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9966173661?profile=RESIZE_710xThe trio of buildings would be located at 121 E. Palmetto Park Road, a block east of Federal Highway. Rendering provided

 

Petitioners protest idea of more concrete in form of apartments, office space, parking

 

By Mary Hladky

Compson Associates is planning a large residential, office and retail project in downtown Boca Raton that is already sparking strong objections even though it is in the early stages of the city’s review process.
The proposed Aletto Square would include three buildings on 1.3 acres at 121 E. Palmetto Park Road, northeast of the Hyatt Place hotel and southeast of Sanborn Square.
A 93-unit luxury apartment tower would rise to 12 stories, the maximum allowed in the downtown. A seven-story office and retail building would feature a restaurant with rooftop dining. An eight-story fully automated parking garage, the first of its kind downtown, would provide 360 parking spaces and a rooftop pool.
A courtyard would be located between the office and apartment buildings, and two smaller courtyards would flank the east and west sides of the office building.
Boca Raton-based Compson also developed the 12-story Tower 155 luxury condominium at 155 E. Boca Raton Road that the City Council approved in 2016.
Project architect Derek Vander Ploeg, who also designed Tower 155, said plans for Aletto Square were informed by what he learned during planning for the condo.
“There is a need for larger luxury (units) rather than average rental units in the area,” he said. That was also true for the condo. To accommodate people wanting more living space, he reduced the number of Tower 155 units from 170 to 128.
Class A office space is also needed, he said, since no new Class A buildings have been constructed in about two decades.
City Council members said in November that they want more Class A space to help lure blue-ribbon companies to Boca Raton. They plan to solicit ideas on how best to accomplish this.
Aletto Square would be the first large-scale downtown project proposed since Camino Square — with two apartment buildings, two parking garages and two retail buildings at 171 W. Camino Real — was approved by the City Council in 2019.
Large projects have stirred residents’ passions for more than a decade as they transformed the downtown, prompting cries of overdevelopment that was ruining the city’s character.
Camino Square, Tower 155 and Alina Residences, which opened in 2021 on Southeast Mizner Boulevard, were criticized as too large and certain to worsen traffic conditions.
So it is hardly surprising that residents are gathering signatures on a petition imploring the City Council to deny approval for Aletto Square. As of Dec. 15, 284 people had signed.
The petition says that small shops would give way to the project, stripping the area of its welcoming feel.
It says the first sight for visitors would be “just another series of tall concrete buildings.”
“Combined with Tower 155, another large building on a very small footprint just down the road, Aletto Square would make a concrete jungle out of an idyllic touch of urban living.”
The petition also laments the negative impact on “peaceful and bucolic” Sanborn Square, saying its atmosphere would be harmed by a “concrete-heavy environment.”
Vander Ploeg dismissed the complaints, saying they have “no substance.”
The project is not yet scheduled for review by the Planning & Zoning Board, but the Community Appearance Board gave it a preliminary review Nov. 16.
The CAB’s purview is limited; it assesses the aesthetics of a project. Board members liked the appearance of the buildings and central courtyard.
Two suggested improvements to the landscaping, with one member saying it was “a little underwhelming” and another saying he would like the addition of more shade trees.

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Drivers using West Palmetto Park Road can expect travel woes to continue over the next nine months as the county continues its work demolishing and replacing the concrete bridge over the El Rio Canal.
Since the project has been underway, drivers have experienced lane closures and detours between Southwest Eighth Terrace and Southwest Fourth Avenue affecting both eastbound and westbound traffic.
The northern part of the bridge that services westbound traffic has already been demolished, with westbound traffic diverted to one of the eastbound lanes. Traffic will shift to the westbound lanes when the southern part is replaced.
One lane in each direction will be open at all times during the construction, which is expected to be completed in late October 2022.
The work is being done because the bridge was determined to be “functionally obsolete,” said Deputy County Engineer Joanne Keller.
The new bridge will cost $4.3 million, funded by gas taxes and impact fees.
— Mary Hladky

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9966148054?profile=RESIZE_710x Boca Raton City Council member Andy Thomson addresses a group of volunteers at University Woodlands Park before they head out to pick up trash on Dec. 11.

