and the impressive historic preservation and garden lushness of that famous Rhode Island enclave.
Photo: (l-r) club member Cecile McCaull, Pardee and Grass River President Holly Breeden.
and the impressive historic preservation and garden lushness of that famous Rhode Island enclave.
Photo: (l-r) club member Cecile McCaull, Pardee and Grass River President Holly Breeden.
Palm Beach International Boat Show
offers boats, yachts and accessories,
along with seminars for kids and adults
moored at temporary floating docks and sitting on trailers along Flagler Drive in West Palm Beach.
By Willie Howard
Boat lovers will be able to see more than $1.2 billion worth of yachts, boats and accessories during the 31st annual Palm Beach International Boat Show, set for March 17-20 in downtown West Palm Beach.
The floating stock at this year’s boat show will range from superyachts over 250 feet long to trailerable center consoles, shallow-running flat boats, sportfishers, comfortable long-distance trawlers, yacht tenders and kayaks.
Smaller than the mammoth Fort Lauderdale boat show held in the fall, the Palm Beach County show has built a reputation as a venue that’s easy to navigate, with boats in the water and on land concentrated along Flagler Drive.
“The show’s ease of access and walkability, along with some great local attractions, make this a highly desirable, yacht-shopping destination,” said Andrew Doole, vice president of Show Management, the company that produces the boat show.
The show is expanding this year to include slips for big yachts at Palm Harbor Marina — along Flagler Drive near the northern show entrance on North Clematis Street. Organizers also added valet parking at this entrance.
Even if you’re not shopping for a boat, there are plenty of fishing, diving and boating accessories to see at the show, along with educational seminars for adults and children.
Special events at this year’s boat show include:
• Hook the Future kids fishing clinics, free with show admission, will be presented by Capt. Don Dingman, host of the Hook the Future television show. Instruction includes casting, fish fighting, tackle selection and fishing ethics. The kids fishing clinics will be offered at noon and 2 p.m. March 19-20 only. The first 50 participants will receive a free rod/reel combination and a T-shirt.
• CruiserPort, a display of cruisers and trawlers ranging from 35 to 90 feet along with seminars for boaters interested in the long-distance cruising lifestyle.
• Adult fishing seminars presented by the IGFA School of Sportfishing. South Florida fishing captains and professional anglers will deliver 14 seminars on a variety of topics at the Meyer Amphitheatre. Fishing seminars begin at 12:30 p.m. on the first two days of the boat show and at 11 a.m. on the final two days.
• AquaZone is a 40,000-gallon, freshwater pool operated by Nautical Ventures where the public can try out kayaks and paddleboards. Nautical Ventures also will use the pool to demonstrate hovercrafts, power surfboards, jetpack flyboards, water bikes and underwater scooters.
Boat show hours are noon to 7 p.m. March 17; 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. March 18-19; and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. March 20.
Show entrances are on Flagler Drive at Evernia Street and North Clematis Street.
Parking is available near the show in downtown West Palm Beach. Follow boat show signs from Okeechobee Boulevard to municipal parking lots within walking distance of the show entrances.
Attendees who arrive by boat can dock for free at the come-by-boat docks, located at the south end of the in-water display boats.
Adult admission is $21 at the show or $19 online. Tickets for youths 6-15 are $11 at the show or $9 online. Children younger than 6 will be admitted free.
For more details, visit www.showmanagement.com or call 800-940-7642.
Club plans catch-and-snap fishing tournament
The Boynton Beach Fishing Club is planning a phone-based fishing tournament April 8-9 that allows anglers to photograph and release their fish.
Snook, tarpon, kingfish, dolphinfish (mahi mahi), cobia, grouper, blackfin tuna and sailfish are eligible in the tournament.
Anglers can keep legal fish or release them. Prizes will be awarded in several categories.
The club is hosting the tournament with the Snook & Gamefish Foundation. To participate, anglers must pay the $25 entry fee and download the free “iTournament” phone app, available for Android and Apple phones. (Find it in the app store or go to www.ianglertournament.com.)
Tournament anglers will photograph their fish against a ruler to show size and report their catches using the iTournament app. Raffle points will be awarded for each fish logged.
Tournament rules are posted on the fishing club’s website, www.bifc.org.
For details, call Ken Sorensen of the fishing club, at 703-5638; or Brett Fitzgerald of the Snook & Gamefish Foundation, at 707-8923.
March 12: Volunteers wanted for beach cleanup, 8 to 10:30 a.m., Ocean Inlet Park. Organized by Sea2Shore Alliance (www.sea2shore.org/h20).
March 12: Bass fishing tournament for kids, Smythe Pavilion, John Prince Park, 2700 Sixth Ave. S., Lake Worth. Fish from the bank with artificial lures. Bass will be released alive. Register online at www.bassfishingkids.com, or call 954-306-3441.
March 19: Basic boating safety class offered by the Coast Guard Auxiliary in Boca Raton. Class is 9 a.m.-5 p.m. in the headquarters building at Spanish River Park, 3939 N. Ocean Blvd. $35. Register at the door. Bring lunch. Call 391-3600 or email email@example.com.
March 22: Social meeting of Boynton Beach Fishing Club, 7:30 p.m. in clubhouse building next to boat ramps, Harvey E. Oyer Jr. Park, 2210 N. Federal Highway, Boynton Beach. Bring in reels to replace old line. Call 703-5638 or visit www.bifc.org.
March 23: “Baits, Rigs and Tackle,” a presentation on essential fishing methods by Capt. Rick Ryals, 7 p.m., West Palm Beach Fishing Club, 201 Fifth St., West Palm Beach. Capt. Eden White will lead a “Rigging It Right” workshop at 6 p.m. before Ryals’ presentation. Free. Call 832-6780.
March 26: Basic boating safety class offered by the Coast Guard Auxiliary, 8 a.m. in the meeting room at Harvey E. Oyer Jr. Park, Boynton Beach. $40. Call Sandy Meridy at 734-2244.
Here, Jimmy Johnson poses with a 377-pound shark caught in the surf at Delray Beach in 1955.
Photo provided by Delray Beach Historical Society
Photos, memorabilia needed for exhibit
The Delray Beach Historical Society’s fishing history exhibit, “Fish Tales!”, is tentatively scheduled to open April 30 and will run through September.
“This exhibit is going to be really neat,” said Winnie Edwards, executive director of the historical society. “We’re going all the way back to the early 1800s. It’s a real community celebration of our heritage.”
Edwards said the historical society is looking for South Florida fishing stories, newspaper clippings and fishing photos (especially vintage fishing photos from the Delray Beach area).
The historical society also hopes to borrow mounts of locally caught trophy fish, rods, reels and fishing memorabilia for display in the exhibit.
Anyone with information, photos or a possible display item for the fishing history exhibit should contact Edwards or Janet DeVries at 274-9578 or email: Info@Delraybeachhistory.org.
while fishing off the Boynton Inlet on Feb. 12. Albertson was trolling ballyhoo when he landed the fish after a 50-minute fight.
Tip of the month
If you enjoy boating or simply live near the water, you should have the Wildlife Alert Hotline number saved in your cellphone.
The hotline is the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission’s contact number for violations of fishing, wildlife and boating laws.
See someone operating a boat after drinking too much? Notice someone stealing sea turtle eggs or disturbing sea turtles? Find a sick or injured manatee? Call the Wildlife Alert Hotline.
The hotline is answered 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Tipsters can remain anonymous and could be eligible for rewards up to $1,000. Those who choose to remain anonymous will be given a confidential code number.
Willie Howard is a freelance writer and licensed boat captain. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jerry Lower/The Coastal Star
By Deborah S. Hartz-Seeley
Jeff Nurge, co-owner of Native Choice Nursery in Boynton Beach, says he just loves to bring nature into yards.
To do that, he specializes almost exclusively in selling native plants that will attract butterflies, birds and small mammals.
In fact, the fun of growing natives is that each plant has its own purpose, he says.
At this quarter-acre nursery, you’ll find about 150 species of native plants, plus a few trees from the Bahamas such as bay rum, lemon bay rum and allspice.
Nurge fell in love with native plants after living in Florida for more than 40 years and using them to bring wildlife into his own back yard. So when he left his banking career, he decided to learn more about local flora and fauna by becoming a master gardener.
In 2006, he started his own landscaping company. And by 2010, he and fellow master gardener Susan Casamento opened Native Choice.
The partners lease their land from the owner of the nearby Tropical World Nursery. So, finding Nurge’s little spot within the larger 10-acre nursery is a challenge for first-time visitors.
