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12213933269?profile=RESIZE_710xABOVE: Rebecca Germany, sea turtle conservation assistant at Gumbo Limbo Nature Center, excavates a loggerhead nest in Boca Raton three days after the eggs had hatched.
BELOW LEFT: A baby loggerhead makes its way to the ocean after being rescued by Joan Lorne of Sea Turtle Adventures during a nest excavation in Gulf Stream. Photos by Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star

RELATED: Boca Raton: Gumbo Limbo’s new scope to include whales, manatees

12213933671?profile=RESIZE_400xBy Steve Plunkett

It’s a banner year for sea turtle nests up and down Palm Beach County’s coast and all around the state.

It’s the result, experts say, of decades of educational efforts and government protection.

Boca Raton’s Gumbo Limbo Nature Center reported finding its record-setting 1,325th nest (and nine others) on July 28; two days earlier the Loggerhead Marinelife Center in Juno Beach announced it had documented more than 20,998 nests, also a record.

And on Aug. 10 the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said total nests by loggerheads and green turtles would surpass those species’ statewide annual records.

As of July 31, the agency said, there were 127,808 loggerheads nests (previous record was 122,707 in 2016) and 56,151 green turtle nests (previous record was 53,102 in 2017).
“And the nesting season isn’t over yet,” the FWC said. “We look forward to seeing what the final nest counts will be!”

Conservation pays off
Is the tame start to 2023’s hurricane season somehow boosting the sea turtles’ maternal instincts? Or climate change? Maybe sea-level rise?

Not at all, say the people who monitor the beaches.

“I honestly believe the increase, and now record-breaking season this year, is in part due to decades of conservation efforts now coming to fruition,” said David Anderson, Gumbo Limbo’s sea turtle conservation coordinator. “After all, it takes 20 to 25 years for sea turtles to reach sexual maturity and we are seeing the results of decades of protection.”

By Aug. 28, Anderson’s eight-person sea turtle conservation team and a few volunteers had counted 1,389 total nests on Boca Raton beaches: 1,038 loggerhead, 323 green and 28 leatherback. The previous record of 1,324 was set in 2019.

“On any given morning, there are about five of us on the beach, splitting up in different directions to cover Boca’s 5 miles,” he said. “A busy year is more enjoyable, but it makes the mornings longer.

“The more nests we have, the more work we put in. We start at the same time every morning, about 30 minutes before sunrise. A busy nesting season, however, means that we will be on the beach longer since there are more nests to mark, more nests to protect from predators, more nests that will hatch, more nests to inventory after hatch, etc.”

12213934094?profile=RESIZE_710xRyder Hoffmann, 3, and his sister Everly, 6, of Boynton Beach watch as Joan Lorne of Sea Turtle Adventures rescues a loggerhead during a nest excavation three days after the original hatch-out.

‘Quite busy’ everywhere
Mornings were also hopping for Sea Turtle Adventures Inc., which monitors 3 miles of shoreline in Gulf Stream, Briny Breezes and the southern part of Ocean Ridge.

“We’re quite busy out there,” said monitor Joan Lorne of Delray Beach, whose daughter, Jackie Kingston, founded the nonprofit. “Double the amount of nests. It’s like crazy, which is a good thing.”

The totals for Sea Turtle Adventures in mid-August were 1,051 loggerhead, 283 green, 15 leatherback, one very rare Kemp’s ridley and 1,350 overall. Last year the group counted only 659 nests. “Definitely a record-breaking year,” data manager Emilie Woodrich said.

Delray Beach is also having a “pretty crazy” season, said Joe Scarola, senior scientist with Ecological Associates Inc., which monitors the city’s 3-mile beach. “We’re having a record year for all three species,” he said, with 396 loggerhead nests by Aug. 19 (old record was 356 in 2021), 90 green (vs. 58 in 2019) and 30 leatherback (vs. 21 in 2020).

And in Highland Beach there were 1,526 nests by Aug. 17, surpassing 2022’s total of 1,092 nests, said Joanne Ryan, who holds the FWC sea turtle permit for the town and lives just north of Gulf Stream’s Place Au Soleil neighborhood. The breakdown was 989 loggerhead, 530 green and seven leatherback.

Highland Beach has 2.8 miles of shoreline, making the town “a busy little beach for the turtles,” Ryan said. “I can only attribute it to it being private, and although we do have a fair share of lighting issues, it’s nothing like the public beachfronts, not to mention the people. I feel very lucky to have HB for my nesting survey program.”

Peak of season is past
Nesting season on Florida’s East Coast for the threatened or endangered sea turtles runs from March 1 to Oct. 31.

Anderson said “unfortunately” the loggerheads and the greens will not set species records for Boca Raton along with the new overall record this year. Loggerheads generally stop nesting in late August, he said.

The record high for loggerheads is 1,075 set in 1990, Anderson said, and historical data led him to predict only 1,040 to 1,045 nests this year. The record high for greens in Boca is 393 set in 2019. Anderson expects to hit 337 to 347 this season, “as our last green nest is usually in late September.”

Loggerhead nesting usually peaks in mid-June when Boca Raton gets over 100 nests per week, he said. Green nesting usually peaks in mid-July and his team counts about 30 nests per week.

But even post-peak there is plenty of work for turtle conservationists.

“We have major hatch-outs at this time,” Lorne said.

The county’s northernmost 9.5 miles of beach set records for loggerhead and green nests by mid-August, said Dr. Justin Perrault, vice president of research at the Loggerhead Marinelife Center.

By late August, his team had counted 24,799 nests in all: 15,652 loggerhead, 8,931 green and 216 leatherback. The team tallied 575 nests in just one night, he said.

Most of the discoveries are marked by GPS coordinates but many are also written down. Only those that appear vulnerable to being disturbed are marked.

“Obviously we can’t put 48,000 stakes on the beach,” Perrault said.

Farther north, Disney World’s Vero Beach Resort on July 27 reported that it had found more than 2,000 sea turtle nests on its 5 miles of beach, well above the average 1,500 nests that its conservation team usually sees in a full nesting season.

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12213929071?profile=RESIZE_710xAydil Barbosa Fontes and William Lowe, her husband who is charged with killing her, lived in this condo building on Venetian Drive in coastal Delray Beach. Jerry Lower/The Coastal Star

By Rich Pollack and Jane Musgrave

More than a month after parts of 80-year-old Aydil Barbosa Fontes’ body were discovered packed into several suitcases tossed into the Intracoastal Waterway — and weeks after her 78-year-old husband, William Lowe, was charged with murder and abuse of a dead body — why it all happened remains a mystery.

12213931494?profile=RESIZE_180x180As they fill in parts of a complex puzzle, investigators say they know what happened to Barbosa Fontes, where it happened and how it happened. When it happened and what the motive might have been are still unclear.

Even some of the lawyers who met Lowe at the Palm Beach County jail several times soon after his early August arrest were left in the dark.

“He was friendly, polite and respectful but he couldn’t tell us what happened,” said Fort Lauderdale defense attorney Glenn Roderman. The lawyer wonders if a combination of injuries from Lowe’s time in Vietnam and head injuries related to frequent falls could be affecting his cognitive abilities.

Delray Beach police have said they also have been unable to determine a motive for the murder of Barbosa Fontes — who was shot in the head — since Lowe hired an attorney and remained silent when he was arrested on Aug. 2.

That arrest came after an intensive investigation that began when the three suitcases were found in water on July 21.

Detectives said they first identified Lowe as a possible suspect in the death of his wife of 21 years after one of the investigators took a photo of a license tag from a car that had been seen in the area near where the bags were found.

The tag came back to Lowe and to his address, which was a tenth of a mile from where two suitcases were found.

12213931684?profile=RESIZE_180x180Lowe was brought to the Police Department to give a DNA sample, while at the same time investigators armed with a warrant searched his condominium on Venetian Drive. After leaving the Police Department, Lowe tried to get into the home through a back window, but was stopped by investigators who were still conducting the search.

He told them he wanted to get his phone and the key to his storage locker, where a battery-operated chainsaw later was found. Detectives found blood and other evidence on the chainsaw, which they say was used to dismember Barbosa Fontes’ body.

