By Steve Plunkett
Gulf Stream is hoping Highland Beach will take over the processing of its building permits after Delray Beach called an abrupt halt to the arrangement it’s had with the town since 2009.
Delray Beach says its interlocal agreement with Gulf Stream does not cover engineering, floodplain and landscaping review of Gulf Stream building plans and it stopped providing those services in the middle of May.
“This has stalled Cary Glickstein’s (Bluewater Cove) project along with some other projects in town as Delray has done a full stop now that they’re aware that their staff lacks the authority to do this review,” Assistant Town Attorney Trey Nazzaro said.
Nazzaro told town commissioners on June 10 that in about 2011, a Delray Beach official signed off on an internal staff document that extended the scope of the agreement to include the engineering and related items for Gulf Stream applications.
“But that official did not have the authority to do that. It needed to be brought to the City Commission for approval, which was never done,” Nazzaro said.
When Delray Beach stopped doing the reviews, Gulf Stream asked its consulting engineering firm Baxter & Woodman to pinch-hit on the engineering and floodplain reviews. Landscape architect Dave Bodker of Delray Beach has been recruited to review landscaping plans.
Gulf Stream and Delray Beach officials met to discuss the situation on May 20. Since then, Gulf Stream issued a request and received three bids from third-party organizations, which Town Manager Greg Dunham was still evaluating, and asked Highland Beach if it could do the work.
Overseeing a building department is nothing new for Highland Beach Town Manager Marshall Labadie, Nazzaro said. Starting one “was the first thing he did when he came” to the town in 2018.
“His commission wanted him to bring the building department in-house, and they apparently have been doing a very good job,” Nazzaro said. “Highland Beach has a certain level of expectation of that, sort of a concierge-level of service that you would be getting.”
Highland Beach commissioners were receptive at their June 21 meeting to drafting an agreement with Gulf Stream after their building official, Jeff Remas, said he was “kind of excited” about getting the extra work.
“I see this as an opportunity for us to actually improve our services because we’ll be bringing on some more people with more hours to have the capability to work in-house with us here, and actually help our plan review process,” Remas said.
In their May 20 meeting, Delray Beach officials gave their Gulf Stream counterparts little reason to think that the interlocal agreement could be extended.
Delray Beach City Manager Terrence Moore said his city would add new costs for the permitting review, plus travel time for building inspectors, plus staff time to teach Gulf Stream how to use its new digital permitting system. Gulf Stream residents previously were paying the same permit fees as Delray residents.
“I think they’re trying to recoup some of their expenses,” Nazzaro said.
Plus, the Delray Beach delegation warned that the political environment may come to bear.
“It seems that the constituents are very upset with the amount of time it is taking to process their permits, so why are they also processing Gulf Stream’s permits,” Nazzaro said.
Gulf Stream generates 250 to 300 building permits a year, Dunham said. But Highland Beach’s Remas said that did not include sub-permits such as electrical and plumbing and said the total was really 800 to 900 a year.
Highland Beach currently processes 2,000 to 2,100 permits a year, so adding the Gulf Stream work would be a 40% increase, Remas said.
Dunham was not optimistic about negotiating a new agreement with Delray Beach based on his discussions with their officials.
“They really couldn’t guarantee the City Commission would be OK moving forward with continuing the relationship,” he said.
He and Nazzaro will weigh the three bids the town received and keep talking with Highland Beach to find a solution.