Once here, you’ll discover plant display tables of wire stretched over wooden frames that are set on upended cinderblocks.
The ground is either covered with weed cloth or sand paths that allow native plants to grow from seed under the display racks.
Not only will you find reasonably priced natives, but also Nurge is happy to share invaluable information about them.
For example, he points out the soldierwood tree that produces inconspicuous green flowers to attract small insects on which songbirds feast. You’ll find these throughout the Atlantic Flyway bird migration route that in South Florida lies close to the Everglades.
“Migrating birds need protein for their long flight to South and Central America and this tree is where they get it,” he says.
He sells me on a scorpion’s tail, which now graces my backyard garden with its tiny white flowers that grow along one side of a curved 1-inch stem. The result is a flower that resembles, yes, a scorpion’s tail.
Nurge tells me it’s important to plant natives with white flowers because they attract male butterflies and the flower’s nectar has a substance that “helps males with their reproductive purposes.”
Of course, Nurge carries the common natives, including wild coffee, Simpson’s stopper and lantana.
But he also has some you may not have encountered, including the rough leaf velvet seed. Its leaves feel like sandpaper and its seeds are covered with a dark red to black fiber that feels like velvet.
While we are talking, Jeremy Blasbalg, from Boynton Beach, comes to the nursery with his friend Jessica Rothschild of Miami. On this, their second visit, Blasbalg is looking for something his condo association might use to create a butterfly garden.
“This place is great because it has a little of every native you could want, and seeing them growing, you can get a lot of good ideas,” he says.
Rothschild wants to attract more butterflies to her garden, where she already has monarchs, gulf fritillaries and zebra longwings.
“Not a lot of places have native plants,” she says. “What you get at the big home stores is very limited and it’s all like root-bound, forced plants.
“There’s not the same amount of care or variety that you can get here,” Rothschild adds.
Deborah S. Hartz-Seeley is a certified master gardener. Reach her at email@example.com.
Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star
By Janis Fontaine
Haven’t heard of actress Alycia Mulliez-Duberry yet?
“Remember her name,” said Kim Wick, vice president of The Wick Theatre & Costume Museum. “She will be on Broadway one day.”
Alycia, 8, made her stage debut in Boca Raton in the Wick’s production of South Pacific, the only musical ever made from a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel.
“Alycia is simply lovely,” Wick said. “She’s sung at a few of our cabarets and we were all just so impressed with her.” The young star joined the cast late and had only a few days to prepare, but she handled it like a pro, according to Wick.
Those who work with her say Alycia is a poised, confident young lady without a trace of arrogance. She is in the second grade at the Gulf Stream School and she prefers art and P.E. to math and science, but she says her teacher is nice. At home, she enjoys playing with her two dogs, a papillon and a Rhodesian ridgeback. Sometimes she makes up little plays for her stuffed animals to act out.
She doesn’t get nervous when she’s getting ready to perform.
“I just feel excited,” she says. “Well, I am a Capricorn. We take risks.”
She likes to learn her lines and usually finds it easy to remember them. “It’s fun that you get to be something you’re not.”
Alycia also studies ballet — she started at age 3 — and she’s a good athlete, as well. Good thing, too, because she says her dream is to be an actor in Cirque de Soliel’s Cavalia, which features dozens of horses and acrobats. She likes horses and says the trick is, “you just have to be calm.” She rides at Delray Equestrian Center and says she’s been saving her birthday money so she can buy her own horse.
Alycia’s mother, Francine Duberry-Mulliez of Gulf Stream, has done some acting herself and is relieved that her daughter has been able to juggle her school, extracurricular activities and the performances so easily.
“Between scenes we do homework,” mom says. Both are committed to making it work. “It’s great experience for her to work with real professionals.”
It’s also great to be in a show that earned critical acclaim. South Pacific ran through Feb. 14 and received great reviews. The Palm Beach Post gave it an A-minus and called it “a straightforward, heartfelt, well-sung production with the show’s many assets intact.”
Alycia recalled a trip she took to New York City to see the Rockettes Christmas Extravaganza, when she visited Central Park and went to the best toy store ever, FAO Schwarz. She did not, however, get to go ice skating at Rockefeller Center, so that’s on the rosebud’s bucket list. She’s ready to go to Broadway tomorrow, she says.
If the critics are right, she won’t always be in the audience.
Local performing arts classes for kids
Do you have the next Oscar- or Tony-winner living at your house? Here are 10 local opportunities where they can polish their craft:
Acting 101 — Boca Raton Community Center, 150 Crawford Blvd., Boca Raton. Ages 5-10. A broad introduction to acting offered in a fun way through exercises and drills. Info: 393-7807.
Actors Conservatory — Boca Raton Community Center, 150 Crawford Blvd., Boca Raton. Ages 12-18. From Shakespeare/stage work to film and television stage combat, and vocal/movement training for the actor. Info: 393-7807
The Arts Garage — 180 NE First Ave., Delray Beach. Offers an array of classes like theater play for 5- to 7-year-olds, “dream role” cabaret for 8- to 12-year-olds and the Bridge Project jazz combo workshop for students with two years’ jazz experience. Also offers private classes. Info: 450-6357; www.artsgarage.org
Center Stage Performing Arts — 7200 W. Camino Real, Suite 330, Boca Raton. Ages 5-12. The Broadway Workshop is a 13-week theater/dance performance program with training in singing, dancing and acting that ends with a full-scale musical production. The school offers both an improv student showcase and improv classes. Info: 750-7824; www.centerstageboca.com
Musical Theater and Drama — Boca Raton Community Center, 150 Crawford Blvd., Boca Raton. Ages 6-11. Joy Deco teaches singing, dancing and acting to popular Broadway songs and scripts. Info: 393-7807.
Rocky Mountain Conservatory Theatre — 201 Plaza Real, Boca Raton. The RMCT offers a variety of classes and summer programs for young performers. Info: 962-1570.
Showtime Performing Arts Theatre — 503 SE Mizner Blvd., Suite 73, Boca Raton. Classes are offered for preschool kids through adults in dance, acting, instrumental, vocal and audition preparation. The theater also offers winter and spring break camps and summer performing arts camps. Both group and private lessons are offered. Info: 394-2626; www.showtimeboca.com
Sol Children Theatre Troupe — 3333 N. Federal Highway, Boca Raton. Beginner, intermediate and advanced acting, musical theater, creative drama and movement and improvisation. Summer programs take place at Olympic Heights High School. Info: 447-8829; www.solchildren.org
TakeLessons.com — A guide to people who offer classes. You can check out their résumés, compare prices and see if anyone clicks. Info: www.takelessons.com
Virtuous Productions — 2880 N. Federal Highway, Boca Raton. Ages 4 and older. Children and teen classes in ballroom, etiquette, jazz, musical theater, creative dramatics, hip hop and modern dance. Choral and acting for teens only. Info: 750-6700; www.virtuousproductions.com.
Summoning the past
with a concrete cruise along the old road
Courtesy of the Historical Society of Palm Beach County
Courtesy of the Boca Raton Historical Society
By Mary Jane Fine
“There’s somethin’ about this Sunday
It’s a most peculiar gray
Strollin’ down the avenue
That’s known as A1A.”
— from Jimmy Buffet’s
Trying to Reason with Hurricane Season
That avenue, that celebrated highway, was begun — one significant portion of it, anyway — the same year the original Palm Beach County Courthouse was built; the same year the Prohibition Party’s Sidney Johnston Catts was elected governor of Florida; the same year the infamous Rice Gang robbed the Bank of Homestead and fled into the Everglades with its purloined $6,500.
The year was 1916. The highway came to be known as State Road A1A.
Overall, A1A stretches 328.9 miles, from the Georgia line down to Key West, some of it still hugging the coastline. In Palm Beach County — carved from Dade County in 1909 — an early segment of the road threaded across the inlets at Jupiter, Boynton Beach and Boca Raton.
Through the years, the meandering highway inspired a picture-postcard portrait of Florida, sunlight winking on waves, palm fronds lending their tattered-umbrella of shade. In that way, A1A acquired a romantic cast: It was the road to golden beaches, to year-round summer and suntan, to tourist paradise.
A1A’s 1916 debut was marked by celebration.
Photos courtesy of the Historical Society of Palm Beach County
In the Reading Room of the 1916 Palm Beach County Courthouse, home to the Historical Society of Palm Beach County, Nick Golubov lays down a thin file folder of newspaper clippings from the highway’s earliest years.
