We took a hard look at the Johns Glades West proposal and we’re opposed. The Palm Beach County Commission approved this on April 26th. It might be too late to do anything about it, but we suggest you contact Commissioner Mary Lou Berger.
You can call her at 561-355-2205, or e-mail her at MBerger@pbcgov.org.
Developers plan to build a very dense project on the south side of Glades Road. The front on Glades would be a fairly large commercial plaza including a grocery store, a theater, restaurants and more.
The back part of the project is more disturbing and completely out of character for West Boca. It would include seven five-story buildings with over 450 apartments.
County zoning staff wrongly concluded this fits in with the existing development around it.
“Staff Analysis: The proposed amendment is consistent with the character and development pattern of the surrounding communities, which can be characterized as a built development pattern with higher density and higher intensity.”
This is ridiculous. Yes it’s true that the nearby commercial plazas are similar to the commercial part of the proposal. But neither Westwinds nor Shadowood have housing at all, much less 5-story towers packed with 10 apartments per floor.
Nothing around it would be nearly this dense. Look at this image:
The residential neighborhoods to the north, east, and southwest are far less dense with much more greenery. Same with the Jewish Federation campus to the south. Residents of Palma Vista, to the southwest, have legitimately complained about the R2 building (lower left) which will tower over the homes in the northeast end of their neighborhood.
The developer is seeking 12 residential units per acre for the whole 38 acres of the site, but that the county is ignoring the fact that half of those acres would be used for commercial space. So they’re really getting 24 residential units per acre.
There’s no space for trees, grass, etc., allotting less than two acres for a lake. All those hard surfaces with no green space means big stormwater runoff problems.
The apartment complex will consist of over 450 tiny apartments (we estimate an average size of 800 square feet) with minimal amenities. There isn’t even a pool in the plan.
If you’re looking for help from our local “West Boca Community Council”, you might be surprised:
Reading through the details of the submission (see pdf below) we see numerous agencies referencing their ability to handle the project at 300 residential units, with some saying that density would be a problem and others indicating issues. But the proposal is 450+ units, not just 300.
For one thing, with 300 units it still fails the long range traffic test:
In other words it will create long term traffic problems on Glades Road, Lyons Road, and US-441.
According to the school district it will overcrowd Eagles Landing Middle School, and add a significant burden to both Olympic Heights and Sandpiper Shores. We all know how great the traffic is at Sandpiper Shores already.
Did you realize what the county was allowing to happen? Do you feel that Mary Lou Berger, your representative, communicated sufficiently with you about this?
Before writing this article we reached out to Ms. Berger and Ms. Scarborough. They did not respond.
A press release from County Commission Candidate Taniel Shant accuses Mary Lou Berger of censoring and intimidating him at a community meeting that was open to the public.
BOYNTON BEACH, FL – On Wednesday, September 21, the Coalition of Boynton West Residential Associations (COBWRA) held their September delegates meeting which featured presentations from Palm Beach County Administrator Verdenia Baker and Palm Beach County School District Superintendent Robert Avossa, who both spoke in support of the 17% Sales Tax increase that will appear on the November 8 ballot. The COBWRA meeting was advertised as open to the public.
Taniel Shant, Republican candidate for Palm Beach County Commission District 5, opposes the 17% Sales Tax increase and was present to listen to the presentations. County Commission District 5 includes the areas west of Boca Raton, Delray Beach, and Boynton Beach.
Near the end of the presentations, COBWRA President Glen Harvie approached Mr. Shant and, in a disrespectful manner, told him that he would not allow Mr. Shant to ask a question. Mr. Harvie then attempted to unlawfully remove Mr. Shant, who was standing near the back of the room peacefully listening to the presentations.
Upon his arrival, Mr. Shant witnessed Mary Lou Berger canvass the room and inform her allies that Mr. Shant was present.
It appears that Mr. Harvie, who supports the 17% Sales Tax increase, was acting on behalf of sitting District 5 County Commissioner Mary Lou Berger, who was present at the meeting. In 2014, Commissioner Berger nominated Mr. Harvie to the Palm Beach County Community Advisory Committee.
“Although I was bullied, censored, and intimidated, the real victims in all of this are the residents,” stated Taniel Shant. “The entire meeting was a setup to deceive the residents of West Boynton Beach. They had two presentations in support of the 17% sales tax increase, didn’t have anyone speak in opposition to it, refused to allow public comments, then immediately held a vote for COBWRA to endorse and support the 17% sales tax hike, which unsurprisingly passed unanimously. I don’t know if Mary Lou Berger put him up to it or not, but he clearly was acting on Commissioner Berger’s behalf in an attempt to censor me,” Shant said.
We have previously written about Shant’s campaign and we agree with him in opposing the sales tax. However we did not attend this meeting and have no additional information to verify Shant’s claims. In our experience it is typical for challengers to encounter such tactics. Readers should, of course, use their own judgment.
