Delray commissioners to consider taking over CRA board

2094

By: Marisa Herman

Associate Editor

Delray Beach commissioners will consider passing a resolution that would allow them to serve as the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency board today.

The debate comes 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, the iPic project and the loss of the Uptown Atlantic redevelopment project.

The CRA board has served independently of the commission since its inception. But a recent decision by the board to implement a building renaming policy that was opposite of what the city wanted to see caused commissioners to consider taking over the board.

Mayor Cary Glickstein called their decision an “arrogant power grab” and said it was a “personal F- you” to the commission. He asked the city attorney what the options were to address the issue.

Since the board operates autonomously, the city commission can’t trump its decision. City attorney Max Lohman told commissioners they could “exercise the nuclear option” and remove the board members and replace them with themselves, the commissioners.

Commissioners instructed city staff to prepare a resolution that would do just that for consideration for Tuesday’s meeting.

If the commission were to take over, that means they would meet every other Thursday as the agency. The extra workload for the part-time commissioners concerned some commissioners.

But for Commissioner Shelly Petrolia, she thinks it will save the commission time in the long run. She said she supported having the outside opinions serve on the agency board until recently.

“The amount of time I spend on decisions made by the CRA board or not being made by the CRA board,” she said at a recent city meeting. “I think I will be cutting time if we serve as the CRA board.”

What is the CRA?

The CRA, which was established in 1985, is responsible for redeveloping parts the city. Its mission is to revitalize areas by removing slum and blight in its district which encompasses 20 percent of the city, including the downtown.

The agency has spent 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. It has its own staff and board independent from the commission. Board members are appointed by city commissioners to serve on a volunteer basis for four year terms. To be eligible to sit on the board, members must own property, live or work in the district.

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.

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. Without the CRA, the city would lose millions of dollars from the county.

The decision by the commission to take over the board would not eliminate the CRA. Instead, it would give commissioners control over all decisions.

Rocky relationship

For years the commission and agency operated separately without too much contention. But recently the boards have clashed when it comes to how the commission thinks the agency should spend its money.

The agency funds a lot of city programs that the city would be on the hook for paying for if it weren’t for the agency.

But some of the redevelopment projects haven’t gelled with commissioners completely. To get on the same page, the boards have been meeting quarterly. But Commissioner Petrolia said the tracks end up derailing in between meetings.

The agency and commission were designed to be two separate boards so the politicians didn’t mettle too much with the agency’s plans. But commissioners say the agency board now isn’t being held accountable to taxpayers.

During a town hall meeting hosted by Commissioner Mitch Katz, he said the recent decisions made by the board in regards to the iPic project and Uptown Atlantic are what caused him to want to consider taking over the board.

When it comes to iPic, he said he was concerned about the agency awarding money to the developer for providing extra parking spaces. The board acted in its purview by considering the request. Uptown Atlantic failed to come to fruition after the developer couldn’t secure certain financing requirements and the board opted not to offer an extension.

Residents who attended the town hall had some of their own ideas for commissioners to consider. One was having one or two commissioners serve on the board so the commission stays in the loop on what the agency is working on and vice-a-versa.

Commissioner Katz said he would be willing to bring up that idea at the meeting.

If you have an opinion on the topic, the commission will hash out the idea at 6 p.m. in City Hall.