For more than a week, investigators had sought to identify the remains in the suitcases, asking for help from the public. It was only after they began investigating Lowe as a suspect that they could identify Barbosa Fontes as the victim.

Knowing that Lowe and Barbosa Fontes shared the apartment and that she hadn’t been seen by neighbors for weeks, investigators then were able to confirm her identity using dental records and DNA.

Another help in identifying the remains was an airline sticker attached to one of the suitcases with the name Barbosa Ontes on it — with the first letter of the last name unreadable. Barbosa Fontes was a Brazilian native who made frequent trips to South America.

Service-related disabilities
From all accounts, Lowe lived a law-abiding life in South Florida and in Shelbyville, Kentucky, where he lived before moving to Delray Beach.

Military records show he entered the U.S. Marines in 1968 during the Vietnam War and achieved the rank of chief warrant officer. Defense attorneys say he sustained injuries while in the service and some who know him say he acknowledged suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

That could explain why, for at least 10 years, Lowe has had a property tax exemption on his two-bedroom condo through a state program that allows veterans with total and permanent service-related disabilities to avoid taxes. Becky Robinson, spokeswoman for the Palm Beach County Property Appraiser’s Office, confirmed Lowe had the exemption.

Roderman said he believes PTSD combined with concussions from several falls over the years could be an issue. “There’s no doubt there’s mental health issues,” he said.

Roderman said that when he talked to Lowe early on, Lowe had trouble finishing sentences and would walk away in the middle of a conversation. He said he had planned to have Lowe undergo a mental health evaluation, but was pulled from the case along with co-counsels Philip Johnston and Ed Hoeg before that could be done.

One of Lowe’s sons from his first marriage hired West Palm Beach attorney Franklin Prince as the latest to represent Lowe. Prince said he met Lowe at the jail briefly late last month but was still sorting out details of the case. “We were able to have a conversation,” he said. “It didn’t look to me as if he was out of it.”

12213930884?profile=RESIZE_710xThe door to murder suspect William Lowe’s condo on Venetian Drive in Delray Beach. Jerry Lower/The Coastal Star

Unexplained flowers
While conducting their investigation, detectives spoke to neighbors in the complex on Venetian Drive, just north of Casuarina Road, where Lowe and Barbosa Fontes lived since they married in 2002. It was the second marriage for both.

Neighbors told police they didn’t know Lowe or Barbosa Fontes well. But, one 38-year-old neighbor said Lowe would inexplicably leave flowers outside her door.

He did so on July 26, five days after suitcases containing parts of Barbosa Fontes’s body began surfacing in the Intracoastal Waterway.

Lowe bought the unit in the small, neatly manicured barrier-island complex in 1990 for $105,000, when he was married to his first wife and was living in Kentucky. Similar units in the complex now routinely sell for more than $1 million.

Records show the unit has been paid off for years, but in September 2022, Lowe’s mortgage company sued him for foreclosure. It claimed he failed to abide by his obligation to buy insurance and pay taxes on the condo when he got a reverse mortgage in 2008. The company said he owed at least $265,000.

Ultimately, Lowe hired attorney Reginald Stambaugh, got insurance and the action was dismissed.

When Lowe bought the condo, his parents already owned a unit on the second floor of the building. When his mother died in 2000, years after the 1982 death of her husband, Lowe and one of his sisters agreed to sell the upstairs unit to another sister, who lives in California, court records show.

Neighbors told police they hadn’t seen the sister, now 86, for several years and that Lowe used the unit for storage. About two weeks before Barbosa Fontes’ body was discovered, one neighbor said she saw a trail of what she thought was “soup” leading from Lowe’s unit, up the stairs to the second-floor apartment.

When police searched it, they discovered blood on the outside wall next to the front door.

Inside, they said they discovered a cover and battery charger for a chainsaw and bottles of cleaning supplies.

Lowe, like his father, had been in the auto parts business in Shelbyville. When he married his first wife in 1970, after he left the military, he said his occupation was “salesman,” according to a listing in the Louisville Courier-Journal.

Later records show he owned an auto parts business in his hometown. He registered the company in Florida in 1995, but there is no indication he ever had a storefront here. He let the registration lapse a year later, state records show.

Those who know Lowe as Bill say he and Barbosa Fontes owned Lowe’s Cash, an ATM company Bill ran out of the apartment with installations throughout the area. Barbosa Fontes was listed as president of the company, which records show operated from 2015 to 2017. There is no record of any other business they may have owned together.

Some of those who knew him said they believed Lowe was part of Delray Beach’s alcohol recovery community.

A good landlord
Born in Rio de Janeiro, Barbosa Fontes in 1966 married a Massachusetts Maritime Academy graduate in the seaside town of Winthrop, according to an engagement announcement in the Boston Globe. After moving to Broward County, the couple divorced in 1976. Barbosa Fontes became a U.S. citizen a year later.

Barbosa Fontes dabbled in real estate, owning two units in a condominium complex in Pompano Beach. One of her tenants described her as a good landlord who came to his apartment in July to take care of some plumbing problems.

Despite her age, he said, she appeared to be in good health. “She’s a very nice lady,” said the tenant, who has rented the unit for four years. Reeling from the news of her murder, he asked not to be identified. “We have a very nice relationship.”

Roderman said the case is unlike any other he has handled. “This is really a family tragedy,” he said. “It’s the saddest case I’ve been involved in.”

Michelle Quigley contributed to this story.

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12213927871?profile=RESIZE_710xResidents object to plan for beach access, cite safety concerns

By Rich Pollack

Highland Beach residents were dealt a setback in their 36-year battle to prevent development of a beachfront park when county commissioners agreed recently to move forward with plans to develop the Milani Park property.

The fight, however, is far from over.

In an August letter to the town, Palm Beach County Administrator Verdenia Baker said that the county will begin the design and permitting process for Milani Park, 5.6 acres that straddle State Road A1A at the south end of town.

The county could have delayed its decision to initiate development for another five years as part of a 2010 settlement agreement with the town that came 23 years after the county bought the property from the Milani family for just under $4 million, but chose not to exercise that option.

News of the county’s decision to move forward spread quickly through Highland Beach, where Milani Park has been a hot topic for decades.

“This is a big deal,” Town Manager Marshall Labadie said. “It’s a big project for a small town and a small project for a big county.”

What Milani Park will look like and when the first shovel will hit the ground are still unknown, but Palm Beach County Parks and Recreation Director Jennifer Cirillo says it will be a few years until all required impact studies and design work are completed and construction can start.

“It’s probably several years into the future,” she said.

Cirillo and County Commissioner Marci Woodward, whose district includes the property, say that conceptual plans for the parcel call for a passive park similar to Ocean Ridge

Hammock Park, about 10 miles to the north in Ocean Ridge.

Like that park, also operated by the county, Milani Park would have parking for a small number of cars — just over 40 — on the west side of A1A and would have boardwalk access to the beach.

Along the boardwalk at Milani Park, which will pass over native Florida vegetation that has been allowed to flourish, would be educational signs about the native habitat as well as about the history of the property, which is believed to have been a native American burial ground.

“It’s going to be more of a nature preservation park,” Woodward said.

Nearby residents say they can live with that concept, especially since earlier plans for the project included more than 100 parking spots on the west side of A1A.

The sticking point for residents is the beach portion of the park, according to Ron Reame, vice president of the board of the Boca Highland Beach Club & Marina, which is adjacent to the property on the west side.

“We’re not really in favor of anything on the beach,” he said. “It just doesn’t make sense.”

Reame said that the beach is not very wide during high tide and includes the Yamato Rock formation, which can be hidden and hazardous to those not familiar with it.

“If you make it a public beach, it will be dangerous,” he said. “It’s such a small area.”

Under the preliminary conceptual plan, the beach will not have a lifeguard or restrooms, at least as part of the first phase of development.

Reame said there is also a concern with beachgoers leaving the public park and entering private property to the north and south.

“This is more acceptable than the original proposal but it’s still something a lot of residents won’t support,” he said.

If final plans include beach access, Milani Park will offer the only public beach access in Highland Beach.

Beach access, Cirillo said, is one of the main reasons the county wants to go ahead with development of the park, since the county’s comprehensive plan requires a specific ratio of beach access countywide to population and as the population grows, additional beach access is needed.

