Sunday, April 21, 2024

Uptown Atlantic update & other items of note in Boca and Delray

Uptown Atlantic update

At tonight’s Delray Beach City Commission meeting, Uptown Atlantic likely will get the last of its required city approvals. If the project stays on its current schedule, we will know soon if Uptown Atlantic can fulfill its promise of helping to transform West Atlantic Avenue.

If the changes on East Atlantic seemed impossible to imagine 30 years ago, the chances for West Atlantic seemed even more farfetched. In the summer of 1986, riots after the Roots Festival closed 15 blocks of West Atlantic. When the Delray Beach Community Redevelopment Agency got around to a plan for West Atlantic, residents learned that the plan envisioned uprooting most of them.

So the city started small on West Atlantic, with government projects: the south county courthouse, the police station and the fire station. Delray Beach also spruced up the area. The first significant private investment, however, didn’t happen until the Fairfield Inn opened in the 900 block of West Atlantic.

The hotel, Mayor Cary Glickstein said, broke down the “perception barriers” and showed that “there can be sustainable economic success” on West Atlantic, whose neighborhoods are poorer than those along East Atlantic and have more minority residents. Glickstein said the hotel’s occupancy is “exceeding expectations.”

Uptown Atlantic would take up the three blocks east of the Fairfield Inn. The nearly $40 million mixed-used project would include 112 apartments, about 43,000 square feet of commercial and retail space, 17,300 square feet of office space and another 6,000 square feet of restaurant space. City officials and members of the West Atlantic Redevelopment Coalition (WARC) hope that a grocery store would take up much of that retail space. West Atlantic residents lack easy access to a chain grocer.

“That’s the biggie,” WRAC Chairwoman Joycelyn Patrick told me on Monday. She said the developer, Equity Enterprises USA, is “close to selecting a grocery store—or having a grocery store select them,” but she is “not at liberty to reveal any names.”

The CRA assembled the roughly 6-acre site, which Equity Associates would buy for $1 million, with the payments spread over six years. The grocery store is one aspect of the Community Benefits Agreement that is part of the transaction.

Other parts of the agreement involve local hiring for construction work and helping existing business owners with rents in the commercial space. Patrick said Equity Associates has been “more than cooperative” with WRAC. She calls the Community Benefits Agreement a potential model for such projects. The developer also has agreed to make 22 of the apartments workforce housing, with prices to match.

Several other items comprise the Uptown Atlantic approval list. The commission must accept a fee in lieu of some parking spaces, allow changes to setback rules, finalize the plat, convey some public alleys and sign off on the development agreement. The commission gave preliminary approval two weeks ago, so tonight’s debate isn’t expected to be controversial.

Though Delray Beach has encouraged West Atlantic redevelopment, the city also has wanted to make the project fit as well as possible. The commission blocked an earlier parking plan. Critics feared that overflow cars from Uptown Atlantic would crowd neighborhoods to the south. The CRA chose Equity Associates in November 2013. The company first hoped to be completing construction by October of this year.

Still, city officials want very much for this project to succeed. Delray Beach allowed a density increase from 12 units per acre to 18 units. The CRA allowed the developer to spread out the land payments. The hope is for Equity’s financial payoff to create a community payoff. WRAC hopes that Uptown Atlantic will help to rebrand that section of Delray as “The Set,” after the historic West Settlers neighborhood.

The drawings show colorful, Key West-style buildings. The eastern edge of Uptown Atlantic would be just three blocks from where the busy courthouse and tennis center face each other. City Commissioner Shelly Petrolia said Uptown Atlantic would bring “some of the amenities of East Atlantic to West Atlantic.” Glickstein said property values around the project location have increased, in anticipation of success.

Patrick praised Equity Associates for being “more than cooperative.” She would like the Community Benefits Agreement to be a model for similar projects. Equity Associates has agreed to do good as it develops Uptown Atlantic. Delray Beach hopes just as much that the developer does well. If Equity can make money on West Atlantic, more companies will follow.

And more on Atlantic Crossing

Also on tonight’s commission agenda is another sign that Delray Beach is in what City Attorney Noel Pfeffer calls “litigation mode” when it comes to Atlantic Crossing.

Last August, the commission put the developers on notice that city might try to take back public alleys it agreed to convey as part of the project. Tonight, the commission will vote to exercise that right, claiming that the developers have not met their obligations under the 2009 agreement related to the property.

As with all things Atlantic Crossing, the issue is complicated. Basically, a lawyer is holding the deed to the property in escrow. With the commission’s vote tonight, Delray Beach will say that it wants the deed back. The lawyer—who is just holding the document—won’t turn it over because Atlantic Crossing would object.

So off to court the city and developer will go, unless they agree to settle Atlantic Crossing’s $25 million lawsuit. Up will go the chance of Delray Beach filing a counterclaim. And there will sit the property that the commission approved for development in December 2012.

Pfeffer replacement search

That potential lawsuit underscores the need for Delray Beach to quickly find a replacement for Pfeffer, who is leaving at the end of May for a job with a Fort Lauderdale firm. The city attorney will supervise the outside firm handing the Atlantic Crossing litigation.

To that end, Chief Purchasing Officer Theresa Webb recommends that Delray Beach hire not the low bidder but the higher bidder—about $25,000—among three firms that would recruit applicants to succeed Pfeffer. The choice is on tonight’s city commission agenda.

Webb recommends S. Renee Narloch & Associates “due to the critical nature of this recruitment and the compressed timeline. . .” Also, Webb said, Narloch can finish by mid-May, is based in Florida (Tallahassee) and just completed two other city attorney recruitments.

Boca’s new traffic engineer

Just as Pfeffer’s successor will have to ramp up quickly, so will Boca Raton’s new chief traffic engineer.

That would be Maria Tejera, who started just in time to make a presentation at last week’s report on implementation of downtown open space rules. Tejera has an impressive background. She worked most recently as a traffic engineer for Palm Beach County, and prior to that worked for the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council and a private traffic consultant.

Tejera succeeds Doug Hess, who had the job for 31 years. Among Tejera’s big early issues will be recommendations from the city’s consultant for improvements to the intersection at Northeast Fifth Avenue and Palmetto Park Road.

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.

Randy Schultz
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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