Sunday, April 14, 2024

Where Delray is headed and setting the record straight on the Wildflower site, among other burning issues

Taking stock of Delray

From time to time since taking office in March 2013, Delray Beach Mayor Cary Glickstein has complained that, with so many holdover problems to deal with, it seemed that the city commission hadn’t been able to focus on Delray making the progress he promised as a candidate.

Glickstein can’t say that any longer. In Delray Beach, which has changed so much in the last quarter-century, a new wave of change is building.

By the end of October, work should be finished on the remake of Federal Highway from George Bush Boulevard to Southeast 10th Street. The road has been narrowed to two lanes, to make it safer for pedestrians and cyclists. Slowing traffic also will allow drivers to get a closer look at local merchants. Beautification, especially along the two blocks north and south of Atlantic Avenue, will make Federal Highway much more appealing.

At 6 p.m. next Thursday, the city will hold a public meeting on the first phase of the new Beach Area Master Plan. City Manager Don Cooper and other administrators will show drawings for the proposed new walkway along A1A. According to the city, the meeting also will include discussion of plans for new parking meters, a new snow fence, new entrances and new showers. The meeting at the Residence Inn near the beach is designed to solicit public comment on the plans.

For all the popularity of Atlantic Avenue, Delray’s public beach remains iconic. It is walkable for many residents and offers downtown hotels an amenity. The master plan is separate from the most recent beach renourishment project, which was completed in 2013. Delray has been pumping sand back onto the beach since the early 1970s, and previous projects happened in 1992, 2002 and 2005. About 50 percent of the stretch most recently restored is public.

With the sand in place for the moment, the city commission at its March goal-setting session made the beach master plan a priority. It had been a casualty of recession-era budget cuts. Cooper managed to secure $3 million from a bond program for the first phase. He hopes to get commission approval by December and for work to begin in the spring.

While Delray Beach completes its makeover of a key roadway and begins its makeover of the city’s most important public asset, development projects will be rising all over—SOFA, Uptown Atlantic and possibly the iPic project, to name just three. Ironically, Delray envisioned the Federal Highway project as a means to attract more residents as the city tried to recover from the real estate crash. Instead, the residents began coming even before the project was done.

The challenge for city officials is to make it all work with the narrower road. It is an issue with the iPic project, one side of which would border Federal Highway. Then there’s Atlantic Crossing, which would be just one block from Fourth and Fifth Delray—the iPic project.

For all of Glickstein’s early frustrations, he and the commission had to make over City Hall—on the inside— for progress to start kicking in.

Last year, the commission replaced the city manager and city attorney, which are the only two employees who report to the commission. Cooper didn’t even start until January. In the spring, he had to replace the planning and zoning director—one of the most important officials in a growing city like Delray Beach. Cooper had to oversee approval of new downtown building regulations and awards of a new trash-hauling contract, which then required oversight of the switch to a new hauler. He has had to deal with an investigation into years of ethics violations by city employees.

In a sign of change, however, a city audit led to the investigation. The building regulations got widespread praise. Trucks are picking up the garbage. Commission priorities are becoming reality. A needed reassessment of the community redevelopment agency is happening. Former Mayor Tom Lynch, for example, suggests changing the boundaries to remove some of the eastern areas and shift west, to help redevelop the Congress Avenue corridor.

Ahead lie decisions on the Old School Square Historic Arts District, fire-rescue service and how to finance the public works campaign that Delray so obviously needs. There’s a name for all of this: progress.

Park dreams?

In writing about negotiations between Boca Raton and Hillstone over the proposed Houston’s restaurant on the Wildflower property, I heard from residents who claim that the city council talked seriously about using the land for a park when the council approved buying it in 2009.

So I called Susan Whelchel, who was mayor at the time. She disagrees.

Not only was a restaurant the priority, Whelchel told me, the council—which also included current members Susan Haynie and Mike Mullaugh—hoped that the restaurant would generate enough money for the city to buy adjoining property to the north. That land, Whelchel said, would be for the park that some residents want to be on the Wildflower site. That’s why the council in 2009 targeted $500,000 per year for the base lease fee. Then, as now, Whelchel said, the council wanted to create a mini public waterfront with dining as an amenity.

Boynton bucks a trend

As Boca Raton and other cities have shut down their red-light camera program, Boynton Beach just turned the city’s cameras back on—even in the face of a new lawsuit.

The counties and cities that had programs already lost in state court. Ruling in a challenge of Hollywood’s program, the 4th District Court of Appeal in West Palm Beach struck down the programs as unconstitutional because non-sworn personnel—sometimes employees of companies that operated the cameras—reviewed photos of suspected offenders and sent out the violations.

Only law enforcement officers, the court ruled, can do that. The Florida Supreme Court declined to step in, so the ruling stands statewide unless another appeals court rules differently to create a conflict.

Now there’s a class-action lawsuit in federal court on behalf of drivers who got $158 tickets. The Legislature set that fine statewide in 2010. James Cherof, Boynton Beach’s city attorney, said Boynton has changed its program so that sworn police employees handle the steps that were at issue in the state lawsuit. The city commission still will have to decide whether to extend the program long-term.

For now, Cherof said, the city believes that its program comports with the court ruling and that fewer crashes are happening at camera-surveilled intersections.

SFWM budget hearing

This afternoon, the South Florida Water Management District will hold the first of two budget hearings. It won’t happen, but the nine-member governing board should think of a certain Erika before cutting taxes yet again.

Erika was the wet tropical storm/hurricane that at one point was forecast to move up the spine of the state, as Tropical Storm Irene did in 1999. Another tropical storm, Isaac, drenched Florida in 2012. It doesn’t take a hurricane to inflict damage.

The water district must keep South Floridians dry when rains get torrential. The agency relies on a 2,000-mile system of canals, locks and pumps that needs regular upgrading and maintenance. Under Gov. Rick Scott, the district’s property tax revenue is down one-third from four years ago because the governor has urged the board—he appoints all the members—to cut taxes.

In July, it appeared that the board finally had pushed back. The board voted not to cut taxes for 2015-16, and to give the district another $21 million. That was smart. The Scott administration, however, pushed back. The board reversed itself and will uphold that vote today.

Fortunately, Erika fizzled. Isaac, though, showed gaps in the region’s flood-control system. Only money can close those gaps.

And that tax savings? It’s about $12 for a house assessed at $400,000. Is the risk of flooding worth that?

Game on

Friday night, Florida Atlantic University plays the biggest football game in school history.

Granted, that history began only in 2001. You could argue that the first game, and then the first game in the on-campus stadium four years ago, also were big. FAU, though, now is using football in particular and athletics in general for its marketing campaign.

So against the University of Miami, with a national Fox Sports 1 audience, FAU doesn’t just need a sellout crowd of nearly 30,000. FAU needs a noisy sellout crowd. A win would be even better, but if FAU can’t fill—or at least mostly fill—its stadium the university will have to change its marketing plan.

 

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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