More on the Wildflower ordinance, Delray chooses an attorney and much, much more

Weinroth speaks to Wildflower ordinance

A debate of sorts over the proposed waterfront ordinance in Boca Raton took place at the last two city council meetings.

On Sept. 27, Scott Singer reported on his “visioning session” for the Wildflower property and Silver Palm Park. He called it a “productive discussion” at which residents expressed interest in “something to draw visitors” to the eight acres on either side of the Palmetto Park Road Bridge. Among the most popular ideas were “dining and retail.” Singer said he hopes to “build on this.”

Singer has been the only council member to support the ordinance. He voted to adopt it, rather than put the proposal to a vote. He and other supporters of the ordinance, which is the last item on Boca Raton’s general election ballot, claim that the council could approve “dining and retail” on the Wildflower property and Silver Palm Park even if the ordinance passed.

On Oct. 11, Robert Weinroth gave his rebuttal. Sitting to Singer’s right on the dais, Weinroth held up a sample ballot and read from what he called the “plain language” of Ordinance 5356, which says that “all city-owned land adjacent to the Intracoastal Waterway shall be used only for public recreation, public boating access, public streets, and city stormwater uses only.”

Weinroth noted the repetitive use of “only” and declared that if the ordinance and its restrictive language passed, none of those exciting uses Singer mentioned would be permitted. The ordinance, of course, is designed to prevent a specific use on a specific site: a Hillstone restaurant on the Wildflower property.

Though Weinroth, who supports a restaurant on the Wildflower property, did most of the talking, others agreed. Jeremy Rodgers said Weinroth had “summarized” his thoughts. “People need to take the language for what it is,” Rodgers added. “If you want other options—commercial, dining—vote no.”

Mayor Susan Haynie called the language “very limiting” and “very flawed.” She noted that it doesn’t mention “education.” What would that mean for Gumbo Limbo Nature Center? City Manager Leif Ahnell agreed that private uses don’t “meet the plain language” of the ordinance. Action by the council to approve something outside the ordinance, he said, could bring a lawsuit.

Indeed, longtime political activist Mark Guzzetta told me this week that he and other “like-minded citizens” already have consulted a lawyer about litigation if the ordinance passed and Singer or any council member sought approval for some of the uses he highlighted.

Guzzetta and the others would sue, he said, over the council “going against the will of the people.” The inside joke is that Guzzetta opposes the ordinance. He chose his words to criticize the chairman of the committee that got the ordinance onto the ballot. James Hendrey touts the ordinance as a way for “the people” to be heard, though Hendrey’s real motivation is to block the restaurant. The site is across the Intracoastal Waterway from his house.

I asked Singer for a response. In an email, he said, “Some uses involving non-public entities that further the purposes of public recreation and public boating access would still be permitted” if the ordinance passed. Singer is a lawyer, and “entities that further the purpose of public recreation” sounds very lawyer-like. Since the Hillstone restaurant would offer public parking—even for non-customers—a public walkway on the Intracoastal Waterway and public dining, wouldn’t it also be permitted under Singer’s reasoning? For some in Boca, dining out is their favorite form of recreation.

In an interview, Haynie said, “Public recreation is a rather large tent.” And if the council allowed a smaller restaurant, why wouldn’t Hillstone sue, claiming that size is a distinction without a difference?

If the ordinance passes, Haynie said, “There will be unintended consequences.” Yet supporters, who first touted the ordinance as a way to preserve parks—even though the Wildflower property isn’t a park—now want voters to believe that the ordinance doesn’t amount to anything and that the public can have it both ways.

If Singer believes in the vision for the Wildflower and Silver Palm Park that he encouraged and wants to head off any legal complications, he ought to be campaigning against the ordinance. That he finds himself in this position is one of those “unintended consequences.”

Calusa overcrowding

The Boca Raton City Council is responding to residents in the northwest section whose children attend Calusa Elementary School.

Because of overcrowding, the school district has considered moving some students from Calusa to Pine Grove Elementary in Delray Beach, Whispering Pines Elementary outside the city or other schools within the city. The potentially affected parents are not happy. Last week, Mayor Susan Haynie sent a letter to Superintendent Robert Avossa asking to keep Boca students within the city and for “a solution that preserves the quality of education” for those in neighborhoods around Calusa. The school is on Clint Moore Road just west of Military Trail.

Whispering Pines is about four miles west of Calusa. Pine Grove is about six miles northeast of Calusa. Like Calusa, Whispering Pines is, and has been an A-rated school. Haynie’s letter, though, says “achievement rates” are lower than at Calusa. Pine Grove has consistently scored ‘C’ in the state ratings, which often have more to do with student demographics than academic quality.

A citizen committee makes recommendations on boundary changes. The school board makes the final decision. On Tuesday, that committee delayed action on Calusa. Members want to wait for the results of the Nov. 8 vote on a one-cent sales tax increase. Half of the money would go to schools, and Calusa would get nearly $10 million. If the tax passes, Calusa might have to move far fewer students.

