to such things as building length and architecture elevations. Hudson Holdings has dropped three of those waivers. Attorneys said the developer would “break up” some of the buildings to reduce the need for waivers and would reduce the height on the south side of the project to make it scale better with the neighborhood. Bonnie Miskel, one of the attorneys, said the proposals would have “a very positive effect.”

I had written Tuesday about other changes to the mix of the project—less retail and restaurant space, more office space—but these proposals came too late for city planners to review them. Given the complexity and importance of Midtown, which would redevelop the area around Swinton and Atlantic avenues, the commission consensus was to delay a vote and allow that staff review.

Commissioner Shelly Petrolia suggested that Hudson Holdings was trying to make changes without going back before the historic preservation board, which had criticized earlier versions of Midtown, previously called Swinton Commons. City Attorney Max Lohman responded that the commission was conducting a “de novo”—for the first time—review and thus could make the decision itself.

Petrolia was the lone vote against postponing the vote until March 6, which will be the last meeting of the current commission. The delay, she said, “smacks of I don’t know what.” Mayor Cary Glickstein, however, expressed concerns about lack of due process for the developer if the commission went ahead. Petrolia wondered if the commission still could hear from the many residents, but Lohman noted that anyone who spoke Tuesday night could not speak on March 6.

To the departing crowd, Glickstein said, “I would suggest you keep your powder dry.”

Glickstein vs. Pharma

At the end of Tuesday’s meeting, Mayor Glickstein elaborated on comments he had made to me about his testimony last week in Delray Beach’s lawsuit against makers and distributors of prescription painkillers.

Glickstein praised U.S. District Judge Dan Polster, under whom roughly 250 similar cases have been consolidated, as “Judge Sasser times 10.” Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Meenu Sasser ruled for Delray Beach when the city challenged its trash-hauling contract. Sasser thus became a city favorite.

In deciding how much cities and counties might collect in damages, Polster is not interested in being merely “punitive,” Glickstein said. Instead, Polster is asking, “How much do you think you need to effect treatment?”

In essence, the judge wants to “stop the next generation of addicts.” The defendants, Glickstein believes, understand that “they will be writing a check” for a “staggering amount.” That’s why they want the settlement to be “global and final,” like the nationwide tobacco lawsuit settlement. Florida also plans to sue, but because Delray Beach acted on its own, the city can determine how best to spend whatever the city recovers.

The Publix issue

At tonight’s meeting, the Delray Beach Community Redevelopment Agency will decide whether to approve the sale of property to a developer that would build a Publix on West Atlantic Avenue—but not for nearly five years.

The price for the three-acre site would be $2 million. It’s the 600 block of West Atlantic, one of three that was to have been part of Uptown Delray. When that developer couldn’t get financing, the CRA pulled back and went after just a grocery store, which Uptown Delray was supposed to include. If the CRA doesn’t want to wait that long for Publix, the agency could try again for a project that would cover this site and the adjoining two blocks, which the CRA also owns.

The Avossa impact

In theory, Robert Avossa’s shocking announcement this week that he will resign as Palm Beach County’s school superintendent should not affect Boca Raton’s attempt to secure a new school.

Avossa isn’t leaving until June. By then, presumably, the school board will have approved the city’s donation of land next to Don Estridge Middle and the school—called 05-C for now—that already is in the budget. The board had approved it for another location, but the developer that was going to donate the land backed out.

All this began with discussion about where and how to rebuild Addison Mizner Elementary with money from the sales-tax surcharge. If the board approves the new school for Boca Raton, pressure for a quick decision on Addison Mizner will ease.

Frank Barbieri, who represents Boca Raton on the school board, spoke Monday night at the Addison Mizner PTA meeting. Addison Mizner students would attend the new school for the 2020-21 academic year. Sales tax money would finance the rebuilding of Verde Elementary as a K-8 school on its current site near Town Center Mall. The added grades would relieve crowding at Boca Raton Middle School. Using the new school as a temporary home for Addison Mizner students would avoid having to put them at the old Verde and thus would avoid what everyone agrees would be major traffic problems.

That leaves the location and size of Addison Mizner. The school district’s plan still is to rebuild at the current site on 12th Avenue. A lawsuit seems likely if the district tried to build a new Addison Mizner on the southeast corner of Sugar Sand Park. Routing school traffic through the park to keep it away from Camino Real—and the neighbors who would sue—would create other problems.

Previously, the district had talked of making Addison Mizner K-8. But if the new school provides enough relief for Boca Middle, Addison Mizner could stay at its current size—making for a somewhat better fit on 12th Avenue if the school doesn’t move.

Boca’s education task force

Speaking of schools, the Boca Raton City Council next week will choose members for the education task force. The council revived the panel after discussions about school crowding showed a need for the city to work more closely with the school district.

Twenty-two people have applied for the seven seats. All terms will be for one year. Thirteen of the applicants say they have at least three children in the public schools. One of those is Andy Thomson, who ran unsuccessfully last year for the city council. Another applicant is Anthony Altieri, the vice president for student affairs at Lynn University. He doesn’t live in the city, but the council can appoint non-residents to advisory board if the council determines that doing so would be in the city’s interest.

Still another applicant is the principal of Crosspointe Elementary west of Boynton Beach. Overall, it appears to be a very strong field of candidates. Though the issue of schools has become political, one hopes that the council will keep politics out of the appointments.

Candidate Forum tonight

The Federation of Boca Raton Homeowner Associations will hold its candidate forum tonight. The 6:30 p.m.-9 p.m. event takes place in the city complex at 6500 North Congress Avenue. Incumbent Jeremy Rodgers faces Kim Do in Seat C. Armand Grossman, Monica Mayotte and Paul Preste are competing in Seat D. Incumbent Robert Weinroth is leaving to run for the Palm Beach County Commission. The city election is March 13.

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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