Growing numbers of volunteers follow leader into 2022

By Mary Hladky

Boca Raton City Council member Andy Thomson launched 2021 with a resolution to run all 475 miles of the city’s streets, picking up litter along the way.
In 2022, “I’m going to do it all over again,” he said.
Thomson, 39, confesses he’s not a big fan of running. And in late December, as the former punter on Georgia Tech’s football team rushed to complete his mission, he admitted his knees were sore.
But he’s going to press on because his “Run the City” initiative provided benefits he didn’t expect.
“I’ve gotten to know our city better,” he said. “What each neighborhood is like and what they could use, what they need.”
Beyond that, the effort yielded a cleaner, safer city. He and nearly 500 volunteers who joined his cause picked up nearly 1,300 pounds of trash. The potholes, broken sidewalks and other safety issues he spotted and reported have been fixed by city or county crews.
“The best part is the volunteers,” Thomson said. “I didn’t anticipate there would be a lot of involvement or interest. But there was a lot.”
The long list of nonprofits and other groups that helped includes Boca Raton Regional Hospital, Junior League of Boca Raton, Boca Raton Innovation Campus, Riviera Civic Association, Spanish River High School cross-country teams, Addison Mizner elementary school PTA and Christ Community Church.
Also at times, some of his five children accompanied him.
In the new year Thomson will tweak his system a bit. He’ll run major arteries early in the morning since few pedestrians walk along them and there are fewer opportunities for interaction.
He’ll save neighborhoods for later in the day and announce in advance where he will be so residents can talk with him about issues they’d like the city to resolve.
“It has helped me immensely” as an elected official, he said. “I have met so many people I probably would never have met as a result of being in their neighborhood.”
The project is reminiscent of “Walkin’ Lawton” Chiles’ 1970 campaign for U.S. Senate, when the Lakeland politician walked 1,003 miles from Pensacola to Key West to meet everyday Floridians and promote his candidacy. He won the Senate seat and later served as Florida’s governor.
Thomson’s effort no longer is a solitary one. Some volunteers have been inspired to conduct independent cleanups.
“Once they start doing this, they realize your eyes can’t not see the litter that’s out there. You feel compelled to do something about it,” he said.
As 2021 drew to a close, Thomson was joined by volunteers from Boca Save our Beaches and the environmental organization Waterway Advocates to clean up neighborhoods near University Woodlands Park at 2501 St. Andrews Blvd.
“We are super-excited to work partner with (Thomson),” said Boca Save our Beaches founder Jessica Gray. “All trash will eventually lead to the ocean,” endangering wildlife.
About 18 volunteers showed up for the Dec. 11 cleanup, including Florida Atlantic University students Makayla Williams and Manoucheca Pierre, who could earn community service credit for participating.
“I felt I had to do something,” Williams said.

9966152671?profile=RESIZE_710xJackson Gray, 6, found this bag that used to contain ice. Photos by Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star


Dylan Uttenreither, a 10th-grader at West Boca Raton Community High School, brought along his parents, Jennifer and Scott.
“We love to help,” Jennifer Uttenreither said.
Ellen Gray, who participates in beach cleanups with Boca Save our Beaches, brought her children, Jackson, 6, Julia 3, and Jane, 1, with the intention of “teaching our kids good things.”
Jackson, who proved to be an expert with a trash-grabbing device, amassed a big haul after about 15 minutes of work — 14.5 pounds.
“I am so pleased,” Gray said of her son’s efforts.
In all, the volunteers collected 42.3 pounds of trash, including a car grille, styrofoam, old tennis balls, plastic water bottles and beer cans.
“Even in a city as beautiful as Boca, this stuff is out there,” Thomson said as he thanked the group. “The best part is, you are demonstrating you care about our city.”

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By Rich Pollack

Highland Beach voters will have a chance to learn more about five proposed charter changes — all of which could have a long-term impact on how the town operates — prior to casting their ballots on March 8.
A food truck event at Town Hall on Jan. 6 will kick off an educational campaign designed to ensure voters are aware of the proposed changes and have an opportunity to ask questions of town leaders.
Voters who go to the polls will weigh in on issues ranging from increasing the town’s spending cap from $350,000 to slightly over $1 million to allowing commissioners to increase their salaries by no more than 5% a year, rather than leaving that decision up to residents.
Voters also will be deciding on a proposal that would adjust commission term limits by allowing a third three-year term instead of just two in a single seat and limiting commissioners to a total of 12 consecutive years in any elected position.
In what amounts to a housekeeping issue, voters will also be asked to eliminate a clause in the Town Charter that requires a commissioner signature on every town check.
Another key issue on the ballot will give voters the ability to accept or reject changes in managerial control of the police department, proposed new fire department or water facility to another government agency.
In essence that measure would make it impossible for a town commission to turn over operation of the new fire department, for example, to Palm Beach County Fire Rescue without approval from voters.
During a meeting last month commissioners had a lengthy discussion about the proposed change allowing commission salaries to be changed by ordinance rather than by referendum. While they all agreed to put the issue on the ballot, the discussion centered on whether there should be a cap and just how much that cap should be.
“We have to put in a number but remember we’re dealing with salaries of $1,000 a month,” said Commissioner John Shoemaker.
Commissioners are paid $12,000 a year, while the mayor receives $15,000 a year — rates that haven’t changed since 2004.
Mayor Doug Hillman pointed out that any changes would not just affect the current commission but would apply to future commissions until the issue was brought back to voters.
Hillman also reminded commissioners that “we have to come up with a number that we believe the voters will approve.”
In the end, commissioners agreed to ask voters to let commissions determine their salaries but with an increase of no more than 5% a year.
Their decision to bring the issue to the voters comes after a volunteer charter review board recommended adjusting salaries by ordinance rather than by a vote of residents.
“While there was concern about a future ‘rogue’ commission overstepping reasonable salary limits, the majority of the board felt the electorate would have enough control at the ballot box to serve as a restraint against such actions,” said Barry Donaldson, who chaired the committee. 
“So, in the end we recommended the commissioners be trusted to set their own salaries by ordinance, answerable to the sentiment of the voters during elections.”
He said the committee felt the issue of a cap would be better addressed by commissioners.
Earlier in 2021, commissioners approved a recommendation from the town’s Financial Advisory Board that would have increased the salaries commissioners receive by 20% and then added annual cost-of-living increases.
Before that could take effect, however, the town discovered that changes to commission salaries currently must be approved by voters. That led to bringing the issue before the charter review board, the commission and ultimately the voters.
While the commission was unanimous in agreeing to the 5% annual limit, it did not reach full agreement on language centered on raising the spending cap.
While four members agreed to raise the spending limit by 5% of the town’s total budget, Commissioner Peggy Gossett-Seidman dissented, saying she felt a cap based on a “hard” number would have a better chance of getting voter approval.
“I truly believe residents will not understand the 5%,” she said.
Recognizing that the issues may be complicated, commissioners plan to send out six mailings before election day, including one on each issue as well as a voter guide.
Commissioners will also be available at a second food truck event on Feb. 10, and a “Coffee With the Mayor” will be held on Jan. 18.
The town will have a separate page on its website devoted to the proposed charter changes with additional information on each of the events.

