The Coastal Star

Delray Beach: Commission formalizes takeover of CRA

By Jane Smith

City commissioners unanimously agreed to install themselves as their Community Redevelopment Agency board members.
The May 1 vote was a formality. The real work will begin May 7 when the commission meets as the CRA board. That’s when they will vote on the CRA agenda that includes a proposal by Redevelopment Management Associates.
The Pompano Beach-based firm is the CRA’s development consultant for three West Atlantic Avenue blocks. RMA was started by Chris Brown, the first executive director of the Delray Beach CRA. Its employees include Diane Colonna, the CRA’s second executive director.
On May 1, five Delray Beach residents, including two former CRA board members, spoke on the topic with two for and two against the takeover.
Alice Finst asked, “How will it fit together if the commission is the same as the CRA board?”
Former CRA Chairwoman Annette Gray, who is for an independent CRA board, said, “As an individual who chose to volunteer, I didn’t do it for the accolades, but my reputation was tarnished” when the board was dissolved over claims of irresponsible spending.
“As a commission, you set the budget and then told the CRA how it should be spent,” Gray said. “We were required to pay for the nonprofits and give $2.5 million to Old School Square.”
In late April, Mayor Shelly Petrolia sent a letter to Gray thanking her for the CRA service.
Alan Schlossberg praised the commission.
“You really are responsible for the money,” he said.
The CRA has $19.5 million in tax dollars to spend on eliminating slum and blight this financial year in an area that includes Atlantic Avenue, east of Interstate 95. When budget carryovers are included, the CRA has about $28 million.
The City Commissioners were expected to take up the CRA issue at their goal-setting workshop in late April. Because they would not have taken a second vote by the time of that workshop, the city attorney advised that they could talk only about their aspirations of how the CRA should function.
“We ran out of time,” Petrolia said. “We decided it was better to discuss the CRA functions at a commission workshop on May 8.” The discussion then could include whether to expand the CRA board with two citizen members.
At the end of the goal-setting session, the CRA’s first May meeting date was changed from May 10 to May 7 to accommodate Deputy Vice Mayor Shirley Johnson. She will be out of town on May 10 and wanted to participate in the first CRA meeting with the commissioners as board members. The takeover was her idea.
Johnson is frustrated at the slow pace of development in The Set, formerly the Northwest and Southwest neighborhoods, while properties east of Swinton Avenue are thriving.
“Thirty-two years ago promises were made that parts of the city would be rebuilt,” Johnson said April 3. “There’s been no demonstrable development on West Atlantic.”
At the April 17 commission meeting when the first vote on the CRA takeover took place, two women residents spoke against it.
Ernestine Halliday, who lives in The Set, said, “I feel that disposing of the CRA board was a disadvantage to our community.”
Yvonne Odom, a retired educator who lives west of the interstate and runs various youth sports programs for kids living in The Set, asked the commission to reconsider its vote.
“That’s an award-winning CRA. They did everything they were supposed to because they have a lot of money,” she said.
On May 1, ex-CRA board member Daniel Rose said he agreed with the takeover.
He asked the commissioners to wait until the status of the three West Atlantic blocks was decided before deciding to add two citizen board members.
On May 7, Equity Delray will make another pitch for developing the three blocks.

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