Town Commissioner Evalyn David, who lives in the Boca Highland community, says she’s also concerned about traffic and pedestrian safety with beachgoers having to cross A1A.

“We want to make sure that traffic flows freely in our town and all our safety concerns are met,” she said.

Both Cirillo and Woodward say they want to work with town residents.

“There’s definitely room for discussion on how the beach access will work,” Woodward said.

Cirillo says the town and the county will also need to discuss updating 43 conditions placed by the town in the settlement order. Among those are requirements that people pay a fee for parking and that a parking attendant is present.

“This is a unique property and we want this to be a community project,” she said. “We like to be good neighbors.” 

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Owners’ argument for property rights awaits final votes

12213926080?profile=RESIZE_584xBy Larry Barszewski

Ocean Ridge is ready to draw a new, more accommodating line in the sand for the town’s beach property owners.

Town commissioners plan to scale back some earlier regulations that significantly limited how large of a home a coastal property owner could build. Those regulations also made it more cumbersome for the homeowners to get construction plans approved.

At their Aug. 7 meeting, commissioners gave preliminary approval to two ordinances that walk back some of the regulations imposed in 2020, regulations that coastal homeowners say were approved without their knowledge and that infringed on their private property rights.

Beach homeowners are paying attention now. Alvin Malnik, whose 3.43 acres at 6301 N. Ocean Blvd. is the largest oceanfront single-family home parcel in town — more than twice the size of the next largest one — has retained a law firm to lobby the commission to go even further than it has planned.

The commission will consider whether it wants to make any additional changes — before it gives final approval to the new ordinances — at its Sept. 5 meeting.

Currently, the proposed ordinances continue to protect dune parcels south of Corrine Street from being built upon, but they make it easier for property owners to get approval to construct non-habitable structures, such as pools and decks, seaward of the 1979 Coastal Construction Control Line.

The CCCL is used to demarcate beach areas where construction is given additional scrutiny because of its increased potential to cause erosion and destabilize dunes.

Construction projects along the beach also require separate approval from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. FDEP approval is needed for construction east of the state’s 1997 CCCL, which moved the CCCL line farther west, though still east of State Road A1A.

The proposed changes Ocean Ridge is considering relax the methodology used to calculate how big a new or expanded home can be on the beach. The town plans to revert to the mean high-water line and not the 1979 CCCL when determining a property’s size. Because the mean high-water line is seaward of the CCCL, the change makes the size of each property bigger, thereby increasing the permitted size of the home on each property.

For oceanfront homeowners between Anna and Corrine streets, whose homes all include portions built seaward of the 1979 CCCL, their homes will no longer be considered non-conforming uses. They will be able to rebuild within their homes’ existing footprints without triggering the need for them to get variances, which entails a more rigorous approval process.

Some hope to build larger
One of Malnik’s attorneys, Janice Rustin, suggested the changes don’t go far enough.

Rustin requested beach property owners be allowed to build larger homes — up to 50% greater than what would otherwise be permitted — through a waiver process instead of requiring them to get a more difficult variance. She said the change would be an incentive to bring beach structures into compliance with today’s stricter building code standards.

“I think that would encourage people to improve their houses,” Rustin said. “I think limiting the exemptions to only those developments within [a home’s existing] footprint misses an important tool that the town can use to encourage more hardy development.”

Vice Mayor Steve Coz wasn’t persuaded.

“That’s pretty huge,” Coz said. “That’s kind of what the town doesn’t want.”

Commissioners supported one idea Rustin presented, to create an administrative waiver — and not an administrative permit — for the town to use to approve non-habitable improvements east of the 1979 CCCL.

The town’s proposed ordinances say any rejected administrative permit would require a variance to move forward, forcing homeowners to show a hardship and requiring approval by the town’s Board of Adjustment and Town Commission. The waiver process would allow the appeal of any rejection to be heard just by the Planning and Zoning Commission.

“A setback waiver is a more common type of approach,” Rustin said. “There would be waivers granted administratively by the town manager, or after public hearing by the Planning and Zoning Commission.”

Commissioners asked Town Attorney Christy Goddeau to review all of the suggestions from Rustin’s firm — Lewis, Longman and Walker, P.A.

Goddeau said it was apparent the commission wants “to continue to make it harder for those new habitable structures — or expanded habitable structures — seaward of the Coastal Construction Control Line” to be built by continuing to require such proposals go through the town’s variance process.

Goddeau planned to provide the commission with an alternative ordinance that would incorporate the suggested “waiver” criteria of Rustin’s request for the commission’s Sept. 5 consideration.

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In a Kansas town of about 1,900 people, a weekly newspaper had its publication servers, computers, cellphones and other electronics seized last month during a raid by local police. Law enforcement officers with a warrant removed electronics from the paper’s office and from the home where the editor and publisher lived with his 98-year-old mother, a co-owner of the newspaper.

The elderly woman later died from the stress of the raid, according to her son.

News of the raid has gained national attention, with the countywide newspaper receiving an outpouring of support as an investigation takes place into whether the equipment seizure was justified. In the meantime, the small staff at the 4,000 circulation newspaper worked long, difficult days to cobble together and re-create enough editorial and advertising files to publish an edition with a large headline saying, “Seized … but not silenced.”


In The Coastal Star’s 15-year history, we’ve never experienced such a dramatic attempt at silencing our reporting, but we’ve had lawsuits thrown at us purely for intimidation and many, many subpoenas delivered for our photos and stories. All of them required attorney’s fees and at least once increased the annual cost of our insurance.

Appallingly, the objective pursued in the raid of the Marion County Record was for information the newspaper chose not to publish before it became public. That made this Kansas-based threat to press freedom even more disturbing.

There are many times our publication obtains information that we choose not to write about. Sometimes because we don’t have the resources, but most often because either the source or the nature of the allegations doesn’t meet our threshold for what is critical for the community to know. It is never because we are afraid of being sued or raided.

What happened in Kansas appears to be a ham-handed attempt at silencing a free press to keep salacious information from exposure. The facts will no doubt be revealed as investigations (legal and journalistic) continue.

In the meantime, small newspapers all over the country are closely watching this case.

Without confidence in their ability to publish free of fear or intimidation, many will close. Already more than 2,500 dailies and weeklies have ceased publication since 2005 — leaving behind communities with essentially no local news.

Cronyism, misconduct and corruption flourish without a free press. Even a small free press. Just ask that little newspaper in the rolling hills about 150 miles southwest of Kansas City.

Our advertising partners believe in a free press and support our publication. We hope that you’ll support them. If you would like to more directly show support for our journalism, we do accept contributions used to enhance our ability to do in-depth reporting.

Mail your contribution to: The Coastal Star, 5114 N. Ocean Blvd., Ocean Ridge, FL 33435.

Or send tax-deductable donations to the Florida Press Foundation, 336 E. College Ave, Suite 304, Tallahassee, FL 32301 with The Coastal Star in the memo field. This is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit fund. Donations made through the foundation are tax deductible to the full extent allowed by law, and are subject to a 5.5% administration and processing fee.

Contributions made directly to The Coastal Star have no processing fee, but are not tax deductible.

— Mary Kate Leming,

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12213923679?profile=RESIZE_710xLulis Camarena, shown with her husband, Hermán, founded Imagina Children’s Foundation in the United States with the purpose of raising funds for the libraries and other programs she established in her hometown of León, Mexico. Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star

By Sallie James

The transformative power of education was always a guiding force for Lulis Camarena, who grew up in León, Mexico. There, access to books was scarce and many children never finished school because they had to work.

She decided to help by establishing a children’s library in her hometown and then creating a nonprofit here in the U.S. to provide financial support.

On Sept. 30, residents in the tri-county area will also have a chance to help when the Imagina Children’s Foundation annual fundraising gala kicks off at The Studio at Mizner Park.

The event, “Imagine: A Musical Gala,” will feature a special performance by Mexican icon Fernando Allende, a famed actor, producer, recording artist and entertainer. Allende has starred in films, soap operas, and TV series like Miami Vice, Flamingo Road, Maria Bonita and Sortilegio.

