The Coastal Star

Boynton Beach: Younger new commissioners plan to bring fresh outlook

Mayor Steven Grant (left) works the crowd at the Boynton Beach Firefighters Fishing Tournament

& Chili Cook-Off at Harvey E. Oyer Jr. Park.

Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star

By Jane Smith
    
    Steven Grant just can’t stop smiling.
    “Mayor Taylor had raised more than $40,000 for his re-election campaign, had the backing of the police and fire unions, while I raised (less than $3,000) and had the backing of the people,” Grant said. He was able to force the mayor’s race into a runoff.
    At 33, Grant is probably the youngest mayor in the history of Boynton Beach. Harvey E. Oyer Jr. was turning 34 when he was elected in 1960, says his daughter Susan, who helped Grant in his runoff race against incumbent Jerry Taylor, 80.
    Since winning the March 29 runoff with 57 percent of the votes, Grant has embraced his mayoral role. He attends events, ceremonies, government meetings, residents forums and individual sessions with city staff and various developers. He has a city cellphone, business cards and even embroidered polo shirts with his full name: Steven B. Grant.
    Grant has come to symbolize the younger face of the Boynton Beach City Commission.
    Justin Katz, 32, joined him when he ran unopposed, taking 70-year-old David Merker’s seat when he ran unsuccessfully for mayor. Katz wants to see a vibrant downtown and to stop “the petty stuff” that often bogged down the previous commission. Katz teaches advanced placement U.S. government and microeconomics courses at Park Vista High School. He’s single and shares his Renaissance Commons townhouse with his Siberian husky/wolf breed dog, Ice. Originally from Cherry Hill, N.J., he moved to South Florida when he transferred to Florida Atlantic University and graduated with an education degree in high school social studies.
    Christina Romelus, 27, beat incumbent Mike Fitzpatrick, 62, and James Brake. Romelus, an adjunct professor at Palm Beach State College who also runs a marketing and consulting business called Sky Administrations, lives in the Seacrest Estates neighborhood, east of Bethesda Memorial Hospital. She is married with two sons: Christian, 2, and David Lee, 2 weeks. Born in Haiti, she grew up in Delray Beach and moved to Boynton Beach in 2010 after she was married. She wants to bring economic development to allow more businesses to open and provide jobs to residents. In addition, she wants to create a vibrant downtown that residents and visitors can enjoy.
    The three younger members serve along with Joe Casello, 62, and Vice Mayor Mack McCray, 66.

Voicing their opinions
    The new commissioners have all stated they are in favor of saving the old high school building.
    At the April 19 meeting, the commission reviewed an unsolicited proposal on the building. Commissioners voted 3-2 to table it until August. Katz and Romelus were on the losing side. “To table it is to kick the can down the road. We need to do something right now,” she said before the vote.
    But Casello and McCray agreed with Grant that the offer should be tabled until the city’s motion to dismiss is heard in July for a nearly 3-year-old court case concerning the high school. An architect had sued the city when his plan to rezone the property was not heard.
    At a strategic planning session May 3, commissioners reviewed the plans and directed staff to change them in time to be included in the next city budget.
    Grant, who moved to Boynton Beach five years ago to open his own law firm specializing in collections and estates, served for three years as chairman of the city’s Financial Advisory Committee.
    He wanted to make use of his undergraduate degree in finance from the University of Maryland while doing his civic duty. He earned his law degree from the Florida Coastal School of Law in Jacksonville.
    Grant is single and lives in the Heart of Boynton, near the downtown, with his Australian shepherd, Daisy, and Maine coon cat, Milo.
    The city’s Financial Advisory Committee was disbanded early last year when then-Mayor Taylor said it was duplicating the work of staff.
    Grant said the committee had wanted to delve into properties owned by the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency. “It made me think: What are they hiding?” he said recently.
    Merker told him to apply for the CRA board vacancy. Grant did, but he wasn’t selected.
    In the summer, he heard the old high school may be demolished and that two citizen members would be removed from the CRA board. That convinced him to run for mayor.
    “I like to take charge, be a leader,” Grant said. “I don’t like being told what to do.”
    Backers of the old high school, including Susan Oyer and Barbara Ready, had committed to helping Merker win the mayor’s race. They switched to Grant for the runoff because he promised to save the school. They also like his development stance.
    “He will help Boynton Beach get on the right track,” said Ready, chairwoman of the city’s Historic Resources Preservation Board. “The citizens are tired of being patronized.”
    Oyer said her role was painting signs, standing outside on a corner at Home Depot for three hours waving Grant-for-mayor signs and knocking on 200 doors in her neighborhood.
    “My dad would have been proud that I worked on his campaign,” Oyer said. She also donated $100 to Grant’s runoff campaign.

Development contributed to election
    Other developers with projects in the city donated to Taylor last year. Isram Realty, seeking a zoning change for its 10-story Riverwalk apartments, donated $2,000 to Taylor’s campaign in the fall.
    The Isram principals aren’t concerned. “Commissioners make the decision at a quasi-judicial hearing,” said Isram’s attorney, Steve Wherry. “Those efforts would be ongoing regardless of who was on the dais.”
    Companies for the Ocean One complex on Federal Highway donated at least $3,500 to Taylor’s re-election and runoff campaigns.
    At the April 19 City Commission meeting, the CRA said it had advertised the nearly half-acre parcel that Ocean One wants for its eight-story apartment project.
    Because no buyers came forward, the CRA will be able to sell it for $10. The CRA will review Ocean One plans May 10. Project spokesman Bill Morris likes the idea of an all-citizen CRA board, proposed by Grant. “It creates checks and balances by decreasing the concentration of power in one agency when the CRA board is composed of citizens,” Morris said.
    Other Boynton Beach activists have high hopes for the new commission.“Mayor Taylor’s view was pro-development and lacked transparency,” said Harry Woodworth, president of Inlet Communities Association.
    “We want kind and gentle development,” Woodworth said, “not the high rises they have in Pompano Beach and Singer Island.”
    Kristine de Haseth, the Florida Coalition for Preservation executive director who helped to form the Boynton Coalition for Responsible Development, also sees the change as a positive step for Boynton Beach.
    “Out with the old, in with the new,” she said. “We want to get beyond pushing the pause button, then hitting rewind and repeating.”

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