Friday, September 22, 2023

City Watch Year In Review—And Looking Ahead to 2019

This will be my last post before 2019. So let’s look back at the big stories of this year in Boca Raton and Delray Beach and ahead to next year.

Susan Haynie arrest

Susan Haynie

This wasn’t just the top story of 2018. It was one of the biggest in Boca Raton’s history.

On the night of April 24, the city council gathered for its scheduled meeting. Haynie, then mayor, wasn’t present. During the meeting, word came that Haynie had turned herself in at the Palm Beach County Jail. The state attorney’s office had charged her with four felonies and three misdemeanors related to her dealings with James and Marta Batmasian and their company, Investments Limited.

The arrest scrambled local politics, leading to a special city election in August. Haynie then withdrew from the county commission race to succeed Steven Abrams, basically handing the seat to Robert Weinroth. In January, he had opted out of a reelection bid to the city council, choosing to challenge Haynie for the commission.

Haynie’s involvement in Boca Raton dates to 1974. Her license plate reads “Ms Boca.” Yet she has hardly been in public since the arrest. Haynie did appear at a benefit for the George Snow Scholarship Fund, a longtime cause. Longtime friends still can’t understand how it all happened.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas Massacre

March for Our Lives in Boca Raton (Photo by Randy Schultz)

Though this happened in Broward County, the effects rippled far beyond the Parkland campus.

The Boca Raton Police Department immediately assigned officers to city schools that didn’t have a school police officer. That presence will continue until the school district department has hired enough officers to comply with the new state law of at least one on each campus.

After the shooting, then-Delray Beach Mayor Cary Glickstein made an impassioned plea for new gun control laws. Moms Demand Action held rallies in Boca Raton. And the city council joined a lawsuit challenging the 2011 state law that put local officials at risk of fines and loss of office if they try to regulate firearms.

Delray Beach election

Mayor Shelly Petrolia is sworn in with her family.

The March vote reshaped the city commission. Shelly Petrolia moved up to mayor after Cary Glickstein chose not to run for reelection. Three new members—Bill Bathurst, Ryan Boylston and Adam Frankel —joined the commission, though Frankel was returning three years after term limits forced him off.

Only Shirley Johnson’s seat remained unchanged. And Johnson had been elected just a year before.

Changes at the Delray Beach Community Redevelopment Agency

The new commission quickly made its mark, by abolishing the independent CRA board and replacing it with the commission and two appointed members. Petrolia also became chairman, meaning that she runs both the CRA and the commission meetings.

In Boca Raton, city council members have acted as the CRA board for decades. In Delray Beach, though, the CRA is much larger and includes the city’s economic base of Atlantic Avenue. Boca’s CRA includes only the downtown. In Boca Raton, the mayor historically has not served as CRA chairman.

By making the move, the Delray Beach commission hoped to better link the work of the CRA with the city. But if the CRA doesn’t make the progress residents wants, commissioners no longer can blame the board members they appointed.

Boca Raton election

Boca Raton Mayor Scott Singer

It came on Aug. 28, prompted by Gov. Scott’s suspension of Haynie following her arrest. Scott Singer gave up his council seat to run for mayor, even though Haynie could return before the term ends in March 2020 if the governor reinstates her. That would happen only if Haynie is acquitted or prosecutors drop the charges.

Singer’s decision opened up his city council seat. Had Kathy Cottrell won, she would have joined Monica Mayotte and Andrea O’Rourke in a majority that ran on campaigns of being “resident-friendly”—meaning “tough on developers.” Instead, Andy Thomson won. He had lost to O’Rourke last year in a three-way race.

Because the election took place on the day of the statewide primary, turnout was much higher and better reflected the whole city. That helped Thomson, who still won by just 32 votes. Turnout also helped Singer, who routed BocaWatch Publisher Al Zucaro.

The end of BocaWatch?

Al Zucaro

After losing his second race for mayor in 18 months, Zucaro announced that he would take a “sabbatical” from the website he started in 2012. Nothing on the site has been updated.

Zucaro used BocaWatch to promote himself and favored candidates, often using misleading or false stories and videos. The difference in council meetings post-BocaWatch has been profound. Most of the speakers who regularly railed at council members based on BocaWatch postings don’t show up anymore. Most critical comments are based on facts, not conspiracy theories.

Without BocaWatch, there likely would be a restaurant on the Wildflower property paying an annual lease to the city. The city likely would have struck a deal for redevelopment of Midtown. I’m told that some residents still are trying to revive BocaWatch.