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By Rich Pollack

Armed with newly minted building recertification requirements drafted following the collapse of Surfside’s Champlain Towers South, Highland Beach’s building department has begun notifying a handful of condominium associations and others of when they must file a detailed inspection report with the town.
Last month, Building Official Jeff Remas sent letters to six of the town’s oldest buildings informing them of the town’s new recertification ordinance and letting them know the due date — within 365 days from receipt of the letter — to file reports from specialized threshold inspectors and electrical engineers.
Under the carefully crafted ordinance adopted in November, buildings that are more than three stories or 50 feet in height are required to have a recertification inspection when the building reaches 25 years old.
Buildings that are 40 years old and older are required to be inspected every seven years and buildings that are more than 25 years old are required to be inspected every 10 years.
Two of the buildings that have already received notice of deadlines will have until January 2023 to file an inspection report, two others will have until February of that year and two more until March 2023.
Deadlines for the remaining 44 buildings requiring inspections will be staggered, with two associations a month needing to file reports on the identified deadline date.
“Our goal is to make sure property owners have adequate time to turn in their paperwork,” Remas said.
A little more than half of the 50 buildings are 40 years old or more.
Highland Beach’s ordinance put the responsibility for inspections on individual condominiums, requiring them to hire qualified inspectors who must complete the detailed report and file it with the town.
The report requirements will focus specifically on critical and major deficiencies impacting safety and will not address cosmetic issues.
“Our ordinance makes for a safer community because the requirements are solely about safety,” Remas said.
The timing for when identified issues should be addressed will be determined by the inspectors.
“It is up to the engineers and inspectors to say if immediate attention is needed,” Remas told town commissioners during a meeting in October. “They are the ones who determine the condition of the building.”
While the town’s role will be largely administrative, the ordinance allows the building official to ensure that buildings meet the recommendations of the inspectors within the time line specified in the report.
“This requires them to follow through after the inspection,” Remas said, adding that failure to meet recommendations from inspectors was identified as an issue at Champlain Towers.
According to Highland Beach Town Manager Marshall Labadie, any violations, including failure to submit reports in a timely manner, will be handled through the town’s code enforcement process.
While all buildings will be given at least a year to file inspection reports, Remas says condominiums can file reports from recent inspections as long as all of the requirements are addressed.
In addition to his letter — which was sent by certified mail and hand-delivered — Remas has included a summary of the town’s recertification ordinance, listing some but not all of the requirements.
The letter also asks associations to encourage their engineers to register with the town as a certified threshold inspector in order to help Highland Beach develop a list that can be available to other buildings.
Remas said it is imperative that inspectors and engineers read the ordinance — available on the town’s website — and contact him with any questions.

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By Rich Pollack

For almost four decades, officers and managers of condos east of Federal Highway in Boca Raton and Highland Beach met regularly to share information and to listen to key speakers on topics that affect them all.
Now, with the collapse of Surfside’s 12-story Champlain Towers South in June still on the minds of many and with recertification regulations coming down the road in some communities, the Beach Condo Association of Boca Raton and Highland Beach is expanding to welcome representatives from condos in Delray Beach east of Federal Highway.
“Our organization is about community and this is about neighbors helping neighbors,” said Emily Gentile, the association’s president. “It’s about courtesy and kindness to our neighbors in Palm Beach County.”
The association meets for an hour and a half the third Tuesday of every month from October through April. It focuses on sharing information on topics that are common and of interest to most associations.
During past meetings, members have discussed a wide range of issues from crosswalks on State Road A1A to beach erosion and storm protection. They have shared ideas about security, maintenance and repairs and even staffing.
In addition, the association offers board certification classes and other continuing education classes that are useful to condominium leaders and managers.
“Meeting board members from other buildings is always helpful,” said Janet Friedman, a vice president on the board of Villa Costa, a 36-unit building in Highland Beach. “We always have a common problem or question and I can either get information or possibly give information to a fellow board member with something we at Villa Costa have faced in the past.”
Friedman says she goes to meetings to keep up with changes to relevant legislation on the state and local levels and to work with others on important issues.
“It is always good to collaborate with others that have the same interests,” she said.
Joanne Chester, president of the board of the 55-unit Mayfair of Boca Raton, agrees about the value of swapping ideas.
“Just hearing stories of what other buildings are doing is priceless information,” she said.
Now, Gentile says, there is a great focus on structural integrity and recertification of buildings, topics with lots to learn that can often be confusing.
“Recertification is an issue that requires a lot of education,” Gentile said. “We want our neighbors to know what we know.”
With that in mind, the Beach Condo Association in November held a Recertification Experts Panel meeting on Zoom featuring building officials, code enforcement officers, two structural engineers, an electrical engineer and structural contractors. Members had an opportunity to learn more about ordinances passed by Boca Raton and Highland Beach relating to recertification and to get an idea of how certification requirements will be rolled out.
Condo board members and managers also now have a better understanding of the structural and electrical issues facing buildings — especially those on the barrier island — and what inspectors will look for.
“We have a lot more to come,” Gentile said. “We’re pulling out all the stops to educate our members and give them all the information they need.”
Future meetings, she said, will include related topics including how the Champlain Towers collapse will impact insurance. The association also plans to hold a meeting focused on financial issues with banks and other institutions, discussing what options are available should condo associations need to finance major structural or electrical repairs.
Annual dues for the Beach Condo Association of Boca Raton and Highland Beach are $150 per building. Meetings are open to condo association officers and committee chairs as well as managers Meetings are hosted at different condominiums along the coast.


