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.

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.

105-year old WWII vet honored by PBC

William J. Ely, a 105-year old Delray Beach resident, said there are three reasons he has lived so long: good luck, good genes, and the love and caring of his wife, Helen, to whom he was married for 70 years before her death in 2014.

Ely, believed to be the oldest living graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, was honored by the Palm Beach County Commission on Tuesday.

Commissioner Steve Abrams, whose district includes Delray Beach, presented Ely with a proclamation honoring his 33 years of service in the Army, including service in the Pacific during  World War II.

Ely earned an Army Distinguished Service Medal, a Bronze Star, a Silver Star and two Legions of Merit.

After receiving his proclamation, those attending the commission meeting gave Ely a sustained standing ovation.

ely

(Eliot Kleinberg/The Palm Beach Post)

Palm Beach County ethics panel tosses two complaints

ethics logoA Delray Beach city commissioner and a Palm Beach County Community Services Department supervisor were cleared Thursday by the Palm Beach County Commission on Ethics.

The commission found “no probable cause” that Commissioner Shelly Petrolia benefited by nominating a customer of her outside business to the city’s Site Plan and Review Board. According to a memo, on June 7, Petrolia nominated Cynthia Freeburn as one of seven applicants; Freeburn was not picked. The memo said Petrolia did not reveal she and her husband, real estate brokers and had sold Freeburn a home and recently had listed her current home for sale. But an ethics commission memo ruled the $8,885 the Petrolias earned from Freeburn did not meet a $10,000 minimum to constitute a code violation and that she received no direct benefit in exchange for nominating Freeburn.

The commission also found no probable cause that Kathryn McNealy used her official position to manipulate the time sheets of two department employees. A former supervisor alleged McNealy put in hours for two co-workers for time they did not work. But a memo said a commission investigation found no evidence of that and noted the complainant signed off on many of the questioned time sheets and that one of the workers actually ran out of vacation and leave time and accrued some 80 hours of unpaid leave.

Palm Beach County ethics panel cites county worker, two Delray Beach staff

ethics logoA former analyst for Palm Beach County’s Department of Environmental Resources Management faces ethics charges for allegedly trying to intimidate a business owner into giving him an auto repair discount, and two Delray Beach employees received “letters of instruction” for incidents in that city, in rulings Thursday by the county’s Commission on Ethics.

The charges against analyst Rowan Hughes stem from a November 2015 report by the Palm Beach County Office of Inspector General that said he “threatened or intimidated members of the public by falsely identifying himself as a well field inspector and making statements that he would have to conduct a well field inspection following a business’ refusal to reduce the price of repairs to his personal vehicle.”

The county fired Hughes Dec. 21, 2015, after he admitted driving the county vehicle for personal use, ethics commission documents show.

The panel also ruled Thursday that Joseph Lang, a firefighter paramedic and a rescue driver, was paid $10,834 from the city in 2014 and 2015 for an outside business he owned that supplied and serviced automatic external defibrillators for city buildings and fire-rescue trucks.

And the panel ruled Rashod Smith, a supervisor for the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, let Tennille Decoste, the city’s Human Resources administrator, hold a Thanksgiving Day dinner for her family and friends after hours in the city’s Pompey Park Recreation Center.

To read more, go later to mypalmbeachpost.com.

Ethics panel cites Delray Beach firefighter

ethics logoA Delray Beach firefighter/paramedic unintentionally violated ethics when he obtained an outside contract with the city, the Palm Beach County Commission on Ethics ruled Friday.

The panel, following an executive session of about an hour, voted to give Conor Devery a “letter of instruction.”

According to a staff memo, Devery, who with his wife owns the firm First Response Training, was approached for training services by officials from Delray Beach Fire-Rescue. The city eventually paid the firm $2,245 over three years.

The vote marks the third action by the ethics panel in response to inquiries from Delray Beach City Manager Donald Cooper following city audits.

In July, the commission ordered a similar “letter of instruction” for Desiree Lancaster, an ambulance billing contract supervisor who admitted steering about $12,000 in work in a pressure cleaning firm she and her husband own. The commission concluded this violation also was unintentional.

And in June, Delray Beach parks and recreation maintenance worker Gordon Eaton was cleared of charges he worked for an outside landscape firm that did business with the city. Both Eaton and the firm’s owners said Eaton never had worked there.

The ethics panel’s Oct. 6 meeting had been moved to Friday by Hurricane Matthew.

Palm Tran to install 2-seaters for bus riders

image2Palm Tran riders will have more opportunities to take a load off while waiting for the bus. The county bus agency plans to install 24 new bus stop seats at high-ridership locations in places where right-of-way problems prevent them from having a shelter or bench. The 24 stops selected for the seats account for 23,000 or more riders per month.

The 2-seat assembly, by the Simme-Seat company, attaches directly to a bus stop pole. The make it easier for drives to see waiting riders and provide a safer option for riders than sitting on the curb.