The event will also feature Mariachi Pancho Villa, a full mariachi band; a silent auction; and a showing of artwork by Colombian artist Ana Maria Tamayo during cocktail hour.

“I think it’s a good way to spread the word about doing good for others and at the end of the day, whatever we get we know we’re transforming lives,” said Camarena, 63, of Boca Raton.

She and husband, Hermán, moved from Mexico to California in 1988 and to Florida in 2001. The couple has four adult sons. But it was in 1992 when her husband went to Mexico to work remotely that Camarena’s dream to help began taking shape.

Camarena realized she must open a library aimed at serving the children in her hometown. By 1994 she had a board of directors, and when she and her husband returned to the United States, her mother took charge of the Mexico project and worked to establish children’s programs.

In 1996 Camarena founded the nonprofit Imagina Biblioteca Infantil in León, which enabled the establishment of two libraries, a preschool and a flourishing ecological and cultural center. The programs took off, but they needed a steady stream of cash to stay afloat.

So, in 2010, Camarena established the Imagina Children’s Foundation, a U.S. nonprofit with the purpose of fundraising for IBI’s programs in Mexico.

“Now it’s a whole community center with learning education, art, music. It has kindergarten, it has virtual online high school and college,” she said. Today more than 1,300 children are enrolled in IBI’s various programs, which provide a range of educational experiences the students would otherwise not have.

Camarena’s dream to help children in Mexico was rooted in research. She wanted to do something to empower children in her hometown, but sought to be sure the need and interest existed.

What she learned was that children in her own community were attending school for only about five years and that only about 2% read for pleasure. The answers were proof she was on the right track.

“Parents whose kids participated in IBI’s programs became more aware of the value of education and IBI drew even more community support,” Camarena said.

Although IBI has only recently begun to compile metrics on its success, organizers believe about 20,000 students have benefited from IBI’s programs since it was founded.

IBI’s programs have helped children in León read at a higher level, stay in school and earn scholarships to fund their college education, Camarena said.

“We call it like our secret sauce, where the kids are really taken care of,” she said. “I call our hangout our magical place. It’s really a safe place for all these kids. The quality is very important — not just the education, arts and culture, but we take care of the whole child. We are changing the children’s lives, the family and the community.”

To learn more about Imagina, the foundation’s mission or the gala, or to get involved, contact Camarena at

If You Go
What: Imagine: A Musical Gala
When: 6 p.m. Sept. 30
Where: The Studio at Mizner Park, 201 W. Plaza Real, Boca Raton
Tickets: $250 general admission online at
More info:

Send a note to or call 561-337-1553.

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By Steve Plunkett

After giving new police hires a $9,000 raise in June, Gulf Stream town commissioners are penciling in substantial raises for veterans and another raise for the rookies to keep up with other area police departments.

Town Manager Greg Dunham had warned the commissioners to expect the proposed pay hikes.

“Talking about the budget back in July, and even back I think the month before when we raised the starting salary, at that point in time I told you that we weren’t done dealing with the police officers’ salaries knowing what other towns and cities were in the process of doing, and that was developing their own budgets and or completing contracts with their union regarding the police salaries,” Dunham said at the commission’s Aug. 11 meeting.

Chief Richard Jones compared Gulf Stream’s police salaries to those in 16 nearby jurisdictions on starting salaries, for three- and 10-year officers, for five- and seven-year sergeants and for three-year captains.

Gulf Stream was near the bottom at all officer and sergeant levels and below the average for captain.

Jones and Dunham proposed moving a three-year officer, for example, to $72,000 a year, up from $66,763 for a $5,237 raise, or 7.8%.

The starting salary, which was bumped to $61,250 from $52,250 in June, would rise to $66,000, also 7.8%.

The chief also proposed incentive pay for officers hired with experience, those who further their education and those who become paramedics or emergency medical technicians.

He and Dunham also recommended that they be allowed to develop a long-range salary plan with steps based on length of service.

“It seems like we have to do this, you know, every two or three years with respect to police departments, but we want to stay competitive with the other cities and it’s been a challenge,” Dunham said. “That puts us basically right in the middle.”

Jones also introduced to the commissioners his latest hire, Vincentina Nowicki, whose first day on patrol was Aug. 7, and Alan Gonzalez, who joined the force in March. Officer Assel Hassan, who started in late June, could not attend the meeting and will be introduced later.

The chief said the promise of a higher starting salary helped motivate the new hires to come to Gulf Stream.

Mayor Scott Morgan welcomed Gonzalez and Nowicki.

“It’s really important that we get to see you in this context and for you to see us,” Morgan said. “I think it brings the Police Department, town staff and the commission a little closer together, so thank you very much, thank both of you for coming.”

Commissioner Paul Lyons praised Jones for doing an “incredible” job: “very comprehensive, thoughtful, logical, persuasive — I don’t know what else to say.”

“One of the things that the last three or four years we’ve been lacking is an adequate number of police officers and you’ve done a lot to cure that problem,” Lyons said.

In other business:

• Commissioners adjusted water rates for town residents, passing along a 6.1% increase imposed by Delray Beach starting Oct. 1. Dunham continues to talk with Boynton Beach about switching water providers.

• Commissioners moved their November meeting to 9 a.m. on Nov. 9, a Thursday, instead of Nov. 10, which is the observed holiday this year for Veterans Day.
On Sept. 8 they will meet at 4 p.m. instead of the usual 9 a.m. start and follow that with a budget hearing at 5:01 p.m. The final budget hearing will be at 5:01 p.m. on Sept. 27.

• Dunham said much progress had been made landscaping the entrance to the Blue Water Cove development just north of Place Au Soleil and obscuring the construction there.

“You’ll notice when you go by that wall, the fishtail palms are about 15 feet tall — they were originally going to put 8- to 10-foot ones in there. They weren’t available so they bought the larger ones. And when you’re inside there, you don’t see Walmart,” Dunham said.

Two Place Au Soleil residents, Julie Murphy and Miguel Newmann, complained to commissioners in July that they were living in an unsightly, “eternal” construction zone.

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By Larry Barszewski

Ocean Ridge commissioners are considering turning over more than 150 town-owned streetlights to Florida Power & Light, which would then take over the cost of replacing them and charge the town a monthly fee for their use.

Town Manager Lynne Ladner included $1 million in her proposed budget for street lighting that may be needed on Ocean Avenue to replace about 40 aging decorative lights there, but the town would not need to spend that money if it works out a deal with FPL to take over all the town’s lighting. The town would be required to maintain four lights on its end of the Ocean Avenue bridge itself.

Resident Victor Martel, who has been in touch with FPL officials, told commissioners if the town were to turn over its lights to FPL, the Ocean Avenue fixtures could be replaced by lights the company has available, though they would not match the lights on the Boynton Beach side of the bridge.

Commissioners said they would need to discuss the proposal with FPL and get a better idea of what LED lighting it offers that would be appropriate for residential areas. The company does have lower intensity options suitable for neighborhoods, Martel said.

Final vote on beach signs
The commission will take one more vote before a new beach sign ordinance is enacted. The commission agreed to add language that would also permit “No Trespassing” signs that are strung across private stairways over the dunes. The revision is expected to be voted on at the commission’s Sept. 5 meeting.

Iguana removal questioned
During the commission’s Aug. 7 meeting, Ladner said the contractor hired to remove iguanas from town property has removed 1,868 iguanas in the past year, an average of almost 156 a month — or about 20 every twice-a-week visit. But Vice Mayor Steve Coz questioned the veracity of those numbers and commissioners asked Ladner to implement steps to check that the numbers reported are accurate.

“These iguanas are huge and I’m told this guy has a car the size of Volkswagen bug,” Coz said. “I want proof of this. I don’t believe it.”

Deal sought on building site
Commissioners are still working out the details of a permit extension for construction work that has been going on at 6273 N. Ocean Blvd. for eight years. They temporarily extended the permit until their Sept. 5 meeting to give Town Attorney Christy Goddeau time to work out the details of a fee the town would assess property owner Andrew Rivkin in exchange for granting an extension until February 2024.

Because the work isn’t expected to be finished until next year, that’s another year when the new construction won’t be included on the tax rolls. Commissioners want Rivkin to cover the town’s lost property taxes for the project’s not being completed this year.

