By Jane Smith
Some wore white T-shirts with “WHO’S LISTENING?” written in black across the top. Others wore white tops, each with a black crêpe-paper ribbon tied around the upper arm.
Dozens of residents protested outside Boynton Beach’s City Hall before the Jan. 17 commission meeting. They were accusing elected officials of ignoring their complaints and concerns about the increased height and traffic problems the proposed Riverwalk project would create.
For more than two years, waterway residents have said they don’t want to live in a concrete canyon. Yet, new plans were adopted recently to allow large-scale development in the city’s eastern half.
Commissioners approved the proposed 10-story Riverwalk project by a 3-2 vote in mid-January. Its owners want to build an apartment complex at the southwest corner of the Woolbright Road bridge at the Intracoastal Waterway.
Mayor Steven Grant and Commissioner Christina Romelus, both new to the commission, sided with the residents.
“We’re fighting for our way of life because you guys are trying to take it away from us,” said Harry Woodworth, former head of the Inlet Communities Association, which represents 10 waterfront communities in the city. “We came here for a small-town environment … not to be like every town from here to Miami.”
Mary Nagle, acting president of the Boynton Intracoastal Group, handed out the white T-shirts at the protest. Her group represents six communities with 2,500 residents.
“We didn’t feel like we were being heard,” Nagle said.
Resident Ed Tedtman suggested Vice Mayor Mack McCray should not vote on the project because he received $3,000 in campaign contributions from Riverwalk’s owners. Shaul Rikman, Riverwalk chairman; his wife, Jean, a residential real estate broker; and son, Mati, Riverwalk CEO, each donated $1,000 to McCray’s March re-election campaign.
“It’s a way to hide a bribe,” Tedtman said.
While the developers’ campaign donations may appear improper to some, they are permitted on all levels of government.
McCray defended himself, saying he is not being bought. He said he would vote for the Riverwalk project because the developer promised to hire workers without college educations from his district. However, the commitment was not written into the developer agreement.
Commissioner Joe Casello said the project had been vetted for the past two years.
“Through this whole debate, we have voted for [higher density in the CRA district],” he said.
Isram Realty, the company owned by the Rikmans, is “not a flipper of properties. [Rikman] is community-oriented and will be an asset to Boynton Beach,” Casello said.
Boynton Beach lost its innocence in the late 1960s, he said. “Boynton Beach is not going to be a quaint fishing village,” Casello said. “We are growing, people.”
Commissioner Justin Katz explained that he was voting for the Riverwalk proposal because he wanted to generate money to save the old high school in the Town Square project. It’s always about money that helps the town, he said.
He said the abandoned Winn-Dixie grocery store on the Intracoastal Waterway was an eyesore and blight on the community with homeless people living there.
“It’s a desolate, dangerous area,” he said. “Nobody gets everything they want.”
The 10-story, U-shaped apartment complex will replace the Winn-Dixie.
Residents on its upper floors will have views of the Atlantic Ocean along with the adjacent Intracoastal. That will allow the project to charge as much as $2,200 in monthly rent for some of its 326 units.
The developer received approval for an additional 5 feet above the 10 stories for parapets and other architectural embellishments to help hide pipes and air-conditioning units.
Construction will be done in phases, with the apartment complex starting by the end of the year.
A 4,666-square-foot building will be constructed along Federal Highway in the second phase. The Walgreen’s drug store/Jo-Ann Fabrics and Crafts building, also along Federal, will be renovated in the third phase.