By Mary Hladky

With a five-story residential project on East Royal Palm Road facing intense opposition from neighbors, the City Council has delayed a vote on whether to approve it and asked the developer and project opponents to try to iron out their differences.
They will have two months to do so before the council considers the project again on May 8.
“I hope this is productive and we are not just kicking the can down the road,” said Deputy Mayor Andrea O’Rourke, who will be term-limited out of office this month.
343 Royal Palm LLC has proposed a five-story, four-unit luxury condo that would be built between the nine-story 327 Royal Palm condos and a nine-story assisted living facility now under construction.
Each condo, with about 4,300 square feet, would occupy an entire floor and would have a rooftop terrace. Eight of 10 parking spaces would be in a ground-floor mechanized garage that, for each condo, would lower one car below ground so that a second car could park on top.
The project has been approved by the Community Appearance Board and the Planning and Zoning Board. City staff said it met all requirements for building in the downtown and recommended council approval.
But residents of 327 Royal Palm, who have formed Neighbors for Thoughtful Boca Development and hired an attorney, turned out in force for a Feb. 27 Community Redevelopment Agency meeting.
Among their many objections, they said the 0.17-acre, former single-family home site is too small for the project. They contended it is not compatible with the neighborhood and violated their privacy rights by being too close to their building. They also asserted that a rooftop generator would cause noise pollution and expressed concern about where residents would park if the garage malfunctioned.
Project attorney Ele Zachariades said the developer would be willing to enclose the rooftop equipment to reduce noise, but otherwise said the project met all city requirements.
Noting that the building would be shorter and smaller than neighboring buildings, she said 327 Royal Palm is the one that is “out of character” for the neighborhood.
But faced with the deluge of complaints, the council delayed its decision in hopes a compromise would materialize.
In other business, the council approved a resolution requested by O’Rourke, a strong proponent of the arts, that gives an additional designation of “Avenue of the Arts” to a section of Northeast Fifth Street between Federal Highway and Mizner Boulevard in Mizner Park. Adding that name to the street will cost less than $500.
The additional name is intended to reflect the original vision for Mizner Park as a cultural mecca, as well as its current clustering of arts venues including the Boca Raton Museum of Art, the amphitheater, the Studio at Mizner Park and the proposed Center for Arts & Innovation performing arts complex.
• With long-serving City Manager Leif Ahnell retiring next year, the city has begun the process of finding his replacement.
City staff is developing a request for proposals from recruiting firms, and expects to select a firm this summer to conduct a nationwide search. Council members will make the final selection.
Ahnell ascended to the city’s top job in 1999 after serving for nine years in other positions.
Council members have been fretting about Ahnell’s looming departure for years. The current and previous councils have held him in high regard and have consistently given him high marks in annual evaluations.
Council member Monica Mayotte floated the idea of selecting Deputy City Manager George Brown to replace Ahnell at a Feb. 13 meeting, citing his institutional knowledge and experience.
“I think George is our heir apparent,” she said. “I think we ought to give him the opportunity to take the helm when Mr. Ahnell retires.”
Brown declined to comment on whether he would accept the promotion. As of late February, Mayotte said she had not spoken to Brown directly about the matter, and other council members have not commented on the idea.
• Two therapists who challenged a now-repealed city ordinance that banned the highly controversial use of conversion therapy on minors have accepted the city’s offer to in effect settle the litigation. The city will pay Robert Otto of Boca Raton $50,000 and Julie Hamilton of Palm Beach Gardens $25,000 and a portion of their costs and attorney’s fees. The amount of those costs and fees still must be decided. That is expected to end the litigation.
The city made its offer in January after a three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the ordinance violated the therapists’ free speech rights and the full court declined to reconsider that decision. The therapists accepted on Feb. 9.
The therapists’ challenge to a similar and also repealed Palm Beach County ordinance was still being litigated as of late February. Ú

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