“We’ve forfeited six years of taxing it on its value because it wasn’t completed,” Commissioner Carolyn Cassidy said. “I think that we’ve forgone almost a million dollars in tax revenue in Ocean Ridge.”

Manager disputes quotation
In a memo to commissioners read at the Aug. 7 meeting, Ladner questioned a quote attributed to her in The Coastal Star’s August 2023 edition about buried water valves in town.

In the quote, she said Public Works Supervisor Billy Armstrong “wanted to bring this issue forward for a couple of years and has been unsure of whether he should or not because of the potential cost of the project, so he opted not to.”

The Coastal Star confirmed the quote through a recording of the meeting.

Ladner said: “I do not believe that this is a correct quotation of what I said, however, if it is I apologize to Supervisor Armstrong for misstating the situation.” Ladner went on to say Armstrong had raised the buried valve issue with his direct supervisor and the town attorney even before he was promoted to supervisor.

The article also contained information from Armstrong that was included in an email sent to The Coastal Star. The email was sent by Ladner, not Armstrong, but included Armstrong’s responses to questions by The Coastal Star.

Read more…

Related: Along the Coast: ‘It’s like crazy’: Turtle season smashes records

By Steve Plunkett

The nonprofit trying to restart Gumbo Limbo Nature Center’s sea turtle rehabilitation ward is expanding its focus to include human help for manatees, whales, dolphins and indirectly even penguins.

12213914658?profile=RESIZE_180x180In June the Gumbo Limbo Coastal Stewards hired veterinarian Shelby Loos, filling the void left by Maria Chadam’s resignation in February, the group announced in mid-August. It also said it hired a rescue and rehabilitation coordinator, Kara Portocarrero, in early August and a conservation program manager, Kelly McCorry, last April, shortly after Gumbo Limbo’s sea turtles had been moved to other facilities.

At the Aug. 21 joint meeting of the Boca Raton City Council and the Greater Boca Raton Beach and Park District, the nonprofit’s president and CEO, John Holloway, said the group is “moving forward” on obtaining a state permit that will allow Gumbo Limbo to reopen its shuttered turtle tanks and reclaim its two resident sea turtles.

“And then additionally we are in the final steps of submitting the application for the actual rehabilitation permit that would allow the patients to come back to the rehab facility,” Holloway said.

Gumbo Limbo lost its permit in March when Boca Raton laid off the two city employees assigned to turtle rehab as the first step in a transition to having the Coastal Stewards, which had been funding just the veterinarian, take over the whole rehab operation. The nonprofit group also raises money for other aspects of the nature center.

“We’ve been working on things other than turtles,” Holloway continued at the joint meeting, “like working with manatees and cetaceans, which are small whales. We’ve been doing that work, too, here locally and in the Keys.”

Loos and the two other zoologists went to Tavernier on Aug. 14 to perform a necropsy on a rare Gervais’ beaked whale that died shortly after being discovered in shallow water.

They were summoned, Loos said in a news release, by Dolphins Plus Marine Mammal Responder, a nonprofit responsible for the rescue of sick or injured whales and dolphins in the Florida Keys.

Loos spent a year working with Dolphins Plus after earning her veterinary doctorate in 2017 at the University of Florida and taking part in a residency program in Tampa, according to her LinkedIn résumé. She then spent eight months as an associate veterinarian at the Miami Seaquarium, 18 months at Island Dolphin Care, a nonprofit in Key Largo that offers therapy swims with dolphins for people with special needs, and almost two years at the Seaquarium again as a staff veterinarian.

She left the marine park in March, her résumé says, and started volunteering at the Loggerhead Marinelife Center in Juno Beach, which is keeping one of Gumbo Limbo’s resident turtles. She also offered her services as a relief/contract vet.

Loos’ patients at the Seaquarium included Lolita, the orca also called Tokitae and Toki that died unexpectedly on Aug. 18. Loos defended the killer whale’s treatment in February 2022 when PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, claimed Toki had pneumonia and was “not receiving adequate care.”

The orca recovered and the marine park retired her from performances the next month. Plans were being drawn up to send her back to her native waters in Washington’s Puget Sound when she died of what the Seaquarium said were thought to be kidney problems.

The Coastal Stewards plans to hire two veterinary technicians as part of the process to get its sea turtle rehabilitation permit issued from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

The nonprofit also has started its Youth Leadership Council with four initial members. Its president, 12-year-old Anya Gupta, who lives in Lighthouse Point, is the founder of the nonprofit Pennies for Penguins, which aims to raise money for penguin conservation. Anya has already held a penguin fundraiser at the nature center’s front doors.

The youth council collected more than 200 pounds of electronic waste on Aug. 12 at the Delray Beach Children’s Garden.

“We are really excited and happy that all of this e-waste could be prevented from ending up in landfills because a lot of it is big stuff and can make a really big impact,” said member Caleb Caponera, 13, who lives on Boca’s barrier island.

The Coastal Stewards’ conservation program is not the same as the city’s sea turtle conservation team, which monitors, records and studies nesting activity and conducts hatchling releases and turtle walks to observe egg-laying.

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By Mary Hladky

Pearl City cleared a high hurdle to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places on Aug. 3 when the state’s National Register Review Board approved the listing.

The board now will submit a formal nomination to the National Park Service, which will make the final decision, said Natalie Meiner, director of communications and marketing for the Florida Department of State. The park service then will have 45 days to review the nomination and approve it or ask for changes.

The decision is a victory for Pearl City residents and their supporters who have long sought the historic designation, which will make the area eligible for federal financial support for historic preservation.

“I feel this is something this community really needs and they need to be uplifted,” said Marie Hester, the president of Developing Interracial Social Change (D.I.S.C.), who has worked for more than two years to get Pearl City on the national register. Her grandparents were among Pearl City’s first residents.

But the state agency’s decision has compounded concerns that a historic designation at this time will endanger, or possibly torpedo, rebuilding the dilapidated Dixie Manor public housing complex in Pearl City.

Those worries prompted both the Boca Raton Housing Authority and City Council to withdraw their support for historic designation earlier this summer even though both would gladly support it when the project is well underway or completed.

Michelle Feigenbaum, development manager at Atlantic Pacific Cos., which is redeveloping Dixie Manor along with the Housing Authority, wrote in a letter to City Council members that to obtain U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development approval for the demolition of Dixie Manor, the site must first undergo an environmental review.

Atlantic Pacific has been advised that the review will take much longer if the site has a historic designation, she wrote. That would delay both construction of the new Residences at Martin Manor and getting tenant protection vouchers so current Dixie Manor residents can be relocated during the construction.

If deadlines that are connected to project funding are missed, the funding could be revoked. And the state could deny plans to demolish Dixie Manor and build new public housing on the site, she wrote.

“We are eager to continue working with D.I.S.C. and the community as we move forward on the redevelopment of Dixie Manor to honor the incredible history of this area,” Feigenbaum wrote. “Unfortunately, an official historic designation is expected to negatively impact our ability to provide new and significantly improved affordable housing to the community and the city of Boca Raton.”

Yet now that the state review board has approved historic designation, Atlantic Pacific will not ask the National Park Service to deny or postpone it, said Jessica Wade Pfeffer, a spokeswoman for Atlantic Pacific.

Atlantic Pacific expects that Pearl City will be placed on the national register soon. The company “is now focused on the road ahead” to redevelop the property and is prepared to undergo additional reviews, she said.

Pfeffer stressed that Atlantic Pacific supports the historic designation. Its only concern, she said, is that the designation is occurring “at this point in time.”

What remains unclear is what Boca Raton residents knew about the designation’s impact on Dixie Manor redevelopment.

Hester, who attended the Aug. 3 state review board meeting virtually, said Ruben Acosta of the state’s Bureau of Historic Preservation repeatedly said the designation would not affect the Dixie Manor project. He also said, “I wish I had a bullhorn to carry around to tell people, no, you are confused” about negative impact, she said.

Angela McDonald, chair of the Housing Authority board, also heard him say there would be no impact on the project.

Deputy Mayor Monica Mayotte heard the same when Acosta met with Boca Raton residents on June 10. That is why she proposed a resolution stating the city’s support for the designation, before she later pulled it.