“Three Mile Parade Celebrates Opening Gulf Stream Boulevard,” screamed a Jan. 23, 1916, headline. “Greatest Gathering of Automobiles ever Seen in this County … With Every Participant Very Enthusiastic.”
Those very enthusiastic participants were asked to gather on Royal Palm Way in Palm Beach at 2:30 in the afternoon — an assembly attended by mayors, assorted dignitaries and anyone else who cared to witness highway history.
One witness to highway history was Dr. Peter Barrett, who, as a 6-year-old boy in 1940, watched a road crew at work, extending A1A southward. The doctor’s recollection is contained in A History of Boca Raton by Sally J. Ling. After the end of WWI, Ling writes, a trio of elections were held to form a Special Road and Bridge District to finance the extension of Ocean Boulevard (farther east at the time and not yet called A1A) to Boca Raton. The westward move is described by Barrett, whose family then lived in Boca Raton Villas on A1A, just across from Lake Boca Raton.
Barrett described a road gang of convicts digging and shoveling “right at the front of our property” and recalled “ambling out to talk with them, curious about their interesting clothes. ...They were friendly, and on at least one occasion, I had lunch with them, sitting on a wheelbarrow.”
His parents didn’t approve of his new friends and nixed further socializing. And so, Barrett noted, “The roadwork activity moved slowly along to the south. No bulldozers or trucks. Just picks and shovels and men in striped clothes.”
Just north of Boca Raton, Highland Beach is a three-mile stretch of A1A. Its first homes were mostly rentals but in 1949, as the town’s website notes, 21 voting residents created the one-half-square-mile Town of Highland Beach as a water district and as protection of their lifestyle.
The town had salt water intrusion in its wells and an inability to contract with neighboring towns for fresh water, so the residents raised money to build a water plant.
By then, the highway was dubbed A1A, earning its “A” designation in 1946 to avoid confusion with its more prosaic alternative, Route 1.
You can see the old polo fields at Gulf Stream at the center of this photo.
Courtesy of the Historical Society of Palm Beach County
1926: At the time, the recent dredging of the Intracoastal Waterway left mounds of spoil in the middle of Lake Boca Raton. The Cloisters Inn, later to become the Boca Raton Hotel and Club, was in its infancy, as was the first bridge across the inlet.
Photo courtesy of the Boca Raton Historical Society
Changing times, names
Roads have a way of shifting names, and State Road A1A is no exception. What is Gulf Stream Boulevard here is Ocean Boulevard there, South Roosevelt Boulevard elsewhere, Collins Avenue or County Road (North and South) somewhere else, and so on, switching monikers as it switches towns and counties.
Over the years, A1A would experience legal battles over its ownership, storm-tossed waves crumbling sections of its pavement and development encroaching along its length. The roadway changed.
The sites (and sights) it passes have changed, too. Much of the jungle-like vegetation that once lined the roadway has given way to shopping centers and gated communities, restaurants and retailers and resorts.
running through Ocean Ridge, Manalapan and other coastal towns.
Courtesy of the Ocean Club of Florida
One thing that hasn’t changed: the stately Australian pine canopy along A1A through the town of Gulf Stream, designated a historic and scenic highway, allowing the town to protect the trees — considered pests in most areas — and even plant new ones.
“The state wanted to cut them down,” says Palm Beach County historian and author Ginger Pedersen, driving north along A1A.
A most knowledgeable guide, Pedersen has a great love for the state’s history. Friend and fellow historian Janet DeVries — in the back seat for this tour — co-wrote with Pedersen Legendary Locals of West Palm Beach and Pioneering Palm Beach: The Deweys and the South Florida Frontier.
The two women know this route, its zigs and zags. In areas where waves gobbled the shoreline, they know where A1A underwent westward rerouting.
“In Briny, parts of the original highway were closer to the water,” Pedersen says, turning east into the gleaming white mobile home community. “The original pieces of highway are under, maybe, five feet of water. This was originally the Shore Acres dairy, owned by Ward Miller. He had it here because you have fewer tick and fly problems if you’re close to the ocean.”
She heads north along Old Ocean Boulevard, where a portion of the original highway still hugs the sea. Just a tad farther, in Ocean Ridge, DeVries gestures to the site where the old wooden Boynton Beach Hotel sat until the 1926 Hurricane washed it into history.
And there, she says, not far beyond it, is Anna Street, named for one of Major Nathan Boynton’s daughters.
It was damaged by storms in the 1960s and finally was demolished in 1969.
Courtesy of the Historical Society of Palm Beach County
To travel State Road A1A is to travel back in time, to revisit Old Florida — the good and the bad of it.
“The Chillingworth house would’ve been here,” Pedersen says, motoring through Manalapan and offering a short version of the long, tangled tale of Judge Curtis Chillingworth and his wife, Marjorie, murdered in 1955 by two hit men. Judge Joseph Peel, known to take payoffs and sell protection to racketeers, served life in prison as an accessory to those murders.
Just past the Dune Deck (“One of the last places you can dine on the water,” DeVries says), just past the rubble heap that once was The Hawaiian Inn motel, soon to be a condo, Pedersen jogs right, then left, onto a block-long private road.
“This is one of the few places left of Old A1A,” she says, cruising slowly past the few remaining houses, one with musical notes painted on a window.
Over its century-long existence, A1A has ducked and dodged, erosion chasing it west here and there.
Pedersen and DeVries point out landmarks:
• The old Lake Worth Casino (“The original road was right here and headed straight north,” Pedersen says. “It’s been renovated to look as it did in the ’20s.”);
• The Little Red Schoolhouse (DeVries: It was moved to Phipps Ocean Park from Palm Beach);
• A sliver of Old South Ocean beach with a steep drop-off, just before Phipps Ocean Park, where an offshore dredge is engaged in beach restoration (Pedersen: “You’d be surprised what you can find. Sharks’ teeth. Shards of Indian pottery. They dig up all kinds of stuff.”)
In Palm Beach, beyond Mar-a-Lago, just past Charley’s Crab, Pedersen says, “I’m assuming that right around here was the original stretch. The decision would’ve had to be the county commissioners’, anticipating what was to come.”
DeVries adds: “That was the era they were calling the Good Roads Era.”
The vaunted roadway continues north from here, of course, but this was its beginning, and this is where Pedersen concludes her tour, turns around and heads south again.
“Who knows how many more generations will get to take this ride,” DeVries says.
Nostalgia hangs in the silence. This old highway has seen a lot of history.
Happy 100th birthday, A1A.
Developer pledges $4.5 million;
city gives itself 90 days to raise $1.5 million share
including relocating the city hall and fire station. Other proposed elements include a cluster of townhouses and parking garages.
Renderings provided by REG Architects
By Jane Smith
Boynton Beach City Commissioners fell under the spell cast by preservation architect Rick Gonzalez and his plans to restore the historic Boynton Beach High School.
On Feb. 2, they voted to proceed with the $6 million project provided financing can be worked out in 90 days. The deal calls for the city to invest $1.5 million.
Jeff Hardin, president of Stuart-based Straticon Construction, committed to investing $4.5 million. Straticon also will be the general contractor for the restoration.
“I believe in preservation,” Mayor Jerry Taylor said. “I have to be able to look the taxpayer in the eye and say this was a good deal.”
Hardin explained the financial end that called for the development team to investigate tax credits for historic properties and how the deal would have to be structured.
“The building has to be in private hands,” he said.
Their attorneys will look into whether the deal can be a long-term lease with the city receiving the building at the end of 20 years, or possibly have a buyout in 10 years. The city would have to pay $300,000 annually with a 3 percent annual increase.
On the city side, staff will have to identify money sources and also look at the buildings where the uses would be combined into the old high school, such as the Civic Center and the Arts Center.
Once their fate is known, that could clear up what can happen to the rest of the 17-acre area that the city wants to be redeveloped into a town square. Taylor talked about developers asking about the Civic Center and predicted several proposals would come in once the high school’s fate was certain.
The upcoming city election also played a role in the commission’s willingness to agree at this point and not offend any voters. The mayor’s seat is up, with Taylor facing Commissioner David Merker. He and Taylor were all for unity on the commission.
“Let’s be together on this,” Merker said.
Commissioner Mike Fitzpatrick, who is up for re-election, said the $300,000 annual payments and the increases could be a deal-breaker if the city was forced to raise its property tax rate. But he was willing to go along with the project as long as the finances can be worked out.
Taylor said that the commission would support going forward to investigate whether the high school can be saved, hoping to reduce the number of public speakers. Only 10 residents spoke on the topic at the meeting.
