Friday, November 26, 2021

Zoning Changes On the Table for BRIC Upgrades & More

CP Group got a definite maybe from the city council this week about its plans for the Boca Raton Innovation Campus.

Company officials appeared at Tuesday’s workshop meeting to discuss the future of IBM’s former North American research unit on Yamato Road west of Interstate 95. CP wants to create what attorney Bonnie Miskel called a “village environment” that will attract many more tech companies.

Though it’s early for specific projects, CP presented renderings that show a dramatic transformation of the 123 acres. Miskel said BRIC could have 1,000 residential units, a 121-room hotel and a 40,000-square foot grocery store. Boca Raton Regional Hospital has an office at BRIC, and Miskel said the Boca Raton Museum of Art is “interested in a satellite location.”

CP Marketing Director Giana Pacinelli said employees at tech firms “want amenities.” The company has added some since buying the property in 2018 and wants to add many more. Pacinelli said CP Group is focused on workers who want “all basic needs”—including their job—within 15 minutes of home. That explains the residential component.

Under current rules, CP could not build residential. Boca Raton is near or the cap on how many residential units the city can approve under zoning rules for the jobs cluster in the northwest part of the city that includes BRIC and the nearby Park at Broken Sound.

Miskel called it “a very old zoning category” that was “designed for IBM.” Such zoning is “very challenging” for the mixed-use project that CP Group envisions. Ideally, Miskel said, the company and city could “draft resolutions,” and CP Group would “bring back something very special” in six months.

Councilman Andy Thomson said he is “on board” with the concept but asked about housing “numbers.” Miskel said the company would not seek anything close to the 20 units per acre—roughly 2,500 in all—that might apply to a similarly-sized site elsewhere in Boca Raton.

Andrea O’Rourke called BRIC “a beloved property.” She wanted to know if the plans might conflict with the effort to build a performing arts center in Mizner Park. Miskel acknowledged that there had been discussion about such a facility but that BRIC doesn’t envision one now.

Mayor Scott Singer wondered if CP was being “premature.” Why is BRIC different, Singer asked, from the Park at Broken Sound? Perhaps the city should be looking at the “northwest ecosystem” and working with “other stakeholders.”

Miskel responded that BRIC seeks to be self-contained. “People aren’t going to be walking across Yamato.” She got support from City Manager Leif Ahnell, who noted that the Park at Broken Sound includes many landowners. BRIC has just one, which would make planning much easier.

The council decided that CP Group will come back at the Nov. 8 or Nov. 22 workshop meeting and offer more information. Pacinelli said, “We were pleased with the outcome. We are excited to present more details in 30 days.”

Thomson made what seems like the key point. “I do not want to see Boca Raton miss an opportunity like this.”

Delray in the news

atlantic avenue
Atlantic Avenue in Delray Beach

How did Delray Beach wind up last week in a story by the Philadelphia Inquirer?

The article wasn’t about sober houses, once a favorite topic for Northeast news organizations. It wasn’t about tourism.

It was about the 301 Apartments project that the city commission approved last March. The entities behind the project are based in Secaucus, N.J., and are part of National Realty Investment Advisors.

According to the article, the company “is under investigation by the FBI and federal and state financial regulators, and a former key executive has separately been charged by federal authorities with fraud.

“No criminal charges or civil complaints have been made against the company, which is racing to finish its projects up and down the East Coast in time to deliver promised returns on the $560 million it has collected from investors. It recently disclosed that it now uses cash from new investors to pay existing ones.”

Before and during the approval process, those individuals and entities donated to the re-election campaigns of Mayor Shelly Petrolia and commissioners Ryan Boylston and Adam Frankel. All were on the ballot last March. Petrolia received $4,000, Boylston and Frankel got $5,000.

I wrote about the project at the time. Supporters believed that the apartment building would help to reviltalize the Osceola Park neighborhood near the Railroad Corridor. It qualified for extra density and came in at 100 units on roughly 1.5 acres. It also changed along the way.

Last November, the planning and zoning board recommended denial of the first version by a vote of 6-1. Afterward, the developer lowered the height from six stories to five stories, reduced the density and widened the setbacks. On Jan. 25, the planning and zoning board again recommended denial, but the vote was 4-3.

On Feb. 9, the commission gave the project preliminary approval. Petrolia and Juli Casale voted no. Boylston, Frankel and Shirley Johnson voted yes. On March 2, Petrolia switched her vote to yes and the project received final approval, 4-1. Each time, the Osceola Park Neighborhood Association supported the project and the zoning changes to allow it.

The Inquirer headline read, “Politicians received thousands as they were voting on a big project.” Compared to other development decisions in Delray Beach, 301 Apartments was hardly “big.” Delray Beach recently has acknowledged the need for more housing in the city.

One difference among Petrolia, Boylston and Frankel is that Petrolia, who had criticized Boylston for being on “Team Developer,” got her donations after the initial vote, when she did not support the project. The first $3,000 arrived on Feb. 24. Another $1,000 came on March 2. 

“I don’t know if they think they can buy somebody,” Petrolia told the Inquirer. “But they can never buy me.”

Community garden to reopen

A ribbon-cutting Saturday will open the Junior League of Boca Raton’s new community garden.

Construction of the Brightline station and garage displaced the garden from its longtime spot east of the downtown library. The new one will be at Meadows Park. One hundred plots at the garden will be availble for lease. According to a news release, the Junior League will donate 10 percent of the garden’s produce to Boca Helping Hands. Brightline contributed money toward creation of the new garden.

COVID assistance in Boca

Boca Raton has received $357,000 more in emergency COVID-19 assistance from the federal government to help residents stay in their homes.

Applicants are eligible if they have suffered harm because of the pandemic, from the loss of a family member to the closing of a business where they worked. According to a news release, city residents can get as many as six months worth of rent or mortgage payments, with a maximum award of $15,000.

Residents are not eligible if they have received or are receiving housing assistance from another program. Those intersted can apply beginning Tuesday on the city’s website.

Correction

Correction: In Tuesday’s post, I said that Palm Health Foundation was created with revenue from the sale of JFK Medical Center. It was created with revenue from the sale of St. Mary’s and Good Samaritan medical centers.

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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