By Jane Smith
Delray Beach City Commissioners voted to install themselves as their Community Redevelopment Agency board members.
The members of the CRA board were replaced immediately with the vote.
Citing displeasure with the pace of West Atlantic redevelopment and the $19.5 million of taxpayer dollars at stake, the city commissioners voted 4-1 on April 3 for the takeover.
In May, it will be five years that the CRA has been trying to redevelop three blocks of West Atlantic Avenue. Residents of surrounding neighborhoods have been waiting 20 years for a full-service grocery store.
Meanwhile, the CRA has focused on the flashy, east side of Atlantic Avenue with new projects such as the iPic movie theater and the Atlantic Crossing mixed-use project.
“Thirty-two years ago promises were made that parts of the city would be rebuilt,” said Deputy Vice Mayor Shirley Johnson. “There’s been no demonstrable development on West Atlantic Avenue.”
She urged the other commissioners to act boldly and “vote to dissolve the CRA board.”
New commissioner Ryan Boylston said, “I won’t be voting to dissolve the CRA board tonight.”
He wanted to wait until the City Commission goal-setting workshop on April 20 and 21.
Seventeen people spoke about the CRA prior to the vote. Eleven wanted to keep the independent board.
“Why is this the first item of the new commission?” asked Reggie Cox, a CRA board member. “Some would say it’s deceitful, bamboozling.”
Ex-CRA board member Herman Stevens said to Johnson, “Don’t fear the heavy-handed Facebook attack about your decision . . . The CRA should be about community service, not self-service.”
The City Commission will discuss adding two independent members at its April 10 workshop.
Johnson asked at the end of the March 29 organizational meeting to have the takeover resolution discussed on April 3.
On March 7, at the end of a nearly nine-hour meeting, Johnson said she was wrong in voting to keep the CRA board last spring when she was first elected to the commission.
At that point she wanted to dissolve the CRA board because its members were going to reconsider in two days allowing a Publix grocery store to tie up potential development of the 600 block of West Atlantic Avenue for another five years. Because it was less than a week before Election Day — when four of the five commission seats could change — Johnson agreed with her commission colleagues that the optics of the takeover would look bad.
“It’s more dysfunctional than ever,” she said of the CRA board on March 7.
The City Commission had the opportunity last summer to make changes to the CRA board, but only two new members were appointed. Johnson wanted to see a clean sweep with new members in the four open seats. The CRA board has seven members who each serve four-year terms.
Johnson also said some of the CRA board members were disrespectful to CRA Chairwoman Annette Gray with their late arrivals and early departures from the meetings.
“And now, they want to change their bylaws to hold only one meeting a month,” Johnson said on March 7. The CRA board members, all volunteers, meet twice monthly and usually have a workshop session before the second monthly meeting.
At this point in time, the CRA board needs to take action at its meetings, Johnson said.
West Atlantic redevelopment was first talked about in the fall of 2012. Six months later, the CRA made its first request for development proposals for the key 600-800 blocks of West Atlantic Avenue.
The CRA board selected Equity Enterprises USA Inc. in October 2013 to redevelop 6 acres into a mixed-use project, called Uptown Atlantic. Equity agreed to pay the CRA $1 million for the land in May 2014.
The Delray Beach City Commission gave Uptown Atlantic approval in June 2015.
West Atlantic residents rallied behind the Equity project. The proposal involved hiring local contractors and subcontractors and including a grocery store in the project; something the community identified as a need years ago. It also promised to use local contractor Randolph & Dewdney.
Equity parted with Randolph’s company in the second half of 2016 when the contractor couldn’t get bonding for the multimillion-dollar project. When the developer asked for another 120-day extension in December 2016, the CRA board said no.
That move put the CRA board and staff back to square one with the Northwest and Southwest neighborhoods, now rebranded as The Set.