Boynton Beach native Emilie Little, whose mother is the late Ruth Jones and the previous owner of the nearby Little House Restaurant, became choked up when she started to speak.
“All of our Boynton family is here. We have fought for this, and fought for this,” she said as she looked at the chamber walls with photos of her uncles hanging on them. “Not just this generation, but generations before us.”
Other speakers asked for a requirement that Boynton Beach residents be hired in the construction, a contingency clause so that the city would not be harmed if the development team failed to perform and that possible tenants include the Arts Garage in Delray Beach and a private school in Boca Raton that needs to find space.
Allan Hendricks, of the Community Caring Center, said his group needs space and that could open grant possibilities.
“With your political will, the process will open up,” he said.
Gonzalez wants to turn the vacant school into a community arts and civic center. He gave a preview of his presentation in December to the Save Boynton High group. His presentation was well-received. The group was formed in August after the City Commission, which owns the school building, voted to demolish the nearly 90-year-old structure listed on the city’s historic inventory.
He wants to create “a nucleus for the community” by combining the uses in the Civic Center, Madsen Center (Stage Left Theater) and the Arts Center.
His vision includes:
• Two retail outlets at both corners on the front of the building that faces Ocean Avenue. A small coffee shop would be perfect, he said.
• The first floor would contain the children’s art and after-school programs; cheerleading, dance and karate programs; youth leadership separate from the teens group; and a space for community theater with a small stage in the rear.
• On the second floor in the building’s front, the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency would have offices there. Behind it, would be art gallery space. The gymnatorium would become a community center. It would host commission meetings, weddings and other celebrations that need 300 seats and include a “green room” for preparations. It could also host films and lectures and other cultural events that need 700 seats.
• He also wants to widen the staircases, redo the restrooms and make them wheelchair-accessible, install an elevator and create a catering kitchen.
To stabilize the building would cost an estimated $525,000 to $600,000, Gonzalez said. He hopes to open the renovated building by Christmas 2017.
A potential snag remains in the lawsuit filed by architect Juan Contin in 2013 against the city when it didn’t go forward with his plans to reuse the old high school as an events center. Judge Gregory Keyser ruled for the city on Jan. 15 when he dismissed Contin’s complaint, but he gave Contin 30 days to file an amended complaint. Contin said he would do that.
The city attorney advised that open lawsuit would not affect what the commission was doing.
Boynton Beach High School was added to the city’s list of historic places in February 2013. It was designed by prominent school architect William Manly King, who used features from the Mediterranean Revival and Art Deco styles, according to the Boynton Beach Historical Society.
Barbara Ready, who chairs the city’s Historic Resources Preservation Board, was happy with what she saw at the commission meeting.
“It saved the building – for today,” said Ready, also a co-organizer of the Save Boynton High group.
At the start of the meeting, Vice Mayor Joe Casello noted the day was Groundhog Day and also talked about the movie of the same name where the lead actor relives the day over and over.
“I think it is an appropriate day for the old high school discussion,” he said.
Family members search for answers
after suicide at beachside rehab house
the Caron Treatment Centers house at 1232 Seaspray Ave. in Delray Beach,
after Tod Abrams committed suicide last August.
By Nick Madigan
Tod Abrams’ last act, in a life that included a once-thriving career as a Hollywood film executive and fathering a son whom he said he adored, was to tie a pair of bathrobe cords together, loop them around his neck and fix a knot below his left ear. Then he hanged himself from a metal rod in a closet.
“The anguish, anxiety and nightmares were unbearable,” the 52-year-old Abrams had written in a note to his family. Police found it on a dresser in his room on Aug. 30 last year, after he had been dead for a few hours. It was only a month after he had sought help with his addiction to Xanax, a sedative used to treat anxiety, at a $60,000-a-month residential facility run by Caron Treatment Centers in an upscale oceanside neighborhood in Delray Beach.
“I haven’t slept in 4 days and I’m probably beginning to hallucinate,” his note went on. “The people here were very kind but the program was too rigorous, too difficult. I’m too fatigued to proceed on. I don’t have the strength.”
With his death, Abrams joined the hundreds — perhaps thousands — of people suffering from substance use disorders who in recent years have succumbed to their disease in Florida. In Palm Beach County alone, at least 377 people died last year from drug overdoses, according to Pamela Cavender, the records custodian for the county’s medical examiner, citing statistics that are still being assembled. The problem, Cavender said, is “out of control.”
While the level of commitment to battling drug abuse varies widely, the success rate of treatment is exemplified not only by the almost ceaseless procession of deaths — whether by overdose, suicide or other means — but by the parade of addicts going in and out of rehabilitation centers and so-called sober homes in Delray Beach and other towns in South Florida.
Distraught addicts who announce their intention to kill themselves are routinely taken for evaluation to the South County Mental Health Center and other institutions under the terms of the Baker Act, which provides for involuntary commitment of people deemed a danger to themselves or others.
“Any time a kid says, ‘I’m going to kill myself,’ he gets Baker Acted,” said a Delray Beach firefighter-paramedic who asked not to be named and who has often transported such patients. “We’re doing 10 of those a week.”
In the wake of Abrams’ death, his younger sister, Jill, and other relatives have been left to wonder why no such action was taken in his case, especially since he took part in regular counseling sessions at the Caron facility and, according to his family, often discussed his state of mind with anyone who would listen. It remains unclear whether he actually brought up the subject of suicide while at Caron, and officials of its parent organization declined to comment on his time there.
Still, two days before her brother left for Delray Beach, Jill Abrams said, he told her he wanted to end it all. “ ‘The meds tell me to kill myself,’ ” she recalled him saying, and described him as “panicking and bouncing off the walls, crying hysterically.”
“We all knew as a family that my brother was suicidal,” she said, and asked why it might not have been equally apparent to the caregivers at Caron. “He was there to be weaned off drugs, but I assumed that in all these counseling sessions they were also going to deal with his suicidal feelings.”
Six months before he died, however, Abrams suggested in a blog that he had come to terms with ending his addiction to Xanax, which he said he had begun taking only to help him sleep.
“I am truly heartbroken today as I have to break up with the great love of my life,” he wrote. “I love Xanax. Of course my doctor never told me that Xanax is highly addictive.”
He wrote that, as with heroin, a Xanax addict cannot simply go “cold turkey”: suddenly and completely ceasing the use of a drug. Such a shock, he went on, would result in full “meltdown” and leave him “blubbering and incoherent.”
Abrams, who had held executive positions at New Line Cinema and Fine Line Features, founded Alternative Marketing Solutions, produced several independent films and accumulated considerable wealth, asked his blog readers to pray for him, “for I have lost the greatest love I have ever known and his name is Xanax, Xanax, Xanax.”
Before traveling last summer from his home in Los Angeles to Delray Beach, Abrams had tried to detoxify for eight days in Long Beach, Calif., but his effort foundered and he went back to taking the drug, according to a family member. After he had arrived at Caron’s residence at 1232 Seaspray Ave., the task was to wean him off his dependence on Xanax and transition him to lesser narcotics.
But things apparently began to go wrong very quickly. On Aug. 16, after having been there only two weeks, Abrams wrote in his journal that he had already attempted suicide and “was quite serious about killing myself.” He went on: “I planned to hang myself and nearly completed the task.”
The following day, his caretakers diagnosed him with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia and put him on Zyprexa, an antipsychotic medication. According to his medical records, Abrams also had been prescribed Zofran, to combat toxic side effects that were making him vomit; Inderal, which is used to treat tremors, chest pain and high blood pressure; and Xopenex, which addresses lung problems such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Paradoxically, his sister said, Abrams appears to have been on more medications at the end of his month at Caron than when he arrived.
Abrams’ relatives and friends remain perplexed as to whether his caretakers were fully aware of the depth of his despair.
Did no one at Caron — which claims on its website to have attendants on duty around the clock — learn that Abrams continued to have severe anxiety and insomnia, and that when he did manage to sleep he had raging nightmares?
Two days before he died, Abrams was reported to have been vomiting profusely. Why was he not taken to an emergency room, especially since he was so ill that someone at Caron canceled a visit by Abrams’ father?
Why was he allowed to have belts, the kind of item often used in suicides?
Why would a rehab facility take Abrams and a few other patients out to see a violent film like Straight Outta Compton on what turned out to be Abrams’ penultimate night alive?
After Abrams’ death, his toxicology report showed a significant amount of caffeine in his system. Why was he allowed to consume coffee or caffeinated drinks, especially since the mix of caffeine and powerful drugs might have been contributing to his chronic sleeplessness?