More information is available at https://beachcondoassociation.com

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9966141878?profile=RESIZE_710xThe carousel, which opened in 2005, will be closed for at least three months. Photo provided

 

By Steve Plunkett

The carousel at Sugar Sand Park — popular with young children and grandchildren — is closed for at least three months while waiting for replacement metal poles to secure the horses and chariot benches.
Briann Harms, executive director of the Greater Boca Raton Beach and Park District, which operates the park, told district commissioners on Dec. 20 that “severe deterioration” was discovered the previous week “in a lot of the equipment and gearboxes” and she shut down the ride.
“We don’t have a quote … specifically on how much it’s going to cost, but we know it’s going to be a pretty healthy sum,” she said.
Commissioners authorized Harms to spend up to $100,000 for new parts and to issue a request for proposals for the actual repair work. Harms predicted that work could cost around $150,000.
“The carousel has been around since 2005, so it’s given us a lot of life,” she said.
The parts will take three months to arrive from the Wichita, Kansas, manufacturer and should add 10 to 15 years of use to the carousel, Harms said.
“A replacement carousel is anywhere from $1 million to $1.5 million,” she said.
Commissioners decided back in October to seek bids for a qualified person or firm to undertake restorative work and ongoing maintenance for the carousel. A consultant hired to develop the scope of the project found the ride was no longer safe.
The carousel, which normally operates every day, features 30 jumping horses and two wheelchair-accessible benches that look like chariots. Rides are $1 per person.

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By Mary Hladky

Two years after ecstatic City Council members approved a deal that allowed Brightline to build a Boca Raton train station, construction has begun.
Brightline announced on Dec. 21 that it has started work on a 4.5-story, 455-space parking garage on city-owned land along the Florida East Coast Railway tracks immediately east of the Downtown Library.
The company expects station construction will begin in early 2022 after it signs a construction contract. All work is projected to be completed in the fourth quarter of 2022.
Construction is starting about a year later than anticipated in part because of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, which forced the high-speed train company to halt passenger service in March 2020. Service resumed in November.
Another reason for the delay is that Brightline and the city sought, and later received, a $16.3 million U.S. Department of Transportation grant to help pay for the station and garage.
Brightline will pay $20 million of the station cost, and the city will spend $9.9 million on the garage.
“The community of Boca Raton has shown great enthusiasm and support for this station which we believe is vital to the connectivity of the communities from Miami to Orlando,” Brian Kronberg, Brightline’s vice president of development, said in a statement.
Mayor Scott Singer said the station would bring riders to cultural, dining and shopping attractions in the city.
“So many residents and businesses have discussed how Brightline will be a game changer for Boca Raton,” he said. “We can’t wait to say ‘all aboard in Boca Raton!’”

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9919949073?profile=RESIZE_400xMark Lauzier (right) huddles with his attorney, Isidro Garcia, during his wrongful dismissal trial that ended Dec. 16. Photo from courtroom Zoom feed

 

By Jane Smith

Former Delray Beach City Manager Mark Lauzier lost his wrongful dismissal lawsuit against the city in a jury trial that ended Dec. 16.

Lauzier was seeking $248,659 in severance for five months of pay and benefits, seven months of paid leave and 12 months of health insurance benefits.

He also sought the fees for his attorney, Isidro Garcia.

In his closing statement made the morning of Dec. 16, Garcia said, “Lauzier didn’t willfully violate anything…. He crossed the wrong person—the mayor—and embarrassed her publicly.”

The city’s hired counsel, Brett Schneider, countered that Lauzier was fired for cause. Lauzier rewrote the city’s personnel manual so that it did not cover his direct reports. He did not update the city charter as was required or post the changes.

Schneider called Garcia’s attempts to implicate the mayor “red herrings” because it was Commissioner Ryan Boylston who initiated the termination process that led to Lauzier’s firing on March 1, 2019.

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Holiday cheer

9868186085?profile=RESIZE_710xSunrise residents Olivia Dee, 6, and her friend Destiny Sato, 9, chase each other around the Christmas tree at Mizner Park during ‘Light Up Downtown Boca.’ It kicked off Nov. 19 with ‘Light the Lights,’ a celebration featuring a holiday tree lighting. A few storms moved through and soaked the crowd, making for a shorter celebration.

Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star

Our comprehensive guide to holiday events.

