Palm Beach County declares state of emergency


With super powerful Hurricane Irma churning its way toward Florida, Palm Beach County has declared a state of emergency, effective at midnight, County Mayor Paulette Burdick said Tuesday evening.

No evacuations have been ordered in the county, one of a number of South Florida locations where Irma could make landfall this weekend.

County Administrator Verdenia Baker said residents who plan to evacuate should do so “sooner rather than later” to “avoid getting stranded on the highway.”

The county’s 6,000 employees are all considered essential employees and there is no plan to have them stop working before the end of the work week, Baker said, adding that she has no authority to direct other employers to let their workers leave early so that they can begin evacuating in advance of a potential landfall.

As of 5 p.m. Tuesday, Irma was a Category 5 hurricane with sustained winds of 185 miles per hour – a far more powerful storm than Harvey, which lingered over Greater Houston and brought devastating flooding to that area. Irma is one of the strongest Atlantic Ocean hurricanes on record.

Still, Baker said not everyone in the county will need to evacuate.

“Evacuations are based on storm surge, not on wind speed,” she said.

Residents who do not live along the coast and those who don’t live near Lake Okeechobee “do not necessarily need to evacuate.”

The county does anticipate operating shelters, including a special needs shelter for which residents must pre-register.

Special needs residents can pre-register at http://www.pbcgov.com or by calling 561-712-6400.

Baker urged residents to continue monitoring Irma and obtain enough supplies to last for five to seven days.

Baker Co. commissioner reaches out to McKinlay on opioids

Palm Beach County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay

Baker County Commissioner Cathy Rhoden reached out to Palm Beach County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay for tips on how to start an opioids task force, an email exchange between the two commissioners shows.

“Our county, Baker County, is heavy into meth addiction and now we are seeing heroin move in,” Rhoden wrote to McKinlay.

But Rhoden has a more personal motivation to get involved in the fight.

“With a daughter who is a heroin addict and a grandson who is in prison from meth addiction I would like to do whatever it takes to educate and help our community about this issue,” Rhoden wrote.

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The daughter of a former aide to McKinlay died of an opioid overdose in November, a day before The Palm Beach Post published a series of articles on the devastation the crisis has brought to the county.

McKinlay has become a vocal advocate for more state and local action to combat the crisis, which has not only devastated families but wreaked havoc on local budgets.

The commissioner pushed for Gov. Rick Scott to declare a public health emergency, a move he ultimately took. And McKinlay has asked the county attorney to research the possibility of bringing suit against pharmaceutical companies, whose potent products are at the heart of the crisis.

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Delray Beach has decided to file suit against Big Pharma, a decision McKinlay shared Wednesday with other elected officials as they participated in a joint meeting between the Palm Beach County Commission and the Palm Beach County League of Cities.

Responding to Rhoden about forming a task force, McKinlay reached out to Palm Beach County Fire Rescue Capt. Houston Park.

“He led the charge,” McKinlay wrote. “I’ll ask him to call you.”

McKinlay invited Rhoden to Palm Beach County to attend an opioid task force meeting and offered sympathy for her family’s struggles.

“Thanks for sharing your story,” McKinlay wrote. “I am so sorry your family has been dealing with this.”

NEW: Golf-related entertainment venue coming to airport area

Drive Shack Palm Beach has leased 12 acres at the southwest corner of Belvedere Road and Australian Avenue for a golf-related entertainment venue featuring outdoor terraces and golf-hitting suites.

(Photo by Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)

The 60,000-square foot complex will also include event, lounge and restaurant space, according to Palm Beach County documents.

Drive Shack will pay the county initial annual rent of $728,000, which will be adjusted every three years. The company is expected to make a total investment of $20 million.

The facility is expected to open in fall 2019.

Western Boynton, Delray residents turn to officials to stop development plan

More than 400 residents attended a community meeting to oppose a GL Homes plan to allow more development in the Agricultural Reserve.

Nearly 500 people have downloaded a form letter from the web site of the Coalition of Boynton West Residential Associations urging opposition to possible rule changes that would allow more development to take place in Palm Beach County’s Agricultural Reserve, a 22,000-acre farming zone located west of Boynton Beach and Delray Beach.