Those questions and others were posed to Karen Pasternack, a spokeswoman for Caron, which sent two grief counselors to the home of Abrams’ mother after his death.
In an email message to The Coastal Star, Pasternack declined to address any issues related to Abrams or his care.
“The law and Caron’s own high ethical standards forbid our employees from discussing even the smallest of details about any patient, including confirming the identity of current or former patients,” wrote Pasternack, who said she represented the views of Bradley F. Sorte, the executive director of Caron’s facilities in Delray and Boca Raton, which are licensed by Florida’s Department of Children and Families to provide rehabilitation services.
“We will never violate federal or state laws or breach our patients’ sacred trust,” she went on. “We can proudly state that many Caron alumni, who have returned to their communities in Florida, Pennsylvania and elsewhere, know firsthand the strength of our programs. Caron fully complies with the law and adheres to the highest medical and psychological best practices with a focused commitment to transforming the lives of individuals and families impacted by addiction.”
Some years before Abrams’ death, a doctor in Beverly Hills, Calif., began prescribing a daily dose of Xanax to help fight his insomnia, according to Jill Abrams, who spoke from her home in Los Angeles. She said her brother was not told that the drug could have a permanent and negative effect on the chemistry of his brain.
When she spoke with her brother by phone about halfway through his stay in Delray Beach, he told her he “wanted to run away” from the residence, and that he had been going for 10-mile walks on the beach almost every day.
“That was not a good thing, because he was already so thin,” Jill Abrams said of her 5-foot, 8-inch-tall brother, who weighed 127 pounds when he died. “I can’t understand why he had such freedom. I thought it was a lock-down facility. In the rehab places in California, the patients don’t walk off on their own. They really watch them.”
In any case, she said, the death of her brother has left her not only deeply saddened but remorseful. “I feel incredible guilt,” she said, “for not hospitalizing him here in Los Angeles when he told me he was suicidal.”
In a blog, Jill Abrams wrote about the drug that bore perhaps more direct responsibility for her brother’s demise. “I am left feeling that we need to understand why this insidious drug is as prevalently over-prescribed as it is,” she wrote. “In rehab, Tod began working on his ideas for a foundation to educate and lobby for more transparency with prescription drugs like Xanax. Let my brother’s unexpected death put a spotlight on this dire epidemic in America.”
After Tod Abrams’ suicide, criticism of his treatment at Caron prompted a defense of the company by John Lehman, president of the Florida Association of Recovery Residences, which seeks to improve industry standards.
“I remain confident that this particular organization strives to serve their clients with the highest level of professionalism,” he wrote in an email, referring to Caron. “In point of fact, were the remainder of the Florida provider group as committed to delivery of quality services, there would be significantly less demand for oversight.”
Lehman — who dismissed as “absurd” the persistent allegations from Delray Beach residents that recovering and relapsed addicts had committed crimes and caused other problems in their neighborhoods — extended his condolences to the Abrams family.
“As is evidenced by this tragic story, a highly accomplished, creative and well-respected artist lost his battle to an insidious brain disease that robbed him of hope,” Lehman said. “May he rest in peace.”
See Jill Abrams’ video tribute to her brother and her mother.
Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star
By Marie Puleo
Marti Kaplan has found the perfect way to combine her talent for crunching data with her love for classical music.
As a volunteer at the Symphonia chamber orchestra in Boca Raton, she helps internal operations run smoothly by using the skills she garnered during her nearly two-decade advertising career in New York.
“I learned along the way that my talents are in the back room and organization, and dealing with databases and spreadsheets, which is the kind of thing the Symphonia needed when I started with them in 2009,” Kaplan said.
After working in market and media research for major ad agencies such as J. Walter Thompson and McCann Erickson and as director of sales research for ABC television, Kaplan retired in 1988 to Boca Raton with her husband, who also worked in advertising. They were both in their 40s.
Kaplan filled her time doing volunteer work for the Florence Fuller Child Development Centers and serving as treasurer of her condo board, which proved to be labor-intensive.
“Eventually my husband said, ‘If you’re going to work that hard, you might as well go out and get paid for it.’ So I did,” Kaplan said.
She worked for a Realtor for 10 years, handling contracts, multiple-listing databases and bookkeeping. When she finally retired in 2008, this time officially, she needed something to do.
A former member of the Symphonia board who lived in Kaplan’s condo building knew that the Symphonia’s executive director, Annabel Russell, needed help, so she put Kaplan and Russell together.
“It just happened to be a very good match. We were very compatible,” Kaplan said.
“When I was growing up in Wisconsin, my mother worked almost full time as a volunteer for the Milwaukee Arts Center, so I spent a lot of time in grade school and high school stuffing envelopes or doing whatever was needed. Volunteering at the Symphonia was sort of automatic.”
The Symphonia, in its 10th season, aims to keep classical music flourishing in South Florida and features world-renowned guest artists, such as pianist Misha Dichter, who will be performing next month.
Kaplan, 68, is particularly enthusiastic about the Symphonia’s “Meet the Orchestra” program, which allows children to interact with musicians at dress rehearsals and learn about different instruments. “It’s important that they know there’s something out there besides rap and hip-hop,” she said.
Volunteering at the Symphonia three or four days a week, Kaplan has been spending most of her time lately working with a new database that will store information about donors, subscribers, single-ticket purchases and seat assignments in one consolidated place, consistently keeping things up-to-date.
“It’s the kind of database management that I’ve done most of my career in one form or another, and that isn’t necessarily the expertise of other volunteers,” Kaplan said. “It’s not glamorous, but it’s very satisfying when it works.”
And it worked last fall when Kaplan succeeded in putting together a donor list that was included in the programs for the first concert of the season.
“I was practically doing handsprings down the hallway, I was so happy that I got it to Annabel in the form she needed,” Kaplan said.
Making life easier for Russell is what it’s all about, “so she can do the business end of it that only she can do, so the musicians can come and play their music, and everybody’s happy.”
“Marti is amazing,” said Russell. “She has integrity, is reliable and does her work really, really well. She saves me a lot of time, and I’m very grateful to have her.”
Part of why Kaplan volunteers is that she hopes the Symphonia (www.thesymphonia.org) will stay in Boca Raton, so that people don’t have to go to Palm Beach or Miami to hear classical music.
“It makes me feel good that I’m doing something for an organization that brings pleasure to people and at the same time keeps my mind going. It gives me a reason to get out of bed in the morning,” Kaplan said.
The Delray Beach Drug Task Force is hosting “SUD Talks,” a discussion about substance abuse issues featuring speakers expert on the subject.
The SUD, or substance use disorder, talks will take place from 6 to 9 p.m. on Feb. 11 at the Old School Square’s Crest Theatre, at 51 N. Swinton Ave., Delray Beach.
The event is open to the public. Cost is $25.
The talks are a series of discussions lasting five minutes or up to 45 minutes in which experts talk about issues that affect communities.
“This event is relevant to our community at large and to neighboring cities facing the same issues, while at the same time trying to determine their role in finding solutions,” said Suzanne Spencer, drug task force executive director. “Our speakers will be presenting ideas for change that communities can use so that residents and the members of the recovery community can coexist.”
The keynote speaker for the event will be Dr. Carl Hammerschlag, an internationally known author, physician and speaker. He will discuss the role communities play in healing and how a new perspective is needed to tackle the growing substance abuse problem.
Other speakers include Dr. Kevin Wandler, associate chief medical officer at Advanced Recovery Systems; Dr. D. John Dyben, director of older adult treatment services at the Hanley Foundation; Marc Woods, a Delray Beach code enforcement officer; and Dr. Elaine Rotenberg, clinical director at the Alpert Jewish Family and Children’s Services center.
For more information, visit www.sudtalks.org.
— Henry Fitzgerald
By Jane Smith
A new coalition of 3,500 Intracoastal residents will monitor the Riverwalk Plaza development in Boynton Beach.
The Boynton Coalition for Responsible Development was created by the Florida Coalition for Preservation, a grass-roots group that promotes responsible development.
“The Riverwalk site has certain field conditions, such as the nearby fire station and a bridge opening on demand, that make traffic a big concern,” said Kristine de Haseth, executive director of the Florida Coalition.
Traffic was one of the major issues that Boynton Beach planners planned to discuss at a Feb. 3 meeting.
“Everything can be addressed,” said Shaul Rikman, founder and president of Isram Realty, Riverwalk’s owner. “Everyone wants to see the new project. I’m hopeful.”