Yesterday I met with Taniel Shant, a candidate for the County Commission seat representing West Boca. He’s as local as you can get. As a child he attended Whispering Pines Elementary, Omni Middle, and Olympic Heights High School. He graduated from FAU in 2005 and now lives in Boca Isles.
The seat he’s running for is currently occupied by Mary Lou Berger. The biggest issue in the race according to Shant is her support for increasing the sales tax. Berger told us in February that if the sales tax increase fails she will push to raise property taxes. Shant opposes any tax increases.
As for other issues he thinks his being a true West Boca resident will matter to voters. He said that Berger doesn’t really live in her district at all (District 5 includes parts of West Delray and West Boynton) and is really a creature of Palm Beach. Property records and my own experience with her suggest he might be right about that, though I’m not sure voters care.
I found his third criticism of Berger amusing – that she’s arrogant. I can’t say that’s wrong but Shant himself did not come off as humble in our meeting.
Between college and now Shant spent most of the past 10 years working in Washington DC with a non-profit called Armenian Assembly of America. Most recently he worked to get the Obama administration to recognize genocides against Christians in Syria and Iraq.
It’s early in this campaign. Shant appears to be raising enough money to present a credible challenge against Berger. It is an uphill battle running as a Republican challenger against a Democrat incumbent in a Democrat-leaning district in a presidential election year. Shant believes he can win over the independents as well as some Democrats, especially on the tax issue.
Shant’s website is http://www.tanielshant.com/.
Update: The County Commission passed the ordinance at its meeting on June 23rd. Here’s the pdf of the agenda item:
The Palm Beach County Commission is getting closer to an ordinance that would ban panhandlers and others from standing in roadway medians. On the agenda for May 19th is a “preliminary reading” of the proposed ordinance. The full ordinance is at the bottom of this article.
We’ve taken a thorough look at the proposal. It’s a good try but falls short of what’s needed. There are two key sections that matter the most. First is the “Prohibitions” – what’s going to be made illegal:
In short it will be illegal for people to go on the “road” to display information, distribute materials or goods, or solicit business or charitable contributions.
The second key detail is in the definition of what’s a road:
The definition includes medians and traffic islands, which is where we mostly see panhandlers and others who might create traffic hazards.
This proposal has some things right but it also has some misses. For one thing it does nothing about people panhandling or otherwise disturbing traffic from sidewalks. While panhandlers will probably move from the medians, they’ll just go to the corners. That’s an improvement but it’s not a complete solution.
It also does nothing about someone who might stand in the median with no apparent purpose. This creates a problem for prosecutors who will have to prove that the defendant was engaged in one of the prohibited purposes. It may not be easy to prove that.
Back in October we wrote about how the City of Boca Raton deals with this, and at the bottom in an update we added a court decision that showed how Pembroke Pines does it. The Pembroke Pines approach included sidewalks and any other area within 200 feet of intersections.
The other thing Pembroke Pines did right, and this new proposal appears to get wrong, relates to a legal and constitutional concept called narrow tailoring. First, their ordinance focused on “right of way canvassers and solicitors”:
any person who sells or offers for sale any thing or service of any kind, or who seeks any donation of any kind, or who personally hands or seeks to transmit by hand or receive by hand any thing or service of any kind, whether or not payment in exchange is required or requested, to any person who operates or occupies a motor vehicle or any kind
It specifically exempted the mere display of information:
The term shall not apply to any person who merely holds or displays a sign lawfully permitted to be displayed by a person as long as there is no entry by such person or sign into any portion of the roadway or its median.
The Pembroke Pines ordinance was also limited to specific intersections which amounted to less than 10% of the city’s roadways. As the court put it in that case:
[T]he Ordinance is narrowly tailored …. It regulates only canvassing and soliciting, and it does so with regard to only six of the City’s roadways, or less than 10% of the City’s public roads. Significantly, only after “City staff analyzed each of the major roads within its jurisdiction” did the City identify the six streets “where canvassers could pose a particularly increased danger on traffic flow, driver safety and safety of the canvasser.”
It would have required some work, but the county could have followed Pembroke Pines by identifying specific intersections where pedestrians are at greatest risk and limiting the ordinance to those intersections. No one is worried about this problem at Glades and Cain, or at 441 and Atlantic. But there have been numerous accidents with pedestrian fatalities at key intersections on 441 including Sandalfoot and SW 18th, and we have personally observed pedestrians creating traffic problems at Glades and 441.
Based on these weaknesses, it is likely that the ordinance will be challenged on constitutional grounds and the county will lose. As taxpayers we will waste a lot of money on lawyers, knowing that we’re going to lose. And as residents we will continue to face traffic safety issues caused by this problem. More pedestrians will die because our county commission is getting it wrong.
It’s frustrating because I tried to get our commissioners and the county attorney’s office to at least read the Pembroke Pines decision. See my two e-mails below:
If all goes according to plan the hearing would be set for June 23, 2015. If it passes it will then take a month or two before deputies get the word out and really start enforcing it. And then within a year we should see constitutional challenges to the ordinances.