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9868150857?profile=RESIZE_710xBy Mary Hladky

With construction of Silver Palm Park in the downtown finally underway and work at the adjacent Wildflower Park slated to start soon, the parks’ art components have been selected.
Two sculptures will be loaned to the city by the Boca Raton Museum of Art and will be placed along the waterfront in each park. The artists are Jane Manus of West Palm Beach and Jeff Whyman of Delray Beach.
9868150881?profile=RESIZE_400xThe city is commissioning two other works by artists with May + Watkins Design of Athens, New York, that will be located at the corners of each park closest to the intersection of Palmetto Park Road and Fifth Avenue. They will be similar and are intended to thematically connect the two parks while representing nature and the coast.
The aluminum works, both over 10 feet tall, depict leaves and flowers in pastel shades of green, yellow and blue with accents of bright coral. The one destined for Silver Palm Park will incorporate that tree. Both will be illuminated, Jennifer Bistyga, the city’s coastal program manager, told the council on Nov. 22.
Other art that doubles as an interactive play area will be located in Wildflower Park. Children will be able to climb on it to play and explore.
Council members were thrilled by what they saw and gave city staff the go-ahead to finalize agreements with the museum and May + Watkins Design that likely will be approved in December.
The cost of the May + Watkins pieces will be finalized by then. The approved budget for art at the two parks, which total 6.4 acres, is $125,000.
“I love the idea of having flowers and trees being the signature pieces at these two parks,” said council member Andy Thomson.
“I am very pleased,” said council member Monica Mayotte.
“Yes, yes, yes. As quickly as you can,” Deputy Mayor Andrea O’Rourke said about finalizing the agreements.
Museum of Art Executive Director Irvin Lippman offered to loan the city four sculptures one year ago. Council members liked some of the artwork, including the pieces by Manus and Whyman, but gave poor reviews to others, even after Lippman returned to the council offering additional choices.
Even so, they thanked Lippman for his generosity.
While council members weren’t quite sure what they wanted, they indicated the art should reflect the waterfront and nature.
O’Rourke and Mayotte suggested works that inspired “selfie moments” and were “Instagram-able.”

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By Rich Pollack

For at least two decades, Highland Beach town leaders have raised concerns about being handcuffed by a spending cap that requires voter approval for any project over $350,000.
First imposed in 1991, the limitation has caused hand-wringing among many town leaders who have said that although Highland Beach and its needs have grown since then, the $350,000 number has not changed.
Though efforts to adjust the number have been stymied, the current Town Commission is hoping voters will agree in March to change the Town Charter and allow elected officials to spend as much as 5% of the town’s annual combined budgets on a project without voter approval.
Five percent of the town’s current total budgets equals just more than $1 million, a number town officials say will be enough to cover major projects going forward, including those that would be part of creating a new fire department.
“Keeping the spending limit at $350,000 is far too low to manage the town,” Mayor Doug Hillman said, adding that much has changed in the town since the limit was put in place.
Over the years, at least one previous commission attempted to modify the spending cap, but without success.
In 2012, commissioners voted to modify the charter and raise the cap to $1 million by ordinance following a recommendation by the Charter Review Committee. They subsequently spent $850,000 on renovations to Town Hall.
In 2014, however, the Palm Beach County Inspector General’s Office questioned the procedure Highland Beach used to raise the limit, saying that since it was put in place by referendum in 1991, it could be modified only with the approval of voting residents.
That led to current efforts to adjust the limit.
The proposed change to the spending cap is one of five questions commissioners plan to bring to voters in the spring.
Others include giving commissioners the ability to raise their salaries through an ordinance rather than a vote by residents; adjusting commission term limits by allowing a third three-year term instead of just two in a single seat and limiting commissioners to a total of 12 consecutive years in any elected position; and eliminating a clause in the charter that requires a commissioner signature on every town check.
The final proposed change commissioners will send to referendum is one that would require voter approval before the town can turn over managerial control of the police department, fire department or water facilities to another government agency or individual entity.
The proposed changes were brought to the commission by a Charter Review Board made up of town residents who met over several months prior to making recommendations.
Recognizing that any charter changes can have long-term impacts, the board took a cautious approach and opted to leave most key decisions in the hands of elected officials who can create and approve ordinances.
“A number of suggested changes were not recommended and left to the discretion of the town commissioners,” said Charter Review Board Chairman Barry Donaldson.
The spending limit, Donaldson said, was discussed at length by the committee, which eventually recommended the limit be set at 10% of the town’s total budgets.
Total budgets represent the town’s general fund budget, and enterprise fund budgets for water and sewer.
“We didn’t want to tie the hands of the commission,” Donaldson told commissioners. “But we also felt it wise to keep some power with the electorate. It was the simplest thing to send to the electorate.”
He said the majority of board members believed it would be best to pivot from a fixed dollar amount cap to a flexible cap to be “responsive to broader fiscal shifts such as inflation.”
Throughout discussions of the funding limit, some raised the possibility of eliminating the cap altogether, while pointing out that very few municipalities put spending limits on elected officials.
At one point commissioners proposed putting two questions on the ballot, giving voters the option to choose the 5% limit before a referendum is required or no limit on commission spending. That proposal was dropped as being too confusing.
Commissioners, in discussing eliminating the spending cap completely, concluded that doing so could fail to get voter approval, meaning the commission would revert to the $350,000 limit.
Eventually commissioners voted to propose the 5% limit and agreed that an educational campaign would be needed.
In crafting ballot language, commissioners hoped to explain to voters why the change was necessary.
The ballot language is:
“To recognize the growth of costs and support the delivery of town services, including items like the water treatment plant, library, police, and fire rescue, shall the town of Highland Beach amend its charter at section 2.01 (30) to provide that the funding limits be increased from the current limit of $350,000 which was established in 1991 to five percent of the town’s total annual budget?”

