Tuesday, July 5, 2022

The Plot Thickens Around Boca Beach Parcel & More

The lot at 2600 North Ocean Boulevard in Boca Raton remains undeveloped. But there are plenty of new developments regarding the property.

Most notably, a spokeswoman said this week that the city finally will schedule a second hearing on the variance that would allow construction of a four-story duplex. In February 2019, the city council denied the request from Azure Development. Opponents stated that the project would damage the coastal environment.

Azure then sued. The company charged that council members Monica Mayotte and Andrea O’Rourke had stated before the vote that they would oppose the variance. Because it was a quasi-judicial matter, Azure claimed, Mayotte and O’Rourke had prejudiced themselves and should have abstained.

A 15th Judicial Circuit panel agreed and ordered the second vote, with Mayotte and O’Rourke not participating. The city appealed, arguing that Mayotte and O’Rourke had no financial interest in the project and thus had no conflict. Last August, a 4th District Court of Appeal panel unanimously sided with Azure.

Rick Caster is a principal of Delray Beach-based Azure. According to Development Services Director Brandon Schaad, Caster told me, the city is “looking into dates” for a hearing before the Environmental Advisory Board. That would be the first stop on a return trip to the council, with only Mayor Scott Singer and council members Yvette Drucker and Andy Thomson voting.

But that’s not the only lawsuit.

Azure sued separately, alleging that multiple violations of the Sunshine Act preceded the denial. The developer believes that a political back story explains the vote on the variance.

“There was a pattern of practices outside the public eye,” said Robert Sweetapple, Azure’s attorney. “When everything comes out, this will be one of the greatest outrages in Boca Raton’s history.”

After Azure and the owner of the property to the south announced plans for development, reaction was quick and hostile. Since the 1970s, when Boca Raton bought up so much beachfront land, public sentiment has run strongly against private oceanfront development.

City officials asked the Greater Boca Raton Beach and Park District to appraise the lots, obviously to see whether buying them made sense. The appraisal for 2600 North Ocean, conducted in 2018, was $7.2 million.

That figure, however, presumed that Azure would obtain the variance—the appraiser sounded skeptical—and that the property was “buildable.” Attaching the same conditions, the appraiser valued 2500 North Ocean at roughly $5 million.

Neither the city nor the district wanted to spend that much. Based on the court filings, Azure believes that the city then set out to make sure that those conditions never would apply, in hopes of forcing the company to sell cheap. “The city,” Sweetapple said, “wanted to frustrate any development of this property.”

“The city wanted to get the land basically for free,” Caster said. “That’s not the American Way.”

Part of the allegation focuses on Jessica Gray, the founder and president of Boca Raton-based Save Our Beaches. Sweetapple contends that the council appointed Gray to the Environmental Advisory Board despite her stated opposition to the two projects.

Sweetapple called Gray “a known lobbyist.” He said Gray met with City Attorney Diana Frieser, who explained “the conflict” in her service on the advisory board that would review the variance application.

Gray was deposed last month. Apparently, some of Gray’s text messages that Azure wants to see are missing. Palm Beach County Circuit Court Judge Donald Hafele ordered Gray to “cooperate” with Azure and “its IT expert in attempting to locate or recover any and all deleted or lost records.” The texts date to Gray’s time on the board.

Court filings show that Azure has repeatedly accused the city of withholding records. Hafele scheduled the case for a bench trial between May 9 and July 15. I’ll have more as the trial approaches.

Jerich pleads guilty

Alexander Jerich. Photo: Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office

Alexander Jerich pleaded guilty on Tuesday to defacing Delray Beach’s LGBTQ Pride streetscape.

The 21-year-old Jerich faces one third-degree felony charge of criminal mischief and one first-degree misdemeanor charge of reckless driving. Last June, one week after the city dedicated the streetscape in Pineapple Grove, Jerich burned his truck tires across the intersection. He was driving in a tribute caravan for Donald Trump.

There is no date for sentencing. LGBTQ advocates want Jerich to spend time behind bars. The two charges carry a combined maximum of six years in prison. Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg declined to charge Jerich with a hate crime. Had Aronberg done so, Jerich would be facing a second-degree charge that carries a maximum sentence of 15 years.

Deutch tests positive

Congressman Ted Deutch

One day after announcing his retirement, U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch missed President Biden’s State of the Union Address on Tuesday. All members of Congress who wanted to attend had to take a COVID-19 test. Deutch tested positive.

Bills limiting city regulatory powers advance     

Two bills that would all but prevent cities from regulating businesses remain alive in the Legislature.

SB 620 and SB 280 went through the Senate quickly. They are priorities of Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby. This week, the House versions were placed on the calendar for second reading. That brings them closer to a floor vote before the session ends next Friday.

Boca Raton and Delray Beach oppose both bills.

Greenberg donation to Boca Regional

Boca Raton Regional Hospital. Photo by Aaron Bristol.

The Martin F. Greenberg Family Foundation has donated $1 million to Boca Raton Regional Hospital’s Keeping the Promise campaign. Greenberg is longtime donor to health and education causes in South Florida and across the country.

The centerpiece of the campaign will be the Gloria Drummond Patient Tower. Groundbreaking is scheduled for March 23.

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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