Sunday, October 17, 2021

What Will Delray See in The Set 2.0?

Apparently, the developer Delray Beach is counting on to revive West Atlantic Avenue barely will make its self-imposed deadline this week.

BH3, which the community redevelopment agency chose last spring for the three blocks east of the Fairfield Inn, had hoped to submit a site plan in November. But Schiller asked for more time so the developer could rework the plan to better accommodate a grocery store.

That new deadline is Friday. On Monday, Schiller told me that he expects BH3 to meet that deadline “by the skin of our teeth.” He said BH3 hoped to finalize the plan by Wednesday and deliver it to the city today.

Schiller wouldn’t reveal details of the new plan, though he saw “an iteration” and is “really excited” about the new version. Schiller also wouldn’t discuss names of potential grocers.

The store became a sticking point because it has been a CRA priority and the agency wants it as part of the project. There is no chain grocer between Swinton Avenue and Interstate 95 in the northwest and southwest neighborhoods. Company representatives wanted a more prominent location within the development.

You can’t overemphasize how much Delray Beach is betting on this project—called The Set and intended to market The Set—and how impatient city officials are for it to begin. The CRA first agreed to a sale of the roughly nine acres in late 2016. Three years later, the CRA terminated the purchase agreement because the developer couldn’t show sufficient financing.

So it’s already been a wait of more than six years in a growing economy. I’ll have more when I see the new plan.

City manager’s first meeting

Today is the first commission meeting for Delray Beach City Manager George Gretsas. Not surprisingly, since Gretsas started just 10 days ago, the agenda is light.

george gretsas
George Gretsas

One item asks the commission to extend the deadline for the city to craft an ordinance regulating electric scooters. Last year, the Legislature allowed the scooters to operate in Florida but allowed cities and counties to write their own rules. It’s a rare example of Tallahassee not preempting home rule.

Scooters—especially dockless vehicles—have been controversial in some areas because of accidents and injuries to riders and pedestrians. Operators are pushing hard for local rules, especially in places such as Delray Beach, given the city’s vibrant downtown, proximity to the beach and limited parking.

According to a memo from City Attorney Lynn Gelin, staff hopes to present a proposed ordinance to the commission “in the near future.”

Lauzier loses one

Speaking of Delray Beach city managers, Gretsas’ predecessor has lost a round in court over his firing.

Mark Lauzier

Mark Lauzier, whom the commission terminated nearly 11 months ago for violating the city charter, alleged in a lawsuit that he had whistleblower status. In one count of the lawsuit, Lauzier blamed the firing on his attempt to stop Mayor Shelly Petrolia from using city money to pay for her son’s trip to Tallahassee.

Last month, however, Palm Beach County Circuit Court Judge Lisa Small granted the city’s request to dismiss that count. Small did not dispute that Lauzier flagged Petrolia’s request, but the judge ruled that the incident didn’t rise to level of qualifying Lauzier for whistleblower status. That would have required evidence of a crime or “gross mismanagement” by Petrolia.

Last month, Small denied Lauzier’s request for a rehearing on Count 2. The litigation will proceed on Count 1, which alleges that the commission breached Lauzier’s contract by firing him.

Boca train depot sale

The long-awaited sale of Boca Raton’s historic train depot may come soon.

The train depot. Image by Peter Lorber.

A company called Mizner Arts LLC, whose principals are members of the GEO Group Zoley family, has a contract to buy the depot from the Boca Raton Historical Society and Museum. Mizner Arts would use the depot, on Dixie Highway just north of Camino Real, much like the society does—as a venue. But Mizner Arts would run a much busier and varied schedule.

It’s been nearly two years since Meehan expressed interest. She filed a development application, and the city began its review of the project.

Mitch Kirschner is a land-use lawyer who represents the historical society. He told me Wednesday that Mizner Arts didn’t need such a full review “because the uses will be similar.” So Mizner Arts withdrew its application.

Instead, Kirschner said, Meehan needed just a business license, which required a review by the fire marshal. As it turned out, Meehan needed some updated equipment. Kirschner and Historical Society Director Mary Csar said that work is nearly complete. Kirschner said, “We hope to close (on the sale) soon.”

Brightline vs. Indian River County

brightline

For those who can’t get enough news about Brightline, the company has outlasted Indian River County in court.

The county had filed a lawsuit challenging Virgin Trains USA’s use of government-issued bonds to create the service that will run from Miami to Orlando—with a stop in Boca Raton perhaps by this year. The county lost at trial, and then last month lost its appeal.

Though they could have asked for a hearing before the U.S. Supreme Court, county commissioners voted this week to drop the lawsuit. They had spent $3.5 million and the high court would have been unlikely to grant a review because of those two earlier losses.

Martin County had joined the lawsuit, but then dropped out. Not coincidentally, Virgin Trains USA is negotiating to build a station in Martin. Treasure Coast counties opposed All Aboard Florida/Brightline because they envisioned only hassles, not benefits.

Restaurant Row approved

After some confusion over parking spaces, the Boca Raton City Council on Monday approved the Restaurant Row project near Town Center Mall. It will include five restaurants on the northeast corner of Butts Road and Town Center Mall Road. It also will add sidewalks, making what had been a car-designed corner more walkable.

Why retail is MIA

When mixed-use projects come before the Boca Raton City Council, some members invariably ask why the development can’t have more retail. We heard it as far back as the debate over Archstone/Palmetto Promenade and as recently as the debate over Camino Square.

The answer, quite simply, is the market. Many brick-and-mortar retailers are hurting. Town Center Mall and Mizner Park are changing their lineup to include more entertainment options.

For further evidence, consider that the proposal to revamp the Boynton Beach Mall cuts the amount of retail by half. When developers fume privately that the city council makes unreasonable demand because members don’t understand basic economics, this is what they mean.

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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