A strange thing just happened in Delray Beach.
Last month, a large developer went before the planning and zoning board with a project that would require several rules changes. Based on past discussions of projects this significant, the applicant could have expected hostility.
Yet the Dec. 14 planning and zoning board meeting and last week’s city commission meeting amounted to lovefests. What explains these remarkable events?
Perhaps it’s the applicant—Menin Development. The company is one of Delray Beach’s biggest commercial property owners. Menin is about to open its hotel, The Ray, in Pineapple Grove, and the Delray Beach Market, its 150,000-square-foot mix of artisanal food and drink just south of Atlantic Avenue and east of the Florida East Coast Railway tracks.
Perhaps it’s Menin’s representative, President Jordana Jarjura. She’s a land-use lawyer who served on the planning and zoning board and the city commission. Her presentation—detailed, thorough and rapid-fire—reminded me of how in 2014 she skewered then-City Manager Louie Chapman during her first commission meeting for scheduling an item against the wishes of the mayor and a commissioner who would be out of town and opposed it.
And perhaps it’s the project itself. The Linton—its name for now—would transform three parcels on West Linton Boulevard between Lavers and Southwest Fourth avenues. Menin wants to keep the two buildings on Linton for commercial use but convert the parcel behind them—the biggest, at roughly six acres—from commercial to residential. The Linton would add nearly 300 apartments on the back side and turn the roughly nine-acre site into a mixed-use community.
Jarjura told the commission that the “biggest challenge” in Delray Beach is “new housing.” Only 15 percent of Delray Beach residents, Jarjura said, work within the city. The lack of housing makes it harder to recruit companies.
Menin wants the city to create an overlay zone for three parcels that would reset the city’s plan for the site. The company also wants an increase in density to accommodate the new residential and a small increase in building height.
Similar proposals have caused strident debate. But the planning and zoning board—whose debates in recent weeks have amounted to a proxy war for the commission—approved The Linton unaninmously.
The sentiment continued at the commission. Mayor Shelly Petrolia—who had been a commission ally of Jarjura before turning against her—called The Linton “refreshing.” She called it a “beautiful addition” to the city and praised Jarjura.
The Linton is on the agenda for next Tuesday’s meeting, when it could receive second and final approval. If that happens, Jarjura told me, construction could start by the end of the year and would take about 14 months.
Jarjura said Menin is negotiating leases—through the pandemic and its effects on retail—for what will be the remaining commercial space. Orchard Hardware and Guitar City were two tenants. Each has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Other tenants are evaluating the market.
Elsewhere, Jarjura said, Menin hopes to open Delray Beach Market in March and The Ray in “late June or early July.” Fortunately for Menin, the company was still planning these projects when the pandemic hit. The hope is that vaccine availability will boost the retail and travel industries.
But like the new owners of the Boca Raton Resort & Club, Menin already had decided to use design features that the public likely will want in a post-pandemic world: touchless payments, 15-20-foot sidewalks and lots of outdoor space to capitalize on South Florida’s climate. Menin began designing The Linton’s tree canopy before the pandemic.
Jarjura said the changes Menin wants actually align with the city’s comprehensive plan. She recalls meetings at which planning and zoning board members discussed the sort of approach that Menin wants for The Linton.
Once these three projects are done, Jarjura said, Menin is “always looking” for more properties. The company likes “the scale of Delray.”
Jarjura said “boutique hotels” appeal to the company. Mostly, though, Menin wants to increase housing. Jarjura said Atlantic Avenue needs to be “more of a 24/7 street” based around people who live there, not just those who come for nightlife. Despite the pandemic, Jarjura belives that Class A office space is a reasonable option. “We’re resilient,” she said, and people are finding that working more from home also means working a lot more.
As Jarjura notes, founder Craig Menin lives in Delray Beach, even though the company has holdings across the country. “We see ourselves as invested here.”
Menin clearly is shaping Delray Beach’s future. After what happened at the planning and zoning board and city commission, nothing about Menin from here could be surprising.
Palm Beach County Health Director Alina Alonso didn’t tell the county commission much more during her COVID-19 vaccine briefing on Tuesday than what I had reported that day.
Alonso said the department has begun scheduling appointments made through its email address—firstname.lastname@example.org. She reminded commissioners that vaccinating everyone 65 and over will take months, but she reiterated that she expects there to be sufficient vaccine.
Doses also are becoming available at more locations. Today, the Delray Beach Fire Department and City of Boca Raton Fire Rescue each took appointments for 200 shots from vaccines that came from the health department. A news release said this was likely “the first in a series” of vaccines for the fire departments.
Boca election endorsements
Endorsements keep coming in the Boca Raton City Council elections. For the Seat D race, it was a split decision.
Incumbent Monica Mayotte got the endorsement from the International Association of Firefighters. The union also backed Mayotte when she ran in 2018.
Meanwhile, the Greater Boca Raton Chamber of Commerce endorsed Mayotte’s opponent, Brian Stenberg. He is a first-time candidate.
The election is March 9.
Delray depot plans
Delray Beach’s historic train depot apparently will become an extension of City Hall.
The depot, which faces the west side of Interstate 95 along Atlantic Avenue, was destroyed nearly one year ago by a fire that local teenagers set. They were charged with arson. The crime forced the city to rethink what at one point had been plans to make the depot into an economic driver.
During Tuesday’s workshop meeting, the city commission agreed to convert the depot into a home for the city’s employee wellness center and human resources departments, among other things. The department supervises the wellness center.
The city will get $1.8 million toward the renovation from an insurance payment. The balance will come from money in next year’s capital budget.
No Delray in-person voting
There will be no in-person early voting for Delray Beach’s election.
No city allows it for municipal elections, because of the cost. Unlike statewide elections, cities would have to pay all costs of staffing an early-voting location. Doing so for the 16 days before the March election would cost $190,000, commissioners heard at Tuesday’s workshop meeting. For nine days, the cost would be $125,000.
Petrolia acknowledged that the item got into the agenda because of her. She’s on the March ballot. Like all her colleagues—two of whom also are on the ballot—Petrolia agreed that the cost wouldn’t be worth it.