By Larry Barszewski
Don’t expect a downtown medley of shops, restaurants, apartments and offices that is planned for city-owned land along the west side of Federal Highway in Boynton Beach to rise anytime soon.
Even if Affiliated Development’s proposal for the property between Ocean Avenue and Boynton Beach Boulevard proceeded on the company’s schedule, it could still be as long as nine years before the first shovel of dirt is turned. The project mix also includes a public parking garage and open space to attract downtown visitors.
It’s not even certain that Affiliated, which was selected in November, will get to do the job. The company had been picked by city commissioners, who were serving in their role as the Community Redevelopment Agency’s board of directors. The CRA owns the property.
Now, what company is awarded the project — and the fate of the project itself — is in the hands of a newly reorganized commission that has two new faces on it following the city’s March elections. A third new member will be appointed by the new commission to fill a vacant seat and finish the term.
Former Mayor Steven Grant worked to nail down an agreement with Affiliated for its $73 million development proposal before he left office, but that effort ran into tough resistance at his final CRA meeting on March 9. After hours of attempting to cram through negotiations at the meeting, other commissioners decided more time was needed.
Departing Commissioner Christina Romelus asked commissioners to ditch Affiliated and go instead with Related Urban, the second-ranked applicant that had offered to make a portion of its apartments be affordable workforce housing in perpetuity. She called the last-minute bartering between the CRA and Affiliated President Jeff Burns at the meeting “highly inappropriate.”
CRA attorney Tara Duhy acknowledged the unusual nature of the all-out push to get the deal done.
“To be clear, obviously we’ve made some changes, to the extent the board wishes to approve this tonight,” Duhy said. “In normal circumstances, I would recommend that we bring it back to you for final approval. We’re going to go through all of these and I will have to do a final legal, technical review because we have been working at Mach speed to get this before you tonight.”
In the end, it was the two commissioners who are remaining — Woodrow Hay and commissioner-turned-Mayor Ty Penserga — who forced a middle ground. Departing Commissioner Justin Katz was absent.
Penserga and Hay did not support Romelus’ request to cut ties with Affiliated or Grant’s rush to finalize a deal with the company. They agreed to have CRA and city staff spend more time negotiating with Affiliated.
That decision came after City Manager Lori LaVerriere, who does not usually participate at CRA meetings, joined the discussion virtually to say more time was needed.
“I just ask that you give it time and don’t negotiate from the public dais. That’s not the way to do that,” LaVerriere said after commissioners had spent three hours doing just that. “And to provide some further input to staff to let us continue to weigh in and see if this is a workable deal.”
Some of the major project elements discussed at the meeting included:
• Affiliated offered 118 of its 236 apartments as workforce housing for 15 years using income-eligibility guidelines, with 11 of those units kept as workforce housing in perpetuity. Commissioners wanted more workforce housing apartments to be kept that way forever, as Related had offered to do with 63 of the 213 units it proposed building.
• Affiliated said it needed to keep all of the increased tax revenue its project produces for a 15-year period as a subsidy to make the workforce housing portion feasible. Commissioners said that was too much and would provide the CRA with no additional money during those years to support other projects. By the end of the night, Burns proposed receiving only 95% of the increased tax revenues annually, and only to an $8 million maximum over the 15 years.
• Affiliated originally wanted the city to pay for and take ownership of the parking garage, which would include 150 public spaces and 423 private ones. Officials did not support that idea. Instead of reimbursing the CRA $5.5 million for the land, as Affiliated initially planned, the company proposed dropping the price of the land to $100 and treating the $5.5 million it would have spent as the city’s purchase price for the public parking spaces. It would be up to the city to decide whether to charge the public to use the spaces or offer them for free.
• Affiliated plans to move Hurricane Alley Raw Bar & Restaurant from its Ocean Avenue location to a new home at the north end of the project, along Boynton Beach Boulevard next to the Florida East Coast Railway tracks. The developer said there may be a lag between when the restaurant would have to vacate its current location and when it could open at its new site.
A major difference between the Affiliated and Related proposals is that Related did not include the current century-old Ocean Avenue buildings, including Hurricane Alley’s home, as part of its project. Instead, it planned to contribute money to help restore them, which also would allow Hurricane Alley to continue business uninterrupted.
Resident David Katz told commissioners that saving those buildings, previously owned by the Oyer family, which has historical roots in the city, was a reason he thought the CRA should go with Related.
“For that reason alone, this developer should not be chosen. To tear that down is, well, maybe not a crime, but it’s a shame,” Katz said.
Related has said it could “restore these important buildings back to life as vibrant landmarks, maintaining the existing commercial fabric of historic Ocean Avenue.”
Grant said the buildings, for which the CRA paid $3.6 million in December to include in the project site, were an impediment. He said the Oyer building “is in gross need of repair but, it’s too gross. It’s something where there’s a reason why it was never historically designated.”
He lamented that the agreement with Affiliated was not accomplished under his leadership.
“It’s very weird for me to have another project on the doorstep of the CRA, and then all of a sudden, it kind of gets pulled back. It reminds me of the Cottage District, where one of the board members felt that they had better options and now it’s vacant and we have no idea what’s going to happen with the 4 acres,” Grant said.
“For the board to say, ‘You know what, Chair, we don’t really want you to make this decision; it’s better for the next people to make these decisions,’ after you’ve been here for six years. It hurts a little and I’ll let you know that.”
• In other action at the March 9 meeting, commissioners approved an agreement with restaurateur Anthony Barber, subject to final legal review and the CRA’s receiving outstanding financial documents, to purchase and turn the historic Magnuson House on Ocean Avenue into a restaurant that will use corrugated steel shipping containers for kitchen, restroom and storage space. Barber anticipates construction will take about 18 months.