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By Rich Pollack

For the last few years, Highland Beach Commissioner Peggy Gossett-Seidman has been traveling to Tallahassee on a regular basis, speaking with legislators about the town’s needs.
“The first year I visited with about 60 lawmakers,” she said.
Her efforts have paid off in raising visibility for the community in the capital. But the town has struggled to receive state funding for key projects even with the support of legislators whose districts include Highland Beach.
Now the town is stepping up its efforts to get financial help from the state and has hired a lobbying firm to help identify potential funds and obtain them.
Gossett-Seidman and others on the commission are hopeful that having a presence in Tallahassee will pay off.
“We need a person there who can meet on an hour’s notice with an appropriations committee chair to discuss why Highland Beach should get state government funding for a specific project,” she said.
That person could be Matthew Sacco or another representative of the Rubin, Turnbull and Associates firm, which the town hired to serve as lobbyists in October.
The contract runs to July 30, 2022, at a fee of $4,000 a month.
The Town Commission will evaluate the services at the end of July to determine effectiveness and if it wishes to continue having a lobbyist represent the town’s interest, Town Manager Marshall Labadie said.
“I talked to several firms over the years and this firm is a good fit for Highland Beach,” Gossett-Seidman said. “They are highly regarded.”
One of the priorities will be to help Highland Beach receive state funds that could be used to renovate the town’s fire station so it can accommodate additional equipment brought on when the town’s new fire department is operational.
Labadie said the town is hoping for an allocation in the neighborhood of $1 million for the project.
The town is also hoping to receive $750,0000 in state funding to make swale repairs and improve drainage along State Road A1A to alleviate flooding after heavy rains.
Gossett-Seidman helped the town come close to receiving money for drainage but that proposed allocation — supported by Rep. Mike Caruso, R-Delray Beach — got pulled from the budget due to COVID-19 funding demands.
Having a representative in Tallahassee who knows the ins and outs of the system can keep the needs of Highland Beach in the forefront, she said.
Labadie says that expertise is extremely valuable, and he plans to get a better understanding of the legislative process when he travels to Tallahassee early next year and meets with lawmakers and the lobbying firm.
Gossett-Seidman said she believes the town will benefit from relationships Sacco and the firm have developed and from the continuity that comes with their presence.
“Because of term limits, elected officials come and go. Lobbyists don’t,” she said. “If you have a good one, they have the capability of keeping Highland Beach in the forefront of the changing Legislature.”
Gossett-Seidman said Highland Beach has never received an allocation of funds for a special project from the Legislature and she believes having a lobbyist will change that.
“Our residents deserve to have some state tax dollars back,” she said. “They deserve some attention from the state.” Ú

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By Mary Hladky

City officials are willing to consider implementing new regulations that would help CP Group attract coveted technology and life sciences tenants to its Boca Raton Innovation Campus.
City Council members directed staff on Nov. 8 to review proposed new rules that CP Group (formerly Crocker Partners) is drafting. The rules would allow the company to add amenities that high-tech companies want but are not now permitted by land use regulations and zoning at the former IBM campus.
The move is preliminary and offers no assurance that CP Group’s proposed regulations will be adopted.
But all council members said they like CP Group’s concept and a majority are strongly supportive. Boca is competing with cities across South Florida as they scramble to attract high-tech companies looking to relocate from other parts of the country.
Council member Andy Thomson echoed a comment he made at an October meeting when he said, “I do not want to see Boca miss an opportunity like this.”
“I am sure other cities are looking at our meeting and are dying for something like this,” said council member Yvette Drucker.
The council opened the door to negotiations between the city and CP Group after company attorney Bonnie Miskel updated a presentation she made in October to give council members more information on what CP Group envisions.
CP Group wants BRIC to offer what high-tech companies and their employees are demanding. That includes offices that are near housing, public transportation, restaurants, retail and child care.
The company wants to build 1,000 residential units, a 130-room hotel, grocery store and a civic center that can seat 2,100. The 1.7 million-square-foot office complex would expand to include 50,000 square feet of restaurants, 76,000 square feet of commercial and 80,000 square feet of medical offices.
Retail would be clustered along a “Main Street” with buildings of varying heights not exceeding seven stories.
Under existing regulations, the residential, hotel, grocery store and civic center are among uses that are not permitted since any development must serve only BRIC. That limits customers and makes it impossible to attract restaurants and other tenants CP Group wants.
CP Group’s traffic engineer said that the proposed redevelopment would not overburden existing roads since Spanish River Boulevard, Yamato Road and Congress Avenue have sufficient capacity to absorb traffic coming in and out of BRIC.
BRIC is now in the midst of a $100 million renovation primarily inside the original IBM buildings. CP Group’s expanded vision would cost at least an additional $205 million.
Most council members were willing to hold off on asking about more project specifics until BRIC submits proposed regulations and staff can evaluate them.But Mayor Scott Singer posed objections. He noted that CP Group estimates creating 479 new jobs and asked how that justified building 1,000 residential units.
Miskel said the jobs number is a very conservative estimate and pointed out that BRIC now has 35 tenants with 6,000 employees.
BRIC currently is upgrading its existing office space to meet tenant demands and that includes upgrading about 30% of the space that is not now Class A.
Singer questioned why CP Group is not proposing to also build new office space which would bring in additional jobs.
“I am happy to accommodate you there,” Miskel said, adding she would let CP Group know what Singer proposed.
CP Group’s draft regulations likely will be ready for city staff review within two months, Miskel said. Ú