Isram’s plans, filed in December, call for a 10-story, U-shaped apartment building with 326 units along the Intracoastal Waterway. This allows Isram to make the best use of the waterfront views.
The site of the Riverwalk Plaza complex is at an aging shopping center previously anchored by a Winn-Dixie store until early 2015, when the grocery left as part of a company plan to close some stores.
The complex, which sits along Woolbright Road, will contain 41,970 square feet of retail space, the 7,889-square-foot Prime Catch restaurant and the 2,988-square-foot Wendy’s with a drive-through lane. The Wells Fargo bank branch will remain, along with a Walgreen’s drugstore and Jo-Ann Fabric and Craft Store in a separate building.
Federal Highway makes up the western boundary.
The plans were sent to various city departments, including engineering and planning, along with the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency. That resulted in 132 comments, with the major ones focused on traffic, height, parking and sidewalks.
The 9.8-acre complex sits in a zoning district that allows building heights of seven stories, but Isram wants to build 10. The Planning Department would consider some extra height if the developer put in what Boynton Beach planners are calling “view corridors.”
The urban design elements aren’t defined currently but will be in the new master plan, said Michael Rumpf, planning and zoning director. Basically the corridors are open spaces between buildings, he said, that allow passers-by on Federal Highway to see the Intracoastal.
Staff also recommends extending the apartment building over the proposed parking area to the west and possibly connecting to the existing commercial structure. Right now, the commercial building is separate from the residential one.
The engineering staff had concerns about the entrances and exits from the project onto Federal and Woolbright. If traffic is traveling at 35 to 40 mph when someone suddenly slows to 25 mph, that can create a rear-end collision if there isn’t a deceleration lane, Rumpf said. Staff recommended changing the entrance on Woolbright to right-out only.
Plans also call for the Intracoastal Promenade, a linear public park, to sit along the Intracoastal. But the north and south entrances are not wide enough to encourage pedestrian use, according to CRA staff. Public art should be placed at the entrances to identify them, the CRA said.
The agency also wants to see more retail uses along the first floor that abuts the promenade.
De Haseth likes the thoroughness of Boynton Beach’s review and plans to meet again with city planning staff to share input from the new coalition.
The Boynton Intracoastal Group that represents 2,400 residents on the east side of the Intracoastal is part of the new coalition, said Tom McClure, group president.
“We all have the same concerns — height and traffic,” he said. “We want it to be built, but responsibly.”
McClure likes being involved in the initial design stage.
“There are no good surprises. If we are involved from the get-go,” he said, “I’m optimistic that we can come together with the coalition, the CRA and the developer.”
When someone you love takes his own life, it leaves a large aching space packed full of questions. I know, because I lost a brother to suicide. He was 51. This is why when I learned of Tod Abrams’ death at the Caron Ocean Drive facility in Delray Beach I thought of his family and all the questions they must have.
I also thought of the neighbors who live near the two facilities in this neighborhood and all the questions they’ve been asking for several years now about the houses next door.
Through our reporting, I learned a little about Tod Abrams and was struck by how well this handsome and accomplished man would have fit into this coastal Delray Beach neighborhood. I also learned a lot about Xanax and its dangers.
These things made me wonder how many others living along the beach are struggling with mental health issues or addiction.
I hoped that by putting a human face on addiction and the growing number of drug-related deaths in our area, we might all be able to find a few answers to our questions.
I didn’t really expect full answers. With addiction treatment and mental illness there is a heavy veil drawn to keep questions out. And with suicide, there are always more questions than answers. But if local media don’t try to lift this veil, who will?
Mental health agencies work diligently to educate the public while struggling to find funding for these efforts. In the meantime, the addiction treatment industry has lagged far behind in opening its doors to help educate the public about what first responders say has become a public health crisis.
I understand why Caron and other treatment facilities work diligently to protect the privacy of their clients. But that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be doing educational outreach to the community, and yes, even to their neighbors. Why not hold an occasional open house to let the folks next door see the facilities and learn about treatment methods? Why not work with the city to hold a series of educational programs?
The city of Delray Beach is being proactive about educating its residents about drug addiction. It’s time for the drug-rehab industry to step up, pull out the checkbook and pull back the veil to answer questions.
There won’t always be answers, of course, but sometimes healing can begin just by being able to ask the questions.
— Mary Kate Leming,
Thank you for the article published in January describing the dilemma of regulating addiction treatment services in our state. We applaud the efforts of all concerned.
As our company enters into the arena of addiction treatment for alcohol and other drugs, as well as eating disorders, we welcome the vigilance of those people who have the best interests of both the patients and the public in mind. The overseeing of services is something that DCF cannot tackle alone, and I am sure they welcome the help.
Other health-care delivery systems have had to be regulated in the past to ensure better care. Hospitals, nursing homes and assisted-living facilities all require diligence to maintain their level of care. Addiction treatment facilities should not be exempt.
Quality providers of addiction treatment will not resist reasonable regulations. Ones that do need to examine their own motives and methods.
Having operated a facility in Boca Raton for 21 years without incident, I look forward to beginning this new venture with partners in patient care who are concerned about the community and the client.
We plan to open our first program in the spring and welcome requests now to begin community education, provide speakers, address your group, or answer any questions you may have about treatment. We want to be able to stay in touch with our community and its needs. This is what good neighbors do.
Sanctuary Recovery Centers
Picture an ink-drawn political cartoon where a pleading-eyed man rapaciously shovels piles of “taxpayer dollars” into a blazing furnace. The furnace has a fresh sign labeled “Taxpayer Mandate,” which lies above an older sign, scratched away and barely legible that reads “Personal Vendetta.”
Now picture Mayor Scott Morgan and his personal quest against Christopher O’Hare and my father, Martin O’Boyle; now think of your tax dollars.
This is the present picture for the taxpayers of Gulf Stream, but it does not have to be the future if they tell town officials to “knock it off” and focus on peace.
It is a new year and 2016 should be the year that the town returns to normalcy. The legal battles that have been the harbinger of new taxes (both overt and hidden in water fees) and general unpleasantries can end if the town, O’Hare, and Martin O’Boyle sit down and make peace.
O’Boyle and O’Hare have long preached negotiation; officials insist on conflagration. If the taxpayers want a change, they must demand it. Otherwise, the town’s approach will consume all coffers. Morgan’s promise that the town will get its money back from O’Hare and O’Boyle rings hollow — abject fantasy.
The town has lost the RICO suit at a cost of tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of dollars. The town lost its identical action in state court and at a much higher cost than the RICO suit (look it up). The town has spent countless dollars trying to prove that I engaged in the unauthorized practice of law. That misadventure ended when I was sworn into the Florida Bar in September 2015.
I fear that the taxpayers have been deprived of such critical information, including the fact that the town once cut attorney Gerald Richman a $50,000 check without receiving any itemized bills. The taxpayers have been swindled; every dollar the town now spends litigating is forever wasted.
For those of you who don’t know me, I was born in Gulf Stream and attended Gulf Stream School from the age of 3 until the day I departed for Culver Military Academy. I attended with Lisa Orthwein and Ashley Morgan, had playdates with Berkley Sweetapple, and was welcomed into the homes of those who now call me the “scourge of the state.”
The taxpayers ought to know of these deep and intertwined connections because it explains the emotional and irrational behavior of the town’s spending habits.
No one discussed conflicts of interest when Morgan put his personal lawyer, Robert Sweetapple, on the town’s payroll or how the town allows Sweetapple to profiteer from personal lawsuits with taxpayer dollars (request his bills).
But there is hope. The taxpayers have to urge their commissioners and/or Town Manager William Thrasher to end this travesty by sitting down with O’Hare and O’Boyle — unconditionally. The latter want this episode to end. Town officials will continue to engage in this unchecked behavior, which is destructive and abasing the town, for perpetuity. Taxpayers, resolution is reality — but the onus is on you.
By Jane Smith
The much-anticipated property value analysis of downtown Delray Beach and its beach side will be presented Feb. 28 at the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency meeting.
Munilytics, the Davie company analyzing the records, received a second extension at the Jan. 14 CRA meeting. The company had received an automatic 30-day extension in December with a revised deadline of Jan. 4. The new date of Feb. 19 gave the company 45 more days to complete the work. The company was selected because of its low bid of $59,000 and quick two-month turnaround time.
The firm was hired last fall to analyze property values in each of the agency’s eight subareas that represent about 20 percent of Delray Beach. The subareas lie mostly along Atlantic Avenue, east of Interstate 95 to the ocean.
