By Jane Smith
Six city residents made last-minute pleas to change city commissioners’ minds before the final vote was cast on consolidated plans for the eastern half of Boynton Beach.
The residents said they were disappointed, betrayed and disgusted by the commissioners’ not listening to them. One said her head was going to explode over the increased height allowed on Ocean Avenue, which historically has been a mostly residential street.
“It’s a disappointment to the hundreds of citizens who want responsible development,” said Tom McClure, president of the Boynton Coalition for Responsible Development.
The group said it represents 2,500 residents in Southeast Boynton Beach, primarily along the Intracoastal Waterway. Its members wanted the height limit at Woolbright Road and Federal Highway to remain at 75 feet, he told the City Commission in early October.
The new plans will determine the look of the city’s eastern half, about 1,650 acres that make up the Boynton Beach Community Redevelopment Agency district.
Some parts of the 20-year plans are not controversial. They include complete streets with bike lanes, shade trees, enhanced lighting and widened sidewalks.
The troublesome areas, residents say, are the taller buildings along Federal Highway and Ocean Avenue.
Despite the emotional pleas, the plans passed by a 4-1 vote. Commissioner Christina Romelus said she could not support the changes because her constituents opposed them.
“We’re happy with Romelus,” McClure said. “She is listening to the citizens.”
Just before the final vote on the overall changes, Mayor Steven Grant passed the gavel so that he could make a motion to keep the height at the Woolbright and Federal intersection at 75 feet. He and Romelus were in favor of it but lost because the other three commissioners were not.
At the southeast corner of the intersection, the owner of Riverwalk Plaza wants to replace the aging shopping center with a 10-story or 100-foot-high apartment complex. Isram Realty submitted its plans Nov. 25, 2015, about three weeks after the CRA consolidated plans were unveiled. Riverwalk Plaza plans will be reviewed separately.
Isram and its owners donated money to the previous mayor’s re-election campaign. But Jerry Taylor didn’t survive a March runoff when the same residents organized against him and supported his opponent, Grant.
James “Buck” Buchanan reminded commissioners that last fall Taylor and two commissioners kicked Buchanan and another citizen representative off the CRA board. The commissioners didn’t like how the two citizen representatives voted in support of the now-departed executive director.
“Tonight you have another situation with spreading the height around the city. Look at your voting record and at how many times you have found yourself voting against the will of the people,” Buchanan said. “Then after your next election, you might want to call Jerry Taylor and ask him to save you a seat out there.”
Commissioner Joe Casello took offense by what he called “hidden messages. If we vote against the will of the people, we may be voted out of office. That may be so. But every vote I’ve taken up here is for the betterment of Boynton Beach.”
Casello then said he would support property owner Arthur D’Almeida’s request for extra density and reduced setbacks. D’Almeida wants to build a mixed-use project on the west side of the FEC railroad tracks on nearly 3 acres between Boynton Beach Boulevard and Ocean Avenue, according to his land planner, Bradley Miller.
He said the Ocean Avenue overlays allow his client to construct a building that is 85 feet tall, about eight stories, at the highest point.
Miller said the setbacks required along Boynton Beach Boulevard would create wasted space. His client wants to provide 10-foot setbacks at 45 feet and 20-foot setbacks at 85 feet, totaling 30 feet.
Boynton Beach Development Director Andrew Mack said the 30-foot setbacks were included to make the projects more presentable from the street.
“The setbacks would avoid the tunnel effect when driving down the street,” said Assistant City Manager Colin Groff.
But the commission sided with the property owner and unanimously approved Miller’s requests.
In other business, commissioners selected a new vendor to operate the snack bar at Oceanfront Park. The selection won’t result in the most money to the city. The operator who runs the snack bar at the city’s golf course was picked as “the most responsive, responsible proposer.”
Ultimate Bakery and Pastry Inc., of South Palm Beach, took over Nov. 1 for a two-year lease, paying rent of $6,600 or 6.5 percent of gross sales the first year and $7,200 or 7 percent of gross sales the second year.
Current operator Culinary Solutions had offered to pay $12,000 annually in rent for the first two years.
By Jane Smith