Housing Authority board member Brian Stenberg, who is a City Council candidate in the 2024 election, also heard that at the June 10 meeting but did not recall if Acosta qualified it in any way. That prompted him to propose that his board express its support for the designation.

“From a personal standpoint, it is frustrating,” he said. “The idea of a national historic designation for Pearl City is excellent. It tells a story people have been trying to tell about Pearl City for generations.” And yet, “nobody wants to see a slowdown in Dixie Manor being modernized.”

Acosta did not return a call seeking comment.

A June 28 letter to the Housing Authority from the state’s Bureau of Historic Preservation said that listing a property on the National Register would not restrict property owners’ rights to use and dispose of their property as they saw fit.

But it also said if redevelopment of the property should require approval or assistance from a federal agency, the redevelopment would be subject to reviews. HUD is involved with Dixie Manor redevelopment, including its demolition and issuing tenant protection vouchers.

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By Mary Hladky

Greater Boca Raton Beach and Park District officials are making a renewed effort to be exempted from making annual payments to city’s Community Redevelopment Agency.

The city turned down the district’s previous request in 2020. Since then, the cost to the district has continued to increase each year, officials told City Council members at an Aug. 21 joint meeting.

The district’s payment for the 2019-20 fiscal year was $1.4 million. That rose to $2.3 million for the current fiscal year and $2.6 million for next year.

The money, the officials contend, would be better spent on needed improvements to parks operated by the district.

District Chair Erin Wright urged council members, who also serve as CRA commissioners, to give “strong consideration” to the exemption request and “give our beaches and parks the same priority that is given to the downtown area.”

She also renewed a request that district residents be charged the same amount as city residents to use the community center and tennis facilities near City Hall in the CRA.

Charging district residents more is “an inequity that is not only unfair to our residents but also blatantly disregards the agreement made between our agencies in 1986,” she said.

While district officials have long complained about both issues, they had thought that their payments to the CRA would end first in 2019 when the bond for building Mizner Park was paid off and then in 2025, when the agency was scheduled to sunset.

But in June, City Manager Leif Ahnell proposed extending the so-called “tax increment financing (TIF)” requirement to 2042. The City Council delayed a vote on that change until after the joint meeting.

If the City Council votes in favor, it would cost the district a total of $60 million, district officials said.

While previous joint meetings have been contentious, the Aug. 21 session proceeded with no acrimony. Yet tensions were apparent.

Several district officials noted there are no park or recreation areas within the CRA.

“I would feel much better about writing a check for $2.6 million knowing it was going to recreation …” said district Commissioner Robert Rollins Jr.

If the payment requirement continues, “we would look at all options,” said district Commissioner Craig Ehrnst.

Council members offered no assurances. Mayor Scott Singer said they would “consider” the exemption request.

CRA Chairman and council member Marc Wigder said he would be willing to consider charging district residents the rates city residents pay to use the community center and tennis facilities.

Council members Fran Nachlas and Yvette Drucker said they first wanted to know what impact that would have on the CRA.

Contacted after the meeting, district Executive Director Briann Harms said in an email that she and commissioners had anticipated that city leaders would suggest that the district formally apply for a TIF exemption again.

“I hope they will strongly consider the impact that the (TIF) extension will have on our beaches and parks,” she added, noting the $60 million cost to the district.

Yet the two sides found some common ground.

The city and district agreed that a parks and recreation master plan is needed and both should collaborate on creating one. Deputy City Manager George Brown said a master plan would avoid duplication while meeting future needs.

Council members also approved a conceptual plan for the district’s North Park project on the east side of the former Ocean Breeze golf course property.

The plan for the property includes pickleball and tennis facilities, multi-use and mountain bike trails, a dog park, playgrounds and a community garden.

Before the meeting, Singer advised Wright that the city received permission to add a railroad crossing at Jeffery Street and extend the road across the parkland to Northeast Second Avenue.

Wright said her last update was that the city was applying for the change.

“We didn’t know there was going to be four lanes going through our property. We honestly didn’t; it was unclear to us,” Wright said.

Years ago the Florida East Coast Railway assured the district it would not allow another crossing to be built in the city.

The district will incorporate the roadway into its planning, Wright said.

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By Rich Pollack

Having to spend about $250,000 less than they expected on employee health insurance, Highland Beach commissioners will plow that money back into reserves rather than minimally reduce a tax rate that is already among the lowest in Palm Beach County.

In a rare split decision on Aug. 24, commissioners followed the recommendation of staff and voted 3-2 to use the money to partially replenish the town’s fund balance, which continues to be diminished as Highland Beach prepares to start a new fire department and builds a new fire station.

Commissioner Judith Goldberg and Vice Mayor David Stern voted to put $150,000 into reserves and use the remaining $100,000 to lower the proposed tax rate of $3.58 per $1,000 of taxable property value. But Mayor Natasha Moore and Commissioners Evalyn David and Donald Peters voted to put all $250,000 back into reserves.

That proposed tax rate is the same as the current year’s tax rate, even with anticipated increased fire-rescue costs.

“If the economy drops, I don’t want to have to start asking for a tax increase when money is tight,” David said.

During his budget presentation to commissioners, town Finance Director David DiLena offered three choices on how the unexpected savings on health insurance could be used.

Had commissioners chosen to use all of the $250,000 to lower the tax rate, residents would have seen a reduction of about $74 for every $1 million in taxable value. Had they decided to put $100,000 into lowering the tax rate, residents would have saved about $30 for every $1 million of taxable value.

“It’s just a small number,” said Moore, who like David and Peters saw the benefit of rebuilding reserves.

Goldberg, who along with Stern are in seats that will be up for reelection in March, said that she believes the town’s current reserves of more than $6.2 million are sufficient.

“We have significant savings,” she said.

DiLena said that the town plans to earmark the $250,000 for a “fire truck replacement fund” that will be built over time to help cover the future costs of replacing fire apparatus.

Should that money be needed for something other than fire truck replacement in the future, commissioners have the option to use it elsewhere.

In his original budget, DiLena had planned for a significant increase in health insurance costs for the town’s 44 covered employees.

Following a switch of companies to Florida Blue, however, the town’s anticipated costs dropped by just under $10,500 from $781,238 to $770,796, or by 1.3%.

The new plan, according to Human Resources and Risk Management Director Eric Marmer, is a better plan at a lower cost.

“Florida Blue was extremely aggressive,” Town Manager Marshall Labadie said. “They really want our business.”

Overall, the town is seeing a more than 45% increase in its overall budget, due in large part to the creation of the new fire department and the building of the new fire station.

The proposed budget shows a very slight decrease in the operating tax rate and in general debt service but includes a separate, slight increase in the debt service tax rate to cover a bank loan being used to build the fire station.

While the proposed budget reflects a decrease in the overall tax rate, it is likely to be offset by a significant increase in property values.

Property values throughout the town increased by about 13% — more than town leaders had expected — making it easier to increase services without boosting the tax rate.

Property taxes, which are expected to increase by about $1.4 million, account for about 58% of the town’s overall projected general fund revenues.

The town also expects to see a significant increase in investment earnings, which are projected to grow by a little more than $50,000.

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By Rich Pollack

Highland Beach town leaders are hoping 16 condominiums that missed deadlines will soon file structural and electrical inspection reports that were mandated following the Champlain Towers condo collapse in Surfside more than two years ago.

During an August meeting, town Building Official Jeff Remas said that 16 of the town’s 53 buildings that are required to file inspection reports because they are at least 25 years old failed to do so.

Remas and Town Manager Marshall Labadie said those buildings could be cited for code violations — and possibly assessed daily fines — should they not file inspection reports in the next few weeks or ask Remas for an extension.

“We want to make sure people are paying attention and not compromising safety,” Labadie said. “They’ve got to get started.”

Only two condo buildings have completed the inspection report procedure. Five others have filed reports but been asked for more information. The reports from three others are under review.

And three buildings that are not included with the non-filers have not filed reports but have concrete restoration projects underway.

Confusion could be one reason the reports are slow in coming.

Under a state law passed last year, buildings — those 25 and older along the coast and 30 or older inland — that are more than three stories in height with four units or more must be recertified. Buildings have until Dec. 31, 2024, to complete the process.