First Community Advisory Panel meeting

The Boca Raton Community Advisory Panel hosts its first meeting this evening at 6:30 in the community center annex. The city formed it after eliminating four advisory boards, in hopes that a single group could be more effective on what the city calls “quality of life” issues.       A news release quoted the group’s chairman as saying that the wants to hear from residents “who may be unable or uncomfortable” attending a council meeting, at which residents can speak for five minutes on any subject. The 11-member panel will relay ideas to the council. The panel will meet on the second Tuesday of every month.

Delray chooses city attorney

Ironically, given the animus that had infected the issue, the Delray Beach City Commission’s debate over a city attorney was collegial and productive.

The commission chose Jupiter-based Lohman Law Group from among four firms. Lohman was by far the smallest of the applicants, with just three lawyers. In contrast, GrayRobinson—which also applied and whose lawyers appear regularly before the Boca Raton City Council—has roughly 300 lawyers and is one of the country’s 200 largest firms.

Mayor Cary Glickstein told me that Lohman “barely made the short list.” Managing partner Max Lohman, however, sold the commission with “his demeanor and perspective about the role of city attorney.” Glickstein called Lohman “a good fit.”

Max Lohman explained how his firm enabled Palm Beach Gardens to defeat a lawsuit by Sears, Roebuck, even though the company used a firm that has 6,000 lawyers. Lohman also noted that the firm successfully defended Palm Beach Gardens in a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a ban on retail dog and cat sales. Delray Beach has such a ban.

City Manager Don Cooper now must negotiate a contract. In his application, Lohman proposed retaining the city’s three in-house lawyers, one of whom works for the police department, and offered two payment options.

The firm could charge $210 per hour for general legal work and $250 per hour for litigation, or the city could pay a monthly retainer of $25,000 with the hourly rates kicking in if the costs exceeded $25,000. Max Lohman would act as city attorney and supervise the three existing lawyers. Lohman said his firm is “not looking to be overpaid.”

Commissioner Jordana Jarjura said she calculated that the annual costs for a city attorney and a deputy—the two positions that are vacant—at $326,000 including benefits. Lohman believes that his firm can give Delray Beach “in-house counsel service” and still save the city money.

That approach pleased commissioners Mitch Katz and Shelly Petrolia, who had favored hiring an outside firm, but also Glickstein and Jarjura, who favored the old system under City Attorney Noel Pfeffer. Glickstein wound up ranking Lohman first. “We got heart, scrappiness and proven ability, with adequate support that will, collectively, work well” with the city’s three holdovers.

The special meeting lasted more than three hours. At the end of Tuesday’s regular meeting, Glickstein praised the commission for its “objectivity.” However Lohman works out, the commission already has made the city attorney issue less divisive.

Police pension board newcomer

The Delray commission appointed an impressive-sounding newcomer to the police pension board.

Barry Feldman spent 20 years as city manager in West Hartford, Conn. After that, Feldman served as chief operating officer for University of Connecticut. In that role, he oversaw the university’s capital investment programs, experience that directly bears on the pension board’s duties. Commissioner Al Jacquet nominated Feldman, and the vote was unanimous.

According to the property appraiser’s website, Feldman bought a townhouse not far from downtown just last month. In choosing Feldman, the commission turned down several other applicants, including former City Commissioner Adam Frankel, who had served as a trustee on the fire-police pension board. There are now separate, smaller boards for each pension fund.

King Tides

Today will end this month’s “king tide” flooding, which occurs when the Earth, the Sun and the Moon are closest to each other in their orbits, thus increasing the Moon’s gravitational pull.

King tides especially affect Delray Beach, which held a “King Tides Teach-In” on Monday at Saltwater Brewery. Through Wednesday, as expected, tidal flooding had been worst in the Marina District and near Veterans Park.

To deal with sea level rise, which king tides exacerbate, the city is spending big money to upgrade seawalls. As we saw during Tuesday night’s commission meeting, however, small things also can help.

Mayor Glickstein said a resident had asked whether bridge tenders could ask boaters to slow down, thus leaving less wake, which would cause less water to slop over the seawalls. All three of the city’s bridges—at George Bush and Linton boulevards and Atlantic Avenue—have public address systems. What a smart idea.

iPic update

Fourth and Fifth Delray—the iPic project—is on the agenda for tonight’s Community Redevelopment Agency meeting.

Last month, the CRA postponed a decision on whether to extend once again the deadline for iPic to buy the project site, which the CRA assembled and formerly was home to the city’s library and chamber of commerce. The project needs permits before purchase, and the permits depend on the city and the company finalizing agreements on management of the parking garage and reconveying an alley to the city if the project isn’t built.

CRA Director Jeff Costello’s memo notes that those agreements had been tentatively scheduled for Tuesday’s commission meeting but didn’t make the agenda. Costello told me the hope now is to have them on the Nov. 1 agenda. Costello recommends that the CRA extend the purchase deadline to Jan. 31, 2017.

Mayor Glickstein said the city and iPic are “close, but close is not sufficient for a project of this complexity and importance. The ball is squarely in their court to get us from close to complete. I hope they can get there.”

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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.