MIA road in Delray

The dispute over a missing road in Delray Beach’s Atlantic Crossing project may end with a settlement that returns the road.

At Tuesday night’s meeting, the city commission was prepared to hire an outside lawyer who would render an opinion as to whether the commission, as the developers contend, abandoned that road – Atlantic Court – when it approved a new Atlantic Crossing site plan in January 2014. Instead, Mayor Cary Glickstein revealed that he has been negotiating with the developers to reach a settlement that would restore Atlantic Court to the site plan in exchange for the end of litigation.

Getting to that settlement could be tricky. The developers might have to sue the city, thus creating an instrument for a settlement. Discussions about lawsuits are exempt from the Sunshine Law and can take place in secret. Since the site plan is at issue, such a scenario could mean a discussion out of the public eye regarding a project that has been a major public issue. The city and the developers would have to resolve that issue.

Still, restoration of Atlantic Court would represent a victory for residents who, as Commissioner Shelly Petrolia put it, “just would not let this die.” For those who have opposed Atlantic Court since a prior commission approved it in December 2012, Atlantic Court is the only possible victory at this point.

A settlement would not make Atlantic Court smaller and perhaps more compatible with the neighborhood. Any attempt to modify the terms of what the commission approved in 2012 would be illegal. Nor would a settlement end fears that Atlantic Crossing, which will occupy two blocks on the north side of East Atlantic Avenue, essentially will cut off Veterans Park.

But Atlantic Court could ease traffic problems by providing access to the project from the west. Return of the road would mean that Delray Beach had not given up a road and some alleys for Atlantic Crossing while receiving nothing in return. A successful settlement would show residents that “they have a voice,” Petrolia said.

My sense from speaking with neighbors who opposed Atlantic Crossing is that they would accept a resolution that restores Atlantic Court. In return, Atlantic Crossing’s developers would be able to start construction with certainty. They also would sow some goodwill.

After all the discussion, however, the commission did choose a law firm that to render an opinion if the settlement negotiations fail. Using the familiar “Untouchables” analogy, Petrolia said Glickstein “now will be going to a gunfight with a gun, not a knife.” The law firm—Weiss Sarota Helfman Cole & Bierman—is the one whose opinion in 2013 helped the city void its trash-hauling contract with Waste Management and get a cheaper deal.

Glickstein told me in an email Wednesday that he will next meet with the developers “when they have a more detailed plan. I believe they are working in good faith and diligently, as they understand the sense of urgency.” The hope is for a final decision at the June 2 commission meeting or at a special meeting near that date.

Trash refund

Speaking of that trash contract, the city commission overruled Delray Beach’s chief financial officer Tuesday night and ordered a full refund for customers who had been overcharged in the previous contract.

The overpayments—which took place over 16 years for the purchase of trash carts in residential areas—amounted to $1.7 million. The recommendation was that the city keep $900,000 as a reserve fund to buy carts in an emergency. Commissioners noted that the new hauler, Southern Waste Systems, would be providing carts, and so they decided that residents deserved the full $1.7 million.

Another MIA item: Al Jacquet

Let us note for the record that Delray Beach City Commissioner Al Jacquet missed last week’s workshop meeting with Community Redevelopment Agency board members and staffers. The meeting became especially important when Mayor Cary Glickstein proposed a change in CRA boundaries that would mean less property tax revenue for the agency and more for the city. I will have more about this development next week.

Jacquet also missed the commission’s February goal-setting session, as he missed the meeting last November at which commissioners chose City Manager Don Cooper and the meeting at which they chose a new trash hauler. Officially, Jacquet is term-limited in March 2017. Practically speaking, he seems to be halfway out the door.

On the other hand, as some residents have suggested to me, the commission may work better without such an obviously uninterested member. Addition by subtraction.

Inspector General update

Predictably, the 13 cities suing over financing of Palm Beach County’s Office of Inspector General have decided to appeal last month’s trial-court ruling against them. Delray Beach has withdrawn from the lawsuit. Boca Raton remains a plaintiff. The city passed a resolution in October 2011 to join the litigation. Joining the appeal, Mayor Susan Haynie said, “required no action.”

Roughly one year before the council approved that resolution, nearly 75 percent of Boca Raton voters told the city to give the Office of Inspector General jurisdiction over Boca and for the city to pay for it.

And Chabad

Not every meeting of the Boca Raton Planning & Zoning Board features a law school professor who specializes in church-state issues. But tonight’s board meeting will be far from routine.

Marci Hamilton won’t actually be at the meeting. Several beachside residents, however, have retained the woman who holds the Paul Verkuil Chair in Public Law at Yeshiva University’s Cardozo Law School. Their issue is the proposed Chabad East Boca synagogue that is proposed for East Palmetto Park road between the bridge and the beach. The project secured unanimous approval from the Planning & Zoning Board in March and was before the city council on April 14, with a recommendation from city staff for approval. Then there was an apparent discrepancy about square footage, and the council asked for a second look.

That delay has allowed neighbors to renew their opposition, based supposedly on traffic concerns, not that it would be a house of worship. “This was originally portrayed as a boutique” synagogue, Hamilton told me by phone on Wednesday. When neighbors heard of plans for Chabad East Boca’s “My Israel” museum, “It looked more like a tourist attraction,” making some neighbors envision tour buses regularly disgorging visitors and exacerbating backups that occur when the bridge opens. “There were multiple uses,” Hamilton said.

In fact, the staff report anticipated 168 new vehicle trips each day. The city also attached conditions to the approval that are designed to minimize the impact from traffic. Architect Derek Vander Ploeg, who represents the Chabad, said the city limited museum attendance to 30 at one time, and that Rabbi Ruvi New estimates that museum attendance will be roughly 200 per month.

According to Vander Ploeg, city staff had questions about four items related to operation. The new recommendation to the Planning & Zoning Board, he said, will be the same as the first: to approve. The staff also remains fine with the additional 10 feet in height.

Some nearly homeowners have complained that they would like to see some other project on that site—770 East Palmetto Park Road—that would complement what residents see as a beach-oriented, mini-downtown. No one else, however, is proposing such a project, and the zoning allows a house of worship.

As it happens, Thursday is a Jewish holiday, and Chabad East Boca already had planned a gathering. It now will be partly a rally, and the event will start earlier, so congregants can get to City Hall by 6 p.m. Expect a packed meeting, with emotions high. It will be a preview of what happens when the issue gets to the city council.

••••••••

You can email Randy Schultz at randy@bocamag.com

For more City Watch blogs, click here.About the Author

Randy Schultz was born in Hartford, Conn., and graduated from the University of Tennessee in 1974. He has lived in South Florida since then, and in Boca Raton since 1985. Schultz spent nearly 40 years in daily journalism at the Miami Herald and Palm Beach Post, most recently as editorial page editor at the Post. His wife, Shelley, is director of The Learning Network at Pine Crest School. His son, an attorney, and daughter-in-law and three grandchildren also live in Boca Raton. His daughter is a veterinarian who lives in Baltimore.