But the law also requires that buildings have a structural engineer complete a visual inspection within 180 days of notification by a local government that a report is required.

As a result of that law, the town had to change an earlier ordinance that gave buildings 365 days from notification to file an inspection report.

Complicating matters is a requirement by the town that buildings also file an electrical inspection report within 180 days of notification.

Since early last year, the town has been sending notices to two or three condo associations each month, letting them know when the inspection report needs to be filed. Nine buildings will be notified in the future.

“This has been phased in very carefully,” Remas said, adding that the town wants to make sure that there is time to review all the reports.

The town also wants to make sure building associations have all the time needed to get reports done. As the state deadline gets closer, finding an available inspector could be challenging since the law applies to thousands of buildings across Florida.

“Our concern is that people are going to find themselves in a crunch and they won’t be able to make the state deadline,” Labadie said.

Remas said that buildings have been given notice of the deadlines with certified letters and with hand-delivered notifications. An additional letter, giving buildings that missed the deadline 30 days to comply or ask for an extension, went out in August.

He said the town has also begun calling building managers, following a recommendation by Vice Mayor David Stern, who is also president of the board of the Highlands Place condominium.

Stern, whose building has a future deadline, said he believes the situation may not be as challenging as it appears.

“It’s hard to believe there are so many not in compliance,” he said. “It’s possible that some buildings are compliant, just not notifying the town.”

He believes that having town officials making phone calls “to find out what the facts are” should create a clearer picture.

Remas said that his next step, if buildings don’t comply or request an extension, will be to take the matter to the town’s code enforcement board, which could impose daily fines.

“No one here is trying to punish anyone, we’re just trying to get compliance,” Remas said.

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Penn-Florida Cos. has obtained a $302.5 million loan in the latest refinancing of its Mandarin Oriental hotel and branded residences project in downtown Boca Raton.

Madison Realty Capital, a real estate private equity firm, provided the loan, which replaces the $225 million loan it provided in 2019, Penn-Florida announced on Aug. 14.

The refinancing comes as questions have arisen about Penn-Florida’s ability to finish the project. Since it was first announced in 2015, the completion date has been pushed back four times, most recently until sometime in 2024.

Construction has been sporadic, slowing almost to a halt this spring. The two buildings, located just north of Camino Real along Federal Highway, remain shells with only some windows installed.

Asked if the loan would allow the pace of construction to pick up, Elizabeth Cross, vice president of marketing for Penn-Florida, said in an email that “we are well capitalized, and the pace is on schedule.”

Penn-Florida secured a $398 million loan in 2017 from Mack Real Estate Credit Strategies and the U.S. Immigration Fund. In 2021, the company obtained a $335 million refinancing package, with Blackstone Mortgage Trust providing a $195 million senior loan and Romspen Investment Corp. providing a $140 million refinancing loan.

When the $225 million Madison Realty Capital loan was announced, Penn-Florida said that it completed capitalization for the project and would be used to finish it.

The hotel and residences are part of the three-building Via Mizner development. 101 Via Mizner, a 366-unit luxury apartment building, was completed in 2016.

— Mary Hladky

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City Council members voted unanimously on Aug. 22 to spend as much as $365,000 a year to pay the salaries of assistants who will help them with managing their schedules, policy research, communications and serving constituents.

The money allows for four full-time assistants, although all the positions might not be filled.
Council members currently have no staff, but two administrative employees who also work with the city manager’s office assist them part-time.

Mayor Scott Singer proposed the new positions at a June 12 meeting, saying that as the city has grown, council members’ jobs have become more complex and time-consuming.

“I see the work of all of us is increasing,” he said.

Other council members supported the idea, saying they especially could use help with managing their schedules and policy research. They differed on how many assistants are needed.

During the Aug. 22 meeting, council member Fran Nachlas said she had changed her mind and decided she does not need an assistant.

Council members or commissioners in other large cities already have varying amounts of support.

Riviera Beach’s mayor has a chief of staff and council members have legislative aides. West Palm Beach commissioners have aides whose duties include responding to correspondence and requests for information, drafting expense reports, managing commissioners’ schedules and representing commissioners at community events.

Boynton Beach commissioners share one assistant who primarily assists them with scheduling. Delray Beach commissioners have administrative assistants whose duties include scheduling meetings and preparing agendas, attending meetings and performing office management functions.

— Mary Hladky

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By Mary Hladky

Boca Raton is working with Palm Beach County to determine what can be done to improve safety along the stretch of East Palmetto Park Road that runs from the Intracoastal Waterway to State Road A1A.

Beachside residents for years have sought changes that would improve the appearance, walkability and safety of that portion of the road but have been unable to persuade the city to take action.

That changed on Aug. 22, when Municipal Services Director Zachary Bihr told the City Council that the city will evaluate what can be done to improve safety. Possibilities include adding a traffic signal at an intersection and a crosswalk.

The city’s analysis has the blessing of the county, which owns that section of the road. The Palm Beach Transportation Planning Agency also will be involved.

The city’s turnabout comes one month after County Commissioner Marci Woodward, who lives in Boca Raton, offered the county’s help to improve the road.

At the time, Deputy City Manager George Brown was noncommittal. An earlier city study had determined that no crosswalks are warranted and installing them could create safety hazards, a finding that angered beachside residents.

In other city business, council members voted unanimously at the same meeting to authorize making an offer of $400,000 to settle protracted litigation over a city ordinance that banned the controversial practice of conversion therapy on minors.

The city, as well as Palm Beach County, repealed their ordinances after a three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 2020 that the bans were unconstitutional because they violated the free speech rights of Dr. Robert Otto of Boca Raton and Dr. Julie Hamilton of Palm Beach Gardens.

The two therapists earlier had accepted a city offer to pay Otto $50,000 and Hamilton $25,000. Liberty Counsel, whose attorneys represented them pro bono, then sought a total of $2.1 million from the city and county to cover their attorney’s fees.

It remains to be seen if Liberty Counsel will accept the city’s offer.

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Your August article about “buried valves” in Ocean Ridge has some disturbing quotes. Ken Kaleel might not have known about this issue, but it has come up over and over when valves broke, or could not be located and had to be replaced. During my three years as commissioner, 2020-2023, this issue came up several times, and in staff meetings, Public Works Supervisor Billy Armstrong clearly told us of the situation. Of course, getting this information would have required some commissioners sitting today to have attended these staff meetings. 

The issue also was discussed during the budgeting process in 2020-2022.  Those same commissioners brushed the issue aside as not important enough.  

 We know the water pipes are aging out. We know at some point we will need to convert our septic to sewer.  Neil Hennigan, as chair of the septic to sewer advisory board, developed a plan and presented it to the commission in April 2023. This included dealing with the pipes. 

Mayor Geoff Pugh and Vice Mayor Steve Coz did not want to spend the money to move the next phase forward.   

So here we are: Years pass and nothing happens. We will be spending half a million dollars in finding valves that attach to 80-plus-year-old pipes, some that we want to replace along State Road A1A — another project that has not happened in over a year. Money spent by Ocean Ridge residents, when down the road our only real option is to give our water pipes to Boynton Beach to not have to pay $40 million for the sewer system we will have to install. At this point, they probably would not want our pipes.

At the April meeting, Hennigan was trying to save our town the $500,000 it will cost to find the valves, the $900,000 American Rescue Plan Act money you want to spend on A1A pipe replacement, that appears to be going to our engineering firm, who keeps taking from the pot. He was giving the town a way out. Mr. Coz should be begging him to come back and donate more of the hundreds of hours he spent finding solutions for this town that will in turn save us all millions of dollars. 

Ocean Ridge needs a long- term water plan, and many commissioners do not have the desire or ability to think strategically or globally, so short-term decisions are costly and are not sound. Shall we just wait for a major crisis?

This issue has come up month after month and the very people outraged now did not want to act on it. It was under Mayor Pugh’s administration that the hydrants were not serviced and cost this town over $100,000. Mr. Pugh, Mr. Coz and Mr. Kaleel all have been on this commission long enough to have heard about the issue, which was the same issue that Billy Armstrong has brought up in staff meetings over and over and was never given money to rectify.