The letters, many of which have already been emailed to county commissioners, is the second wave of an assault the politically powerful coalition plans to make against the proposed rule changes, which it argues would lead to over-development in an area where building has been limited to accommodate agriculture. COBWRA held a meeting on the topic on June 7, drawing 400 people despite heavy rain and long car lines.

Ag Reserve rules require builders to preserve 60 acres there for every 40 they wish to develop in the reserve. Developers have not been allowed to preserve land outside of the Ag Reserve so they can build within it.

GL Homes has floated a plan to change those rules so it can preserve land it owns in The Acreage/Loxahatchee area and build more on land it owns further south in the Ag Reserve.

Residents in The Acreage/Loxahatchee area, pleased by the prospect of less development in their midst, like the idea. But many south county residents fear the rule changes will mean over-development, jammed roads and lower property values for them.

COBWRA posted the form letter to its web site earlier this week, and, by noon on Friday, 475 people had downloaded it, according to figures provided by the group.

GL is not expected to formally request Ag Reserve rule changes until later this year, but they have already become a focal point of discussion in the ongoing battle over development in the county.

PBC looks to limit impact of Trump visits on Lantana Airport

Trump (Getty Images)

Palm Beach County has drafted a resolution seeking relief from temporary flight restrictions that impact the Lantana Airport during President Trump’s trips to his Mar-a-Lago mansion on Palm Beach.

The resolution, up for discussion when county commissioners meet on Tuesday, states that: “The frequent imposition of TFRs have resulted in, and will continue to result in, significant losses to the aviation businesses operating at the Lantana Airport.”

Temporary flight restrictions during Trump’s visits have impacted all airports in the county, but they have been particularly costly for the Lantana Airport, located six miles south of West Palm Beach.

A county report in February noted that the airport lost $30,000 in business during one of Trump’s visits.

The county’s resolution directs County Administrator Verdenia Baker or her designee to work with the county’s congressional delegation, the U.S. Secret Service, the Federal Aviation Administration and the Department of Homeland Security to find a way for the Lantana airport to continue operations during Trump’s visits.

Opponents to West Boynton development come to COBWRA meeting

More than 400 residents attended a community meeting Wednesday night to oppose a GL Homes plan to allow more development in the Agricultural Reserve.

More than 400 people attended a meeting of the Coalition of Boynton West Residential Associations Wednesday night to note their opposition to a GL Homes plan that would allow more development in the Agricultural Reserve, a 22,000-acre farming zone located west of Boynton Beach and Delray Beach.

Palm Beach County rules have restricted development in the Ag Reserve by requiring builders to set aside 60 acres for every 40 acres they want to develop. Land set aside for preservation must be in the Ag Reserve.

GL Homes, however, wants to change that rule. After getting approval to build 3,900 homes on 4,900 acres it owns in the Loxahatchee area, the developer has floated a plan to preserve that acreage in exchange for permission to build on land it owns in the Ag Reserve.

Homes in the Ag Reserve would likely fetch far more than homes in the Loxahatchee area, but GL officials  have said their new plan isn’t driven solely by a desire to make more money. GL has built many of the high-end developments in the Ag Reserve, and its officials have said they want to continue building in an area where it has established a footprint and where services like roads and drainage are already in place.

Loxahatchee and Acreage-area residents are pleased with the plan, seeing it as a move away from what they fear is over-development in their area.

COBWRA, however, has emerged as a powerful opponent, as demonstrated by its ability pack a meeting room in the GL Homes-built Valencia Reserve residential development on a rainy night.

Those in attendance ripped the plan, which they said would open up the Ag Reserve for additional development.

“For me, for COBWRA, this GL scheme is a defining moment,” COBWRA President Myrna Rosoff said.

GL officials have said they expect to formally present the plan to the county late this year.

It pays to manage a city or a county

Lantana Town Manager Deborah Manzo

When Palm Beach County commissioners recently contemplated extending the contract of County Administrator Verdenia Baker, they had at their disposal a salary survey to show where her pay would slot among peers in different parts of the state.