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By Mary Hladky

City Council members want Boca Raton to compete more effectively with other cities in luring blue-ribbon companies to relocate.
Although they have no concrete proposals as of now, all said an emphasis should be placed on encouraging the construction of more Class A office space ­— the highest quality available — and offering amenities that companies look for today when they consider moving.
They agreed to hold a workshop meeting soon where they will solicit ideas on the best ways to accomplish this.
“Let’s get to the front of the pack,” said council member Monica Mayotte, who launched the discussion at the Nov. 22 meeting of the Community Redevelopment Agency, which she chairs.
“I do think we are missing the mark on some of the things we can do to attract business to our area,” said council member Yvette Drucker.
Council members want to hear from Kelly Smallridge, president and CEO of the Business Development Board of Palm Beach County, who has told many of them individually that the city needs new Class A office space to attract companies.
The city already has lots of Class A space, but many of those buildings were constructed years ago and they don’t offer amenities that are common in recently built offices.
CP Group’s Boca Raton Innovation Campus, the former IBM headquarters, is addressing this problem. The complex is undergoing a $100 million renovation to improve existing Class A space, upgrade its non-Class A space and add a host of amenities. The company, formerly called Crocker Partners, is also seeking city approval to add residential units, hotel, grocery store, civic center and retail.
Council members also hope to hear from company officials on what Boca Raton can do to make the city a more enticing location to do business.
Other than citing a need for modern Class A space, council members offered only general ideas, such as increasing the size of the city’s two-member Office of Economic Development and more streamlining of the process of getting city approvals for companies that want to open in the city.
The recent departure of Pedro Moras, who headed the city’s Innovation Office, is a setback for economic development efforts.
“With more staff, they could do more,” said Mayor Scott Singer.
The city has been working since 2018 to streamline its processes. The council has approved a raft of changes that reduce the bureaucracy and shorten the time it takes to get project approvals.
Mayotte suggested dusting off a proposal the city drafted about 15 years ago to lure the Scripps Research Institute to Boca Raton and using it as a blueprint for attracting companies. The ideas in the proposal were never implemented after Scripps landed in Jupiter.
But Singer said those ideas may no longer be the best ones for today.

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By Steve Plunkett

Work to open a “minimal” park at Ocean Strand will not begin until February at best.
The Greater Boca Raton Beach and Park District, which owns the undeveloped 14.8-acre tract west of State Road A1A, must have its revised plan for the park approved by the city’s Planning & Zoning Board and the City Council.
And when those approvals come, the district will have to pay $1,500 into the city’s beautification program, Briann Harms, the district’s executive director, told commissioners on Nov. 15.
“Even though we’re taxpayer-funded and not a typical developer, we will still have to contribute to that fund,” Harms said.
At the board’s Nov. 1 meeting Harms sketched out the schedule.
“We are just waiting to get put on the Planning & Zoning and the City Council’s agendas,” she said. “I’m hearing that by the end of January we would be through that process and have the right steps to go forward and finish out that project.”
The park — with picnic tables, benches and a kayak landing area — was originally envisioned to open in September 2020. But a required archaeology study that documented remnants of a prehistoric people and a decision to make the park accessible to people with disabilities slowed the project.
The district now plans to leave invasive Brazilian pepper trees on the north and south portions of the park, clearing the exotics only from the central portion where an asphalt road and mulch pedestrian path runs from A1A to the Intracoastal Waterway.
Meanwhile, commissioners approved a temporary construction easement on Nov. 15 for work at 900 Lago Mar Lane, on the Intracoastal just north of the park. JJ Morley Enterprises Inc. will pay the district $15,000 for permission to stage construction equipment and materials, park vehicles and enter and leave the site. The easement runs until February 2023 or until construction is complete and can be extended if necessary for $1,000 a month. After the work is finished Morley will repave the asphalt road.
Lago Mar Associates Inc., headed by real estate broker and Lago Mar Lane resident David Petruzzelli, sold the vacant property in January 2021 for $4.1 million to a Boca Raton limited liability partnership, according to county property records. Petruzzelli’s entity bought the land and three adjoining parcels in 1989 for $300,000.
The property includes a pier extending 206 feet into the Intracoastal and a boatlift.
Harms said she believed the building planned for the lot is a three-unit condominium.
“Equipment wise, the largest vehicle anticipated on the easement is a concrete truck,” Harms said. “The impact to Ocean Strand will be minimal during the construction of that property and will not interfere with our plans to open it as a pedestrian park.”
She also said the district had planned to resurface the asphalt at a later phase and possibly incorporate public art there.
“We were able to incorporate the cost of those improvements into the (temporary easement) which benefits taxpayers,” Harms said.

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By Mary Hladky

City Council members are considering increasing the number of Boca Raton Housing Authority board members to give more residents a say in how the agency operates.
The possible council action comes as residents of the Dixie Manor public housing complex, located near the historic Pearl City neighborhood, are worried that the Housing Authority will make changes that could push them out of their apartments.
The council discussion arose after three people submitted applications to serve on the Housing Authority board. The board sometimes has struggled to fill vacancies that drew little public interest.
But that changed as word circulated that the authority is considering removing Dixie Manor from the federal public housing program with the intent of gaining access to financing that would allow it to improve Dixie Manor and add more low-income housing.
That sparked fears the board would take action that could leave Dixie Manor residents without affordable housing.
Many current or former residents turned out for City Council meetings on Nov. 8 and 9 to urge that Dixie Manor tenants be protected as council members decided who should serve on the five-member Housing Authority board.
Among them was Reggie Cox, a Delray Beach architect, former chair of that city’s Community Redevelopment Agency and a former Dixie Manor resident who urged “development without displacement.”
Council members selected Lanette Wright, who served in the U.S. Marines for 30 years before retiring in 2019 and returning to a home in Lincoln Court near Pearl City. She has since become involved in many community efforts.
“I knew I had the time and capacity to sit on the board. I like service,” Wright said in an interview. “I thought it would be good to have someone closer to the neighborhood be part of the board.”
She fills the board seat held by Carol Wolfe, whose term expired in November but who sought reappointment.
Also applying were Charles Graves, a retired Florida Atlantic University urban planning professor who has served as director of planning and community development in Baltimore, Atlanta, Washington, D.C., and Cincinnati and has secured grants to document Pearl City’s history, and George Love, a licensed acupuncturist whose résumé states he is also a doctor of oriental medicine.
Wright and Graves favor expanding the board, possibly to seven members.
“I think it is a good thing,” Wright said. “It brings in more experience, more ideas and more perspectives.”
Expansion was suggested by Angela McDonald, a Housing Authority board member who lives in Dixie Manor and who has been helping tenants organize.
Deputy Mayor Andrea O’Rourke seized on the idea, saying it was difficult to select only one of the applicants to serve on the board. Council members Monica Mayotte and Yvette Drucker also supported expansion.
City Attorney Diana Grub Frieser said she believes the City Council has the authority to make the change but will research the matter.

