By Thomas R. Collins
A debate over east vs. west — and where the City Hall and police station belong — has erupted in Boynton Beach, fraught with questions over the identity of the city, biting exchanges between city commissioners and impassioned pleas from residents that the city’s headquarters stay near the coast.
City commissioners have decided to ask voters whether they want to pay for a new police station in the already existing Renaissance Commons complex on Congress Avenue, turning aside three proposals for other locations, including one at Ocean Avenue and Federal Highway. The question will be posed to residents on the March ballot.
The vote was 3-2 with Mayor Jerry Taylor and commissioners Ron Weiland and Marlene Ross voting for the Renaissance Commons location. Vice Mayor Woodrow Hay and commissioner Jose Rodriguez voted opposed the location.
Developer James Comparato’s proposal would cost the city $12 million, but that doesn’t include the millions that would be needed to outfit the raw space.
But the question that drew the most interest — where City Hall should be — was left unanswered. Commissioners never settled on a location for a new City Hall, or even on whether to build a new one at all or try to refurbish the existing building on Boynton Beach Boulevard.
The tide appeared to be heading toward keeping City Hall in the eastern part of town, with three commissioners saying they preferred that.
“Mark my words,” said City Commissioner Jose Rodriguez, whose district includes the current City Hall. “If we take City Hall and the police station out of here, this whole eastern part of town will collapse, will totally collapse. There is no question in my mind.”
Commissioner Ronald Weiland had a similar opinion.
“Moving everything out of downtown, you’re sending a notice to the business owners who have really taken a stake in Boynton Beach over many years that you’re giving up on downtown,” he said. “And that’s the wrong signal to send.”
He favored moving only the Police Department to Renaissance Commons, which according to Comparato’s proposal did not include space for the City Hall.
He suggested moving the city’s public works department, now in the eastern part of town on NE Ninth Avenue, to High Ridge Road, paving the way for redevelopment.
Commissioner Woodrow Hay, whose district includes eastern sections of town, wanted to move City Hall and the police station to city-owned High Ridge Road property, as one of the proposals called for. That would allow the sale of the existing City Hall site.
Mayor Jerry Taylor, drawn to the Renaissance Commons proposal because of the low cost, said he was concerned only with finding a spot for a new Police Department and was comfortable putting off the decision on City Hall.
In the end, there was no proposal for the police station or City Hall east of I-95. The only eastern option was tossed out because no cost estimates were included before the deadline.
That led to a bitter exchange between Commissioners Hay and Rodriguez.
“I still have a problem with you not submitting your figures like the others did,” Hay told that presenter, Owen Duke of the Patrinely Group.
“I don’t know why that’s become an issue now,” Rodriguez said. “This commission already said we were going to hear them out.”
“You be quiet for right now,” Hay told him.
“You don’t tell me to be quiet, sir. You can ask me to be quiet. You don’t tell me to be quiet.”
“You don’t interrupt me.”
“I can interrupt you if I’d like.”
And so it went on a night of strong opinions.
Residents mostly shared the same view: Keep City Hall in the eastern part of town.
Joyce Baker said a City Hall along Congress Avenue would be “a nightmare.”
“The traffic on that road is horrible for people to get in and out of,” she said. “This is the heart of Boynton right here (east of I-95).”
Resident Barbara Ready, saying keeping the City Hall and police station in the east was crucial for the downtown’s success, told commissioners, “Having a vibrant downtown would add to the quality of life for all citizens in Boynton Beach. It would just make Boynton beach a better place to be.”
Editor's Note: On Dec. 1, Boynton Beach commissioners voted 3-2 to drop a March referendum item for a new Police Department building and to expedite plans for the approved Renaissance Commons location.