The $13,722 for the seats came from a federal grant.

County Commissioner Priscilla A. Taylor and Palm Tran managers will show off one of the new seats at 10:30 a.m. Monday at a stop at the Presidente Supermarket at Linton Square Plaza, at 1565 S. Congress Ave. in Delray Beach.

Palm Beach County ethics panel cites Delray Beach fire supervisor

ethics logoAn ambulance billing contract supervisor for Delray Beach Fire-Rescue has agreed to a settlement with the Palm Beach County Commission on Ethics in which she admits steering about $12,000 in work in a pressure cleaning firm she and her husband own.

In the agreement, reached Thursday after a half-hour closed session, the charges against Desiree Lancaster are dropped in lieu of a “letter of instruction” from the panel.

A summary said Division Fire Chief Victor Williams approached Lancaster about a cleaning job, and she gave him the business card of her husband’s Greenacres-based firm.

The company later got contracts in 2014 and 2015 to clean fire stations and lifeguard stands.

Lancaster told investigators she did minor work for her husband’s company, mostly bookkeeping.

The commission’s investigation concluded the violation was unintentional.

“Although she took training it does not appear she understood the relationship between her [and] her husband’s company was prohibited,” the commission’s executive summary said.

Commission investigator Anthony Bennett said after the meeting he could not comment on whether Williams violated any ethics rules when he approaching an employee about outside work. Asked if the city disciplined Williams, Bennett referred that question to the city, which didn’t immediately respond Thursday. Williams left earlier this year to become chief of a department in Gallatin, Tenn.

Ethics panel clears Delray Beach lawn worker

ethics logoDelray Beach parks and recreation maintenance worker Gordon Eaton was cleared Thursday by the Palm Beach County Commission on Ethics of charges that he worked for an outside landscape firm that did business with the city.

The commission issued a ruling of “no probable cause” after a 15-minute closed-door meeting.

City Manager Donald Cooper had written the commission May 19 to say an audit indicated the city had paid Tropical Landscaping a total $1,264 in 2012 and 2014 for the purchase of plants. The audit also showed records indicating Eaton was either an officer of the firm or its liaison with the city.

But both Eaton, who’s worked for the city since 2007, and the firm’s owners, said Eaton never had worked for the firm, and Eaton had received no money for the city for any work he would have done for Tropical.

Both Eaton and the firm said they had no idea why the payments showed up in city records. Eaton had gone so far as to file a police report in Palm Beach Gardens, where he lives, alleging identity theft.

Jacks, Vana make their pitch to be PBC property appraiser

Seated side-by-side during a political forum Tuesday night, Shelley Vana and Dorothy Jacks made their pitch to be Palm Beach County’s next property appraiser.

Palm Beach County Commissioner Shelley Vana (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)
Palm Beach County Commissioner Shelley Vana (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

Vana, a county commissioner and former state legislator, and Jacks, the chief deputy property appraiser, clashed on what they would bring to the office.

Jacks said she understands the technical nuances of the job. Vana said the office is a political one that is best led by someone who has served in elected office.

The candidates, both Democrats, are seeking to succeed Gary Nikolits, who is retiring after 24 years as property appraiser. The primary election will be held on August 30.

With about 70 people looking on at the South County Civic Center, Vana and Jacks returned to that theme of leadership again and again.

“It is a very technical job,” Jacks said, adding that, in her, “you will have an expert at the top. You won’t have a politician but an expert leading the staff.”

Earlier, during her introductory remarks, Vana had laid out her credentials.

“You have two very good candidates here,” she said. “One has been an employee and one has been in leadership. In this office, you need a solid leader who sets the tone. You’re electing a Lee Iococca, not someone who screws in the screws.”

Jacks took that jab in stride. Indeed, much of the forum, sponsored by the Democratic Club of Boca Raton and Delray Beach, focused on technical aspects of the office.

The candidates were asked about the prospect of raising the county’s sales tax to pay for upgrades to roads, bridges, schools and county buildings.

Dorothy Jacks, chief deputy property appraiser
Dorothy Jacks, chief deputy property appraiser

Vana, who has supported the county’s plan to raise the sales tax, said she favors a mix of taxes. Jacks said she would first want to study how the county is spending money it already has before determining whether a sales tax increase is a good idea.

The candidates emphasized their endorsements. Vana noted that she is backed by state Reps. Dave Kerner and Irv Slossberg and a slew of other elected officials. Jacks said 18 property appraisers across the state have endorsed her, as have two of Vana’s colleagues on the county commission, Priscilla Taylor and Paulette Burdick.

While the candidates sparred on what they would bring to the office, each said they won’t be attacking each other on more personal terms, a point highlighted as the forum was ended when Jacks offer Vana a sip from her water bottle.

“Dorothy just shared her water with me,” Vana said. “And I wasn’t afraid to drink it.”