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By Rich Pollack

For the third consecutive year, Highland Beach residents will have a commissioner selected without opposition.
Commissioner Evalyn David was elected last month after the qualifying period for candidates to file paperwork ended with only David running for office.
Because she was the only candidate to qualify, David will automatically serve a second three-year term on the Town Commission.
David believes the lack of opposition is an endorsement of the work the current commission is doing.
“I think people are very happy with what’s going on in the town,” she said. “Usually people only run when there’s a problem.”
With David’s election, all five members of the commission have run at least once without opposition.
Mayor Doug Hillman, Vice Mayor Natasha Moore and Commissioner John Shoemaker all ran unopposed and are in their first terms. Commissioner Peggy Gossett-Seidman was elected in 2018 and ran unopposed earlier this year.
David, an attorney, ran in 2019 and narrowly defeated incumbent Commissioner Elyse Riesa, capturing 990 votes to Riesa’s 955 votes.
In other business:
• Commissioners last month gave final approval to a condo recertification ordinance that requires buildings of more than three stories or 50 feet high to have recertification inspections when they reach 25 years old.
For buildings under 40 years old, further inspections will be required every 10 years. For the 45 buildings over 40 years old, further inspections will be required every seven years.
In January town officials plan to begin notifying condo associations of when inspection reports are due.
The town plans to notify two buildings per month, letting them know that they have 360 days to file reports from certified engineers detailing any critical or major structural or electrical problems.
Each association will then have another year to resolve the issues unless there is imminent danger to residents, in which case the town will step in and, in the worst-case scenario, require evacuation.
• Commissioners unanimously agreed to begin the process of creating a marine patrol unit by spending an estimated $164,000 on an outfitted police boat.
The 28-foot rigid-hull, inflatable boat with twin 225-horsepower engines is manufactured in Fort Lauderdale and could be available by February.
Getting the marine unit up and running, Police Chief Craig Hartmann said, will take a bit longer.
Details including staffing and training as well as determining a dockage location need to be worked out, he said.
The chief said he hopes to have the unit, which will include one full-time officer and possibly additional reserve officers, working in the first quarter of next year.

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By Jane Smith

Four city commissioners agreed to pay $1 million to resolve complaints by the Florida Department of Health over Delray Beach’s botched reclaimed water program.

They also agreed to pay the county branch of the Health Department $21,193.90 for costs and expenses of its investigation.

Commissioner Juli Casale was absent.

The Health Department had wanted to fine the city $1.8 million in June. A representative of the department could not be reached immediately. 

At an 8-minute special meeting Nov. 9 the commissioners were again reminded that the following violations occurred during installation of the city’s reclaimed water project: failure to inspect its reclaimed water system; no dedicated employee conducting initial and follow-up testing and investigating customer complaints; failure to make sure each property had a backflow preventer installed; failure to evaluate each location for cross-connections and adequate backflow prevention, and failure to conduct periodic inspections.

Delray Beach also failed to have backflow preventers at 609 locations, to color code the drinking and reclaimed water pipes as required, to keep records and reports of the program, to educate the public about using reclaimed water and to report the cross connections and notify the public about them.

Reclaimed water is highly treated wastewater that is suitable only for lawn irrigation, not for human and pet consumption. Backflow devices are required at each location to stop the reclaimed water from flowing back into the drinking water. Cross-connections happen when reclaimed water pipes are hooked up wrongly to the drinking water pipes.

“I’m confident we have the people and systems in place to meet the Health Department’s requirements,” Mayor Shelly Petrolia said. “If we don’t, we will have to pay penalties of $5,000 a day.”

Petrolia also said the problems appear to date to 2007 when the program was started. “I am extremely disappointed that the city’s current taxpayers will pay for the deficiencies,” she said.

City Attorney Lynn Gelin said she contacted the city insurer about covering the loss over $200,000 and will know in the next week whether it will. The $1 million will come from the insurance line item in the city’s budget.

The city has agreed to fix its reclaimed water system within this time frame:

  • Within 30 days of the signed order, submit a public notice about its failure to implement a cross-connection/backflow prevention program.
  • Within 10 days of the public notice, submit a certificate of delivery of publication to the Health Department.
  • Within 180 days, complete or begin the installation at seven properties that still need backflow devices. Five are on the barrier island.
  • Within three years, ensure all reclaimed water customers comply with the rules and provide the Health Department quarterly progress reports.
  • Make sure all violations are published in the 2021 Consumer Confidence Report.
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