Midtown Boca

Last January, the Boca Raton City Council halted negotiations with Midtown landowners and asked staff planners to create a “small area plan.” The decision has put the city into a pair of legal fights.

Crocker Partners, which owns four properties in Midtown, filed two lawsuits. One seeks nearly $140 million in lost profits. Crocker bought the properties in 2014 for a combined $350 million. Cypress Realty, which owns the Strikes bowling center and the former Bally’s, also sued. Cypress claims that the city has wrongly failed to process its development applications for the properties.

Via Mizner 2 and 3

via mizner
Rendering of Via Mizner

In October, the Boca Raton City Council approved the updated plan for the rest of Via Mizner, at Camino Real and Federal Highway.

Joining the rental tower on the south side will be a Mandarin Oriental and a condo whose owners will have privileges at the hotel. It will be the only Mandarin Oriental in Florida outside of Miami. The project, which could be completed as soon as early 2020, will finish off redevelopment of Boca Raton’s southern downtown.

Boca Raton Regional Hospital nears deal with Baptist Health South Florida

To keep itself strong as the health care industry consolidates, Boca Regional sought a partner. The board chose Baptist over Cleveland Clinic because of Baptist’s large South Florida presence.

CEO Jerry Fedele said Boca Regional would retain much of its independence and identity. Still, some changes are inevitable and necessary. Among other things, Baptist will help complete the makeover of Boca Regional that includes a new patient tower and parking garage.


Brightline train

The company started passenger service between West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale, and then expanded to Miami. Boca Raton and Delray Beach established quiet zones, so Brightline and freight trains on the coastal FEC tracks don’t have to blow their horns.

But the horns haven’t gone silent. Engineers can blow the horns if workers are near the tracks or they sense a safety concern. Boca and Delray also don’t get much benefit from the service. Expect Boca Raton to talk about a Brightline station, especially after the company indicated that it might build one in Martin County.

And what we’re watching for 2019

Now here’s a list of stories to watch in 2019. Some have specific dates. Others are fluid, but likely will conclude or produce notable developments.

A busy January and February

Haynie has a court hearing on Jan. 15. Bruce Zimet, who represents Haynie, said he expects Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Glenn Kelley to set a trial date at that hearing. Zimet told me this week that there are no plea negotiations between him and the state attorney’s office.

On Jan. 29, if the schedule holds, the Delray Beach Community Redevelopment Agency will choose from among six bidders for roughly 9 acres of land next to the Fairfield Inn on Atlantic Avenue. City commissioners and neighborhood leaders hope that one of the proposed mixed-use projects will create momentum to redevelop The Set.

In February, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service may decide whether to allow expanded hunting in the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge and other uses. The Trump administration has sought to open up the nation’s public lands. The refuge, west of Boynton Beach, is popular with those who want a break from suburban South Florida. Many regulars oppose the proposals.

And on Feb. 22, the trial of former Palm Beach Gardens police office Nouman Raja is set to begin. Raja faces two criminal charges stemming from the shooting of Corey Jones in October 2015. Jones worked as an inspector for the Delray Beach Housing Authority and his family owns The New Vegan restaurant.

Office Depot

The Boca Raton-based company nearly disappeared in May 2016, but a federal judge blocked the proposed merger with Staples. Under the merger, the headquarters would have moved to Massachusetts.

New CEO Gerry Smith announced that Office Depot would focus more on sales to businesses than individual customers and would transform its stores to compete with online retailers. The approach may be paying off.

For the three months ending last September, Office Depot had its best quarter in more than a decade. Since the company has roughly 2,000 employees at the headquarters on Military Trail near Clint Moore Road, Boca Raton officials hope the improvement continues.

Also in Boca Raton. . .

We’ll be watching to see what happens with the Midtown lawsuits, whether GL Homes closes on its purchase of the western golf course and what the schedule is for Boca National Golf Course, and what the city council decides on the Wildflower property/Silver Palm Park/overall waterfront master plan and the downtown campus. We also will want to see if there’s a deal to keep the Boca Raton Bowl at Florida Atlantic University Stadium past next year. We will check the progress of the cultural consortium in its effort to build a performing arts complex on Spanish River Boulevard.

Also in Delray Beach. . .

We will be watching to see if legislation to restricting spending by community redevelopment agencies comes out of Tallahassee and what happens with the sober home lawsuit that might affect the city, whether the iPic theater/office opens in 2019. We will follow the building and opening of downtown hotels and the continued reshaping of government by City Manager Mark Lauzier.

Last, but certainly not least, we will watch to see if 2019 brings a recession that affects city budgets.

Happy New Year to everyone. May it bring you health and prosperity.

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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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