At the Jan. 14 meeting, CRA Chairman Reggie Cox pulled the contract extension off the consent agenda and made it a regular agenda item so the board members could discuss it. “There are budget issues attached to this,” he said.
Board member Paul Zacks agreed. “The company was picked based on its low price.”
CRA Executive Director Jeff Costello explained that the company asked for more time to reach all the parties required in its contract.
Board members said they’d like future contracts to reflect that if a company didn’t meet a deadline, it would face consequences.
In other action, board members suspended the contract with Currie Sowards and Aguila Architects for 90 days for the makeover of the Old School Square grounds, at the request of the City Commission. The vote was 5-1, with CRA board member Bill Branning abstaining because he chairs the Old School Square board.
Zacks voted for the suspension reluctantly because he is trying to be a good partner with the city, even though the CRA held various community meetings to get public input before awarding the $200,000 design contract to the Currie firm.
Board member Herman Stevens voted no. He explained that he thinks it’s important for the city and the CRA to work together, but he thinks the CRA board is independent from the City Commission.
As the owner of Old School Square and its grounds, the City Commission would have final say over changes. It prefers to concentrate on maintaining the property and wants the CRA to spend its money elsewhere.
Old School Square Executive Director Rob Steele and noted urban planner Fred Kent will lead community sessions to find out what residents want to see there.
By Jane Smith
The iPic movie theater moved closer to becoming a reality after a Delray Beach review board approved site plans in mid-January. Next stop for the mixed-use project will be the Feb. 22 meeting of the Planning & Zoning Board.
In contrast with the luxury theater’s December appearance before the Site Plan Review and Appearance Board, where the project was tabled for various issues, the January meeting went smoothly. Only two residents spoke against the project’s impact on traffic in the downtown; at the December meeting eight residents pointed out traffic problems.
The project sits on 1.6 acres, just south of Atlantic Avenue and between Southeast Fourth and Fifth avenues. The land is owned by the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency.
During that four-week break, the iPic owners turned the nearby Martini property into a loading zone for deliveries and a staging area for emergency vehicles. At the request of the city’s Fire Department, iPic will restrict parking there to emergency vehicles. Four public spaces will be eliminated.
The owners also addressed objections to the limited turning room in the garage by revising the layout to show enough maneuvering room for a vehicle that is 11.3 feet long. Board member Jim Knight pointed out that a Volkswagen Beetle is 13 feet long and an SUV averages about 16 feet. Even so, he ultimately voted for the project’s site plans because two board members who are architects said the revised garage was adequate.
Architect Roger Cope said, “I’m not going to pick apart their garage, I think they’ve done the best possible job.” He called the design “iconic.”
Board member Andrew Youngross voted against approvals for the site plans, saying, “The size of the project just doesn’t fit here and it’s not harmonious with the neighborhood.”
Jose Aguilar, the board chairman and an architect, agreed: “I personally feel it’s too large.” He voted against the site plan for iPic but for the site plan for the Martini property.
Nearby resident Sandy Zeller, who is the president of the Marina Historic District Homeowners Association, said iPic’s November traffic analysis showed 15 percent of its 1,770 new trips would come from the ocean side of Delray Beach. When traffic backs up along Atlantic Avenue, he said, many would cut through the Marina District. Because it’s a historic district with few sidewalks, curbs or street lights, he wanted the developer to pay to install street lights.
“We can’t control how people get to our project,” said Bonnie Miskel, an attorney for iPic.
But Cope sided with Zeller and proposed a solution that would require the developer to monitor the traffic in the Marina Historic District 12 months after receiving 90 percent of its permits.
But that wasn’t concrete enough for Zeller. He wanted the developer to install the lighting as soon as iPic opens, not wait until a traffic study is completed and decisions made on what traffic threshold would trigger action and who would pay for it.
He said he talked with Miskel after the meeting and pointed out two streets that would be the travel path to iPic. He didn’t get a firm commitment but said she promised to look into it.
By Jane Smith
Repairing and replacing crumbling seawalls along the Intracoastal Waterway in Delray Beach will cost about $25 million, according to an estimate by the city’s chief financial officer.
“You only have to look at the pictures of streets under water and residents in kayaks riding through the streets,” Jack Warner told the City Commission in January when giving his budget presentation. “It’s a new need.”
Indeed, during the seasonal high tides last year, a kayaker was spotted paddling down Marine Way, just south of Atlantic Avenue.
Warner did give commissioners some good news: The city won’t have to bear the burden of that cost. State and federal grants are available, he said.
The city has about 20 miles of seawalls, new Environmental Services Director John Morgan said. The public seawalls are in various areas along the Intracoastal, he said. They sit at the intersections of the three bridges, in Veterans Park, along Marine Way and other areas.
Seawalls run about $250 a linear foot to build, he said. “From Veterans Park to Marine Way, the city has 1,900 linear feet of seawalls,” Morgan said.
The City Commission approved hiring the Wantman Group for $28,850. The engineering firm will provide a structural analysis of the seawalls, bulkheads and public docks along the Intracoastal in Veterans Park, the city marina and along Marine Way. The structures have been damaged over time by seasonal high tides and from wave action from boats.
To his knowledge, this marks the first comprehensive study of the city’s seawalls. He explains: For a long time after the city was founded, it was just shoreline along the Intracoastal. Development happened incrementally with homes and condos built there. Seawalls went up without an overall plan for the waterfront, he said.
The study will determine which are public and private seawalls, their condition and whether replacement is needed, how high they must be to hold back rising water and what construction method would allow the seawalls to last for 50 years. The city now uses a combination of seawalls and pumps and valves to confront street flooding, Morgan said.
The project would take about 10 years to complete because various state and federal agencies will have to sign off on it, plus nearby private property owners may have to upgrade their seawalls. It doesn’t make sense to have a strengthened seawall next to an area not protected or with a crumbling seawall, he said.
By the time the engineering and design costs are included, the overall price will likely rise above $25 million, Morgan said.
In other action in January, Delray Beach commissioners passed a resolution endorsing a state Senate bill to require solar-powered, in-road lights to improve bicyclist safety along coastal roads.
Lighting is reduced seven months each year to prevent disorienting sea turtle hatchlings. If passed, the bill would require lights on coastal roads rebuilt or added after July 1. State Sen. Maria Sachs, Delray Beach, is the sponsor.
By Ron Hayes
Oh, thank heaven for 7-Eleven.
Had a small group of outraged residents not come together in May 1967 to oppose a convenience store along A1A in Delray Beach’s south end, someone might be dispensing Big Gulps near where Atlantic Dunes Park stands today.
Those early activists grew to become the Beach Property Owners Association, and 48 years later they’re still working to keep Delray Beach beautiful, accessible and welcoming to all.
“Approval of a convenience store would have acted as a precedent for future commercial development,” says the group’s president, Bob Victorin, a member since the 1970s.
“It would have changed the whole character and lifestyle of the area,” agrees Vice President Andy Katz, “and the city would have lost taxes because property values would have been a lot less.”
Working with city govern-ment through the years, the association has kept commercial property confined to Atlantic Avenue, Katz notes, with only the Marriott resort, three restaurants and a clothing store along A1A. Any taller buildings predate height limitations the organization and city worked to pass in the 1980s.
The organization that began as a neighborhood effort to keep a convenience store off A1A has grown, but is still a small organization with office supplies, but no office.
The group’s more than 400 households pay dues of $25 a year and meet each March and December in space provided free by the Northern Trust Bank. Board members meet monthly. The dues cover the cost of printing and mailing membership communications including three or four newsletters a year, telephone bills and a website. No one is paid.
“And about 12 percent of our members have voluntarily given more than the dues,” Victorin notes. “We’ve had gifts from $200 to one for $1,000.”
Over the years, that small outlay has produced impressive returns.
Most important, in 2004 the group helped to pass residential design guidelines establishing architectural styles, building setbacks, acceptable colors and garage standards for single-family homes.
“If you’re going to paint your house,” Katz said, “you can’t do the Pepto-Bismol thing, and no triple-wide garage doors.”
With the help of $60,000 raised by the association, the city was able to rebuild the beach pavilion in 2014, based on the footprint and design of the original 1929 structure.
Katz also points with pride to the group’s commitment to dune development and beach renourishment.
In 1973 the city started a beach renourishment program and later planted native vegetation to create the dunes.
“In 1983, we worked for dune development, renourishing the dunes by planting native vegetation. That was done mostly with county, state and federal money, and today Delray Beach is praised at national conferences as a model for successful dune maintenance,” Katz says.