One consideration, in general terms, is this: the bigger the population of residents, the more responsibility for the county or city manager and, thus, the more loot they should be paid.

Baker’s salary is $273,183 per year – less than her fellow administrator in Broward, which has a larger population than Palm Beach County, and more than fellow administrators in Orange, Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, all of which have smaller populations than Palm Beach County.

But the salary survey didn’t just include county administrator pay. It showed how much some city managers rake in, as well.

Turns out, they rake in quite a bit, regardless of the size of the populations they serve.

Take, for example, Fort Lauderdale’s city manager, who, according the survey, pulls in a hefty $238,222 per year, despite the fact that the city only has 176,013 residents. Miami’s city manager makes $224,663 while the city’s population stands at 417,650.

But those are famous, large cities with complicated challenges, right?

Miramar’s city manager brings in a cool $199,000 overseeing services to a city of 130,288, according to the county survey. Pembroke Pines, with a population of 166,611, pays its city manager $274,996.

No administrators or managers, however, are making out quite as well on the pay-per-population scale as Lantana’s town manager and Palm Beach Gardens’ city manager.

Lantana’s town manager makes $131,586 overseeing services to a town of 10,737 residents. And Palm Beach Gardens’ city manager makes $225,835 to oversee services to 52,923 residents, the survey shows.

That’s more than the $224,789 West Palm Beach pays its city manager. West Palm Beach’s population is 102,436, nearly twice that of Palm Beach Gardens.

PBC angered by House passage of expanded homestead exemption

Palm Beach County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay (Bruce R. Bennett / The Palm Beach Post)

Palm Beach County officials reacted with anger Wednesday to the passage in the Florida House of Representatives of a joint resolution that would allow voters to decide if they want to expand the homestead exemption from $50,000 to $75,000.

The expansion plan, approved on a vote of 81-35, must be approved by three-fifths of the Senate and then by 60 percent of voters before it could become law on January 1, 2019.

County officials argue that the expanded exemption will suck at least $29 million from its budget. The overall impact on area governments is more than $70 million, they say.

“I’m disgusted that the House leadership would think this is a tax cut for the people,” Commissioner Melissa McKinlay said. “This is a tax shift.”

PBC rejects Iota Carol development project

Palm Beach County commissioners voted 5-2 Wednesday to reject an application for comprehensive plan changes to accommodate the Iota Carol development project.

Wednesday’s vote kills the proposed project, which called for 1,030 homes on 1,288 acres west of The Acreage. In rejecting the project, the commission – with a new chair and two new commissioners – broke sharply from its pro-development stance of recent years

Residents near the proposed project complained about the additional traffic it would cause. Commissioners shared those concerns.

Tiny houses considered in addressing big problem in PBC

Darrin and Jodi Swank’s 520-square foot house in Loxahatchee. (Damon Higgins/The Palm Beach Post)

The scarcity of affordable housing in Palm Beach County is a big problem. One county commissioner thinks tiny houses could be, well, at least a tiny part of the solution.

Earlier this week, as county commissioners were getting an update on redevelopment efforts in the Westgate/Belvedere Homes community, Commissioner Melissa McKinlay offered a suggestion: Why not allow tiny houses to be built there?

Tiny houses – the subject of HGTV’s Tiny House Builders show – are an increasingly popular choice for some who want to reduce their impact on the environment, save money and push back against over-consumption.

“Perhaps we could look at some pilot language,” McKinlay said.

There was no vote on the idea, but no one spoke in opposition to it, either. The Westgate Belvedere Homes Community Redevelopment Agency is looking into it, as is county staff.

Commissioners had just finished getting an overview of the county’s workforce housing program and lamented, again, the dearth of affordable housing.

Tiny houses could be an option for single people or young families, McKinlay said, adding that Leon County has already begun approving plans for tiny houses there.

“Maybe we could look at them for an example,” she said.

Darrin and Jodi Swank are raising their three children in a 520-square foot house in Loxahatchee.

“It’s five people in one little house,” Jodi Swank told The Palm Beach Post in July. “We try to live simple. And we’ve loved it.”