By: Marisa Herman Associate Editor
Delray Beach’s Community Redevelopment Agency board will remain independent from the city commission.
In a narrow 3-2 vote, commissioners voted against taking over the board themselves. The contentious decision came after several hours of public comment by residents on both sides of the issue.
Some residents said they wanted to see the people they put in office control how CRA money is spent. Others said keeping the board independent has been one of the reasons why the CRA is lauded a success story.
“Let’t not take a chance and throw away something that has done so much for Delray Beach,” said former mayor Jay Alperin.
Commissioners Shelly Petrolia and Mitch Katz cast the dissenting votes. They said it was time for a change and advocated for the commission take over.
“In order to improve you have got to make changes,” Commissioner Katz said. “This is a tough decision. This is a tough change.”
But they were outnumbered by Mayor Cary Glickstein and Commissioners Jim Chard and Shirley Johnson, who preferred the current set-up of two independent boards.
“We need to start talking to each other again,” Commissioner Johnson said. “We need renewed communication not a commission take over.”
But the decision to keep the board as is came with some conditions. The commission wants to see change in how the board makes some of its financial and redevelopment decisions.
Mayor Glickstein said he wants to see the agency fund all identified and prioritized capital improvement projects in its district, stop allocating money for projects that can’t be finished in that budget cycle and budget for unforeseen circumstances. He also wants commissioners and city staff to see any redevelopment projects of public land greater than one acre before requests for proposals are circulated.
Ultimately, commissioners said they want a better line of communication with the agency.
“We as a commission have a lot on our plates and there is merit to the structure of an independent board,” Mayor Glickstein said. “We can fix this through better communication and more accountability.”
It was a lack of communication that got the commission to consider taking over the board, commissioners said.
The debate came on the heels of commissioners expressing frustration with some of the recent decisions made by the agency including a new policy to rename buildings in the district after individuals, delays and extra funding awarded to the iPic project and the loss of the Uptown Atlantic redevelopment project.
When the commission asked what the remedy to the issue was, their interim attorney Max Lohman told them they could “exercise the nuclear option,” which would remove the board members and replace them with the sitting commissioners.
For Commissioners Petrolia and Katz that was the way to go. They said it makes sense to have elected officials sit in those seats because they are held accountable to the taxpayers more than a board of volunteers.
“A volunteer board controls that money that your elected body doesn’t control,” Commissioner Petrolia said adding that amount of money is only going to increase. “It puts us in the crosshairs of every mistake that is made.”
Since the agency’s inception in 1985, the board has been independent of the commission. Board members are appointed by sitting commissioners to four year terms. To be eligible to sit on the board, members must own property, live or work in the district. The idea behind that was to keep politics out of the agency’s main mission of removing slum and blight in parts of the city through redevelopment initiatives.
The agency has spent tens of millions on the beautification of West Atlantic Avenue, helps fund several nonprofits like the library and Spady Museum through its grant programs and helps pay for the downtown Clean and Safe Program downtown among other initiatives.
The boundaries include the entire downtown central business district, adjacent neighborhood east of Interstate-95 between Lake Ida Road and SW 10th Street and much of the area north of downtown, east of Seacrest Boulevard and along the US-1 corridor to the Boynton Beach city limits.
The agency also works to offer affordable housing options, promotes historic preservation and economic development.
The agency makes its decisions based off a CRA Plan, which was adopted by the city commission for the first time in 1986. Since then, the plan has been amended several times with oversight from commissioners.
The agency is funded through tax increment revenues. Properties located within the district do not pay any additional taxes. A portion of the assessed taxes from the city and county are given to the agency to be used for redevelopment purposes.
Commissioners review the agency’s budget and plans annually. The boards have also been meeting quarterly. More than half of the board’s spending is dedicated to sprucing up areas that need it the most like the NW/SW neighborhoods and The Set even though those areas generate less tax revenue than the rest of the district.
By: Marisa Herman Associate Editor