The importance of dunes hit home in October 2012, when Hurricane Sandy arrived.
“Luckily for us, it was still quite far out at sea when it was in the southern latitudes,” Katz recalls. “Everyone knows the extreme damage it caused up North. Sandy and another storm later that month did scour our beaches, and also took out about 20 feet of the dunes, but the vegetated dunes did their job in protecting A1A and the upland properties.”
The group’s greatest accomp-lishment, Katz said, is also his greatest disappointment. “It’s taking so long to implement the master plan,” he says. In 2009, the group developed a widespread plan to improve the beach area. It was accepted by the city in 2010, but since then the devil has been in finding money and formalizing the design and construction details. Recently the city established a bond funding mechanism and plans are being formalized with the prospect of starting construction in late 2016. Now the group, founded 48 years ago, already is looking that far into the future. “We’re a coastal community that could be affected by rising tides the same way Miami and the Keys are being affected,” Katz says.
To combat the threat, Katz says the city has recently raised its base floor elevation requirement by 6 inches and is spending “tens of thousands of dollars” to install one-way valves to prevent the Intracoastal Waterway from flooding nearby streets during storms and seasonal high tides.
“Miami Beach is spending $400 million,” Katz says. “The oceans are rising. There’s no doubt about that. The debate is about the cause. But tide gauges aren’t political, and they don’t lie.”
The Beach Property Owners Association is also not political. It will ask municipal candidates identical questions and publish the responses in its newsletter, but never make endorsements.
“We’re trying to preserve the very public and welcoming nature of our beach area,” Katz explains. Come to Delray Beach and you’ll find 600 parking spaces for only $1.50 an hour, he notes. Go to Palm Beach and you’ll pay $5. “We want to keep it as a public amenity, and also improve it.” Ú
By Jane Smith
Parking meter times east of the Intracoastal Waterway have changed again. Delray Beach users will again have to feed the meters only between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. seven days a week.
The previous hours of 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. lasted only a few weeks last fall after the Delray Beach City Commission approved the switch to longer hours at the first October meeting.
“There was a lot of confusion and push-back about the extended hours,” said Don Cooper, city manager.
When the city starts its beach master plan work in June, he said smart parking meters will be included. Those meters can take credit cards. The meters also can be synced with mobile phones to alert users that time is running out and suggest additional payment, which can be made via the phone without returning to the meter.
Mayor Cary Glickstein had suggested the extended hours last fall.
“I received many complaints from both business owners and recipients of parking tickets. While it was broadcast through various mediums and noticed by the Police Department, experience shows many don’t pay attention to such notices and were surprised by what appeared to be a very sudden change,” he said recently. “After several conversations, staff concluded it made more sense to make the change when the new meters are changed.”
Fran Marincola, a co-owner of Caffe Luna Rosa along the beach and a veteran member of the city’s Parking Management Advisory Board, applauds that decision.
“The problem was the antiquated meters, not the extended hours,” he said. The meters can take only quarters or Smart Cards, sold by the city. “Enforcing it at night was just getting negative revenue.”
In other City Commission action in January, the city raised its marina rental rates by more than 55 percent for live-aboard boats owners who will pay $28 a foot and more than 33 percent for those who don’t live aboard boats and will pay $27 a foot.
The parks and recreation director had recommended an increase of nearly 17 percent for live-aboard boats. But commissioners said it was not high enough when compared with marina charges in surrounding cities.
Delray Beach has 24 slips and a waiting list of 70 boat owners.
By Jane Smith
The Arts Garage in Delray Beach must present better financial records before its chief public provider will release any more money, the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency board voted unanimously in late January.
The CRA had committed to providing $68,750 for the fourth quarter of the last financial year, which ended Sept. 30. That amount represents 18 percent of the popular performing arts venue’s budget. The CRA also had allocated a similar amount of $275,000 for the current financial year.
But the Arts Garage did not follow the deadlines for the fourth-quarter report or for requesting an extension, according to CRA staff. The audits submitted in December for the two previous financial years did not separate the CRA dollars, as was required, Lori Hayward, finance and operations director, told the board.
Alyona Ushe, Arts Garage president, said, “The first audit is clean.” She told the board that the underlying implications of financial mismanagement are “damaging to us and our reputation.” The day after the CRA meeting, the Arts Garage started an email blitz to the media to correct what it sees as misinformation.
At the CRA meeting, Ushe apologized for submitting the documents late. “It’s my fault,” she said. She asked for a partial payment.
CRA Chairman Reggie Cox said no. “This is not an ambush. You’ll have to do some heavy lifting going forward. It’s gut-check time,” he said.
Ushe received advice from other CRA board members.
“Your organization needs a strategic plan. You can ride the wave only so long,” said board member Cathy Balestriere. She said the box of checks and invoices that Ushe had dropped off that afternoon was not what the agency needed in terms of financial records.
The Arts Garage did submit in January an updated audit for the 2013-2014 financial year that complied with CRA rules about accounting separately for the agency’s money, allocated for education and programming expenses.
But it also contained a management letter that pointed out basic accounting problems, such as: no documentation for expenses, assets, receivables, payroll and the like; no indication that the executive director had approved credit card purchases; using a restricted grant of $200,000 to offset costs that were not allowed; and a bank overdraft of $70,089.
Brian Rosen, vice president of the Arts Garage board, said the checks for the grant money were cut two days after the financial year changed.
“We don’t have a lot of fancy spreadsheets,” Dan Schwartz, Arts Garage finance director, told the CRA board. “But we have the checks and accounts to show you.”
Ushe indicated she could present the financial records in two weeks.
The Arts Garage also has a major deadline looming on the Ides of March.
It rents 10,000 square feet from the city for $800 a month. The organization has not raised the money needed to buy the building for $2.5 million. The sale was supposed to close March 15. Its lease also expires on that date.
Instead, Ushe wants a 10-year lease with an option to purchase. Her letter to the city dated Jan. 15 explains the role the Arts Garage plays in Delray Beach: a $2 million-plus annual economic impact where its patrons pay to attend an Arts Garage show, pay for parking, purchase dinner at a local restaurant and buy dessert after the show.
To bolster its case, the Arts Garage has started a social media campaign with email blasts to its patrons urging them to contact commissioners and a petition to save the Arts Garage. The petition also is accessible on the organization’s Facebook page. As of late January, nearly 500 people had signed the petition.
In addition, the Arts Garage has started a money drive on Facebook after the CRA suspended payments. Rosen, the board’s vice president, wrote the Arts Garage has a “clean audit opinion.”
Last fall, Mayor Cary Glickstein wanted the Arts Garage and the Old School Square to merge because of their arts focus and proximity. Glickstein said back office operations could be combined, the Old School Square could share its liquor license with the Arts Garage and the merger would lessen the burden on taxpayers. The city contributes to both venues.
But Ushe prefers to remain independent. In her lease-extension request, she said that merging would decrease the amount of grant money available to each organization from state and county sources.
But Bill Branning, a CRA board member and chairman of Old School Square, offered up this suggestion to his fellow board members: The CRA should buy it. That way, the space would be used for cultural purposes and the purchase would help the city.
By Jane Smith
Construction work has started to replace the temporary traffic signals at two East Atlantic intersections in Delray Beach. It will take at least two months to complete, weather permitting, contractors said.
Florida Department of Transportation contractors will do the work, for which the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency has agreed to pay $547,865.
The Beach Property Owners Association has waited nearly 18 months for the work to start, said Bob Victorin, association president.
Temporary poles were erected after metal mast arm poles became corroded and in danger of collapsing at the Venetian Drive and Gleason Street intersections.
Construction will occur between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. weekdays; no work will be done at night or on weekends.
The Beach Property Owners Association said:
• Traffic will be controlled by temporary signal lights.
• One lane on the streets will be closed at times to allow for staging construction vehicles and storing supplies.
• Total closure of the intersections will be needed for two days when heavy construction will be done.
• Traffic may be detoured to the Linton Boulevard Bridge because there is a weight limit on the George Bush Boulevard Bridge.
The work will involve removing existing concrete signal poles with hanging wires and installing six drilled shaft foundations and six trombone-style mast arms — three each at Venetian and three at Gleason.
The new mast arms will be made of galvanized steel and painted to inhibit corrosion, contractors said. They are expected to last about 20 years.
Victorin said he was told that the location near the ocean and the salt spray may decrease that life expectancy.
Contractors said they had taken pre-construction videos at the intersections to document the condition of surrounding buildings prior to the start of work on Jan. 11.
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