The same people who silenced the messenger are now outraged that their inability to properly run the town is biting them in the ... !

Martin Wiescholek
Ocean Ridge

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12213900267?profile=RESIZE_710xFormer Atlantic Plaza buildings are being torn down to make way for the second phase of Atlantic Crossing. Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star

By Larry Barszewski

Veterans Park visitors have lost their easy Atlantic Avenue access to parking there now that Atlantic Crossing has begun its second phase of construction, which includes the demolition of the old Atlantic Plaza and an adjacent office building.

The demolition work forced the closure of the park’s Atlantic Avenue entrance, which was actually the entrance to the old plaza’s parking lot, which is now part of the construction zone.

While pedestrians on Atlantic still have easy access into the park next to the bridge, the only route for drivers is entering Northeast First Street from Federal Highway and proceeding east along Atlantic Crossing’s northern construction border to the park.

The city can’t create a park entrance on Atlantic Avenue because it would be too close to the bridge over the Intracoastal Waterway, Public Works Director Missie Barletto said in an email to The Coastal Star.

Some residents have complained that Northeast First Street at Federal Highway is one of the city’s most dangerous intersections, site of a fatal crash in 2016, which will discourage people from using the park. Barletto said the city will keep an eye on that concern.

“Once the project construction has been completed and the new area is fully occupied, the city will conduct a traffic analysis to determine whether a traffic light is required at NE First Street and northbound Federal Highway,” Barletto wrote. A state investigation after the 2016 fatality said a traffic light wasn’t warranted, but led to additional signage for the intersection.

Once Atlantic Crossing is completed, visitors may be able to drive through the former Northeast Seventh Avenue — which is now in the middle of Atlantic Crossing, but is expected to remain open to vehicular traffic — to connect with Northeast First Street, rather than having to use Federal Highway.

Parking is still available on the west and north sides of the park, and the Atlantic Crossing developer has sectioned off 20 additional parking spaces on the northeast corner of the project near the park for park visitors.

Some of that parking may be blocked off as construction proceeds, including for a planned underground parking garage next to the parking lot.

“As the company will need to establish a safe zone in order to place pilings for this part of the project, a portion of the western parking area will be required to be restricted from public use,” Barletto said. The city anticipates other parking will be provided to retain the same amount of public parking.

What the parking will look like ultimately still hasn’t been determined, with the city awaiting Atlantic Crossing’s proposal.

“They’re working on their finalized plan set for that and have not submitted it to us yet. So, we haven’t been able to make any kind of judgment call on that or bring it back to commission for discussion,” Barletto told commissioners at their Aug. 15 meeting.

The parking spaces to the west of the park are expected to be turned into a landscaped area that acts as an expansion of the park, with paths connecting the park and Intracoastal to the new retail and residential space.

“The ultimate vision is that all of that asphalt that separates Atlantic Crossing from Veterans Park … would become all park space. … There would be pedestrian connections, but the cars would sort of stay on the other side. It could be a fantastic improvement, but they need to bring the drawings in and go through the process so that you could see them and we can confirm that they meet the rules we discussed for parking,” Barletto said.

An earlier site plan presented to commissioners and included on Atlantic Crossing’s website would replace the parking to the west with additional parking on the park’s north side, replacing its shuffleboard and lawn bowling areas. The current situation hasn’t yet affected the Lady Atlantic tour boat that docks at the park because it has been undergoing annual inspections and maintenance since July 27, but tours are expected to resume in September. The boat’s owner, Joe Reardon, did not return phone calls seeking comment.

In other news:

• Commissioners approved a settlement agreement with former City Manager George Gretsas at their Aug. 8 meeting. The city is still negotiating over the release of the terms of the settlement, City Attorney Lynn Gelin said, and will not release a confidential memo detailing the terms of the settlement until that is complete.

• Danica Sanborn, executive director of the Sandoway Discovery Center, told commissioners about improvements at the center, which is on State Road A1A a couple of blocks south of Atlantic Avenue, that include a stingray touch tank. She also said the center would like to expand the work it does with sea turtles and get permission from the state for hatchling releases, possibly done with an assist from Gumbo Limbo Nature Center in Boca Raton.

• The commission gave initial approval to a new ordinance that no longer allows the bridges over the Intracoastal Waterway to be closed for special events, but some commissioners said they might not support it when it comes up for final approval. The main event affected would be the Delray Beach Festival of the Arts, which is held in January.

The festival’s sponsors plan to move the event farther west on Atlantic Avenue, to the west of Federal Highway.

“I think it’s overkill,” Vice Mayor Ryan Boylston said of the proposed ordinance. “Closing a bridge has to come before the commission anyway.”

• Commissioners reviewing City Manager Terrence Moore applauded him for the work he has done, especially for his presence in the community, in awarding him a 4.1% pay increase to $239,429.

• The Community Redevelopment Agency is accepting applications through Oct. 31 for its new Redevelopment Advisory Committee. It is being created in response to the commission’s removing non-commissioners from the CRA’s governing board. The new five-member board, which will make recommendations to the commission, will be made up of CRA property owners.

• The amount of money the city plans to use to renovate the north end of City Hall has grown from $2 million to $4 million and will include enough space to allow for growth for the next several years, Barletto said. Also, the city no longer plans to replace the Crest Theatre’s air conditioners, which have all been repaired, she said.

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By Mary Thurwachter

South Palm Beach is suffering budget woes, and they have nothing to do with money or expenses. With a new town manager — only two months on the job — and an even newer financial consultant putting the budget together in such a short time, the struggle is real.

Nevertheless, to give input on a budget, Town Council members need a budget proposal. And they didn’t get one ahead of their Aug. 29 workshop.

Council members got their agenda packets with worksheets and a copy of the budget for the current year, but no proposed budget. That left Mayor Bonnie Fischer astounded and unhappy.

“We don’t have what we need,” Fischer said, addressing Town Manager Jamie Titcomb at the workshop. “It’s your job to provide us with a proposed budget, not our job to craft it.”

At Fischer’s suggestion, the council by consensus called for a recess until 2 p.m. Sept. 5. That way members would have time to view and make changes or additions before the first public hearing on Sept. 12. The second hearing is Sept. 25. Hearings begin at 5:01 p.m. in the council chambers.

Titcomb reminded the council he had been manager since only June 5 and said he has his own way of doing a budget and wasn’t a big fan of the way things had been done before.

“We are diligently narrowing the numbers for the next fiscal year,” he said. “We are also concurrently working on the option of grants, bids and process to hopefully leverage and extend the town’s reach toward a new community facility here. FY2024 should prove to be a good planning, funding, bidding and project implementation year toward the town vision.”

Titcomb, who is a part-time employee, came aboard a week after the previous, full-time manager left. And Ron Bennett, the new financial consultant, began soon after — although he is familiar with the town because he served as its auditor in the past.

At the workshop, two council members, Raymond McMillan and Robert Gottlieb, away since May, participated by phone. Bennett, unable to be there due to illness, also attended by phone. Council members Bill LeRoy and Monte Berendes joined Fischer on the dais.

“This is a planning and implementation year budgetarily and operationally,” Titcomb said in an email before the workshop. “The Town Council has been consistent with narrative for moving forward on a redesign and rebuilding of a new Town Hall and community center complex.

“There are a lot of moving parts to such a project, thus I intend to work with council on setting the building blocks in place to effectuate this significant public project. We are collaboratively engaged in setting up process, bidding protocols and funding mechanisms to move forward on a new Town Hall.”

Near the meeting’s end, Vice Mayor LeRoy asked: “Where do we go from here?”

“That depends on when Jamie can have the budget ready,” Fischer said.

“I can have it by the end of the week,” Titcomb answered. But the council agreed to resume the workshop at 2 p.m. Sept. 5, a week before the first public hearing.

Titcomb said he would build the budget using the current millage rate of $3.45 per $1,000 of assessed value, a rate the council could choose to lower at the Sept. 12 hearing. The council is not allowed to vote during workshops.

According to state law, a tentative budget must be posted on a municipality’s website at least two days before the scheduled budget hearing. Florida sets Oct. 1 as the start of the fiscal year for each municipality.

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