The full proposed ordinance is below.
The West Boca Community Council held its regular meeting at the Boca Lago clubhouse on Tuesday evening. A larger than usual crowd of residents heard from county officials.
President Sheri Scarborough, who is also chair of the Palm Beach County Zoning Commission, updated the audience on several changes in the works.
First, construction has started on the Rooms To Go expansion on the north side of Glades Road between 441 and Lyons. We stopped by today to see it for ourselves and our video of the work is below.
We asked inside and learned that the current 26,000 square foot space will be expanded by another 20,000 square feet. The project should take about a year. It has already been quite a while. We reported on the plans back in 2013.
Also coming is a 43-home development by GL Homes south of Eagles Landing Middle School. You can see the location on the image below (courtesy of the county appraiser’s website). South County Regional Park is on the right, and the property in question is on the lower left.
An old map of the plan, dating back to 2006 or before, is below (full pdf at bottom of this article). It’s called the Collier PUD (Planned Unit Development).
Ms. Scarborough also noted that the lights are close to ready on 441 just south of Glades Road, between Sports Authority and the Westwinds Plaza (Publix and Home Depot).
After the meeting was over we asked her about the proposed 300-townhome development on the northeast corner of Clint Moore and 441. She did not have any particular news about the proposal. The first hurdle that has to be overcome is that the property is in the “agricultural reserve.” Unlike most ag-reserve properties, however, Scarborough noted that it is surrounded by non-agricultural development (The Oaks community, the Stonebridge community, and The Reserve shopping center). There’s a process they have to go through to get reclassified out of the ag-reserve but it seems likely to West Boca News that they’ll eventually get there.
County Commissioner Mary Lou Berger spoke next.
Ms. Berger spoke in depth about the panhandling issue and what the County Commission is doing about it. She was an engaging speaker, answering many questions from the audience.
First, she explained that something is in the works. The County Attorney’s office is drafting an ordinance which is expected to go before the County Commission in April. Once it’s reviewed at that meeting it should go before the Commission again in May and if all goes well it will be approved then.
Ms. Berger was emphatic that the ordinance is not limited to vagrants and panhandlers. It is a general ordinance that will affect anyone who tries to solicit or engage in similar activities in the medians of intersections. This is an important distinction and it’s very good that she is talking about like this. If it’s done the wrong way it will be held unconstitutional.
The audience asked whether it will extend to the corners and sidewalks, but that was not clear. She said the County Attorney is working on that language.
Next up was State Attorney Dave Aronberg, the prosecutor for Palm Beach County.
Mr. Aronberg was the headline speaker in the council’s notice for this event, which said he would speak about panhandling. He did not talk about that much, but focused more generally on what he called “quality of life” crimes. The most common crime that his office deals with is “DUS” or Driving Under Suspension. It’s sometimes called DWLS (Driving While License Suspended) and can refer also to revoked licenses or other license problems.
While Mr. Aronberg was mostly a pleasant speaker, his responses to questions presented a stark contrast with Ms. Berger, who answered questions directly.
Aronberg’s focus on suspended drivers opened the door to questions about a prominent case that happened not long ago on 441 in front of West Boca Medical Center. A driver hit three kids and then left the scene. A few weeks later the alleged driver, Brett Knowles of Boca Isles North, posted this beauty on his Facebook page:
West Boca News followed this case closely. Readers notified us in September that 441 had been closed and we went to the accident scene. speaking with family members of victims, contacting the Sheriff, and also Aronberg’s office. In October we reported that charges had not been filed yet, though we made no reference to the State Attorney in that article.
We researched the driver’s history in our courts and found quite a bit. Relevant to the issue of suspended drivers, Knowles was convicted of DUS (or DWLS) at least three times before this incident. There was a fourth case in Broward but we don’t know the results of that one. Knowles has had dozens of other cases including traffic tickets and drug charges.
In December, after getting a copy of the crash report from the Sheriff, we reported that Aronberg was stalling on the case. We noticed that Knowles had been ticketed again in October of 2014 for driving while suspended – while this investigation was pending – and that Aronberg’s office dropped the charge.
Shortly after that article charges from the incident were finally brought against Knowles.
In November and December we e-mailed inquiries to Aronberg’s office for a statement on the accident case and for the records from the dropped case. His office did not respond to either request. The refusal to provide records on the dropped case is a flagrant violation of the Florida Public Records Law (sometimes called the Sunshine Law).
With that background in mind, this reporter asked Aronberg about how his office handles repeat offenders on the Driving Under Suspension law. In particular the law (Section 322.34) allows repeat offenders to be charged with higher level offenses. A second offense can be charged as a first-degree misdemeanor with up to one year in jail. A third offense can be charged as a felony with up to a 5-year prison sentence.
Mr. Aronberg’s office, along with Broward, has repeatedly let Mr. Knowles off easy on these charges.
After he didn’t answer the question the first time this reporter asked him again about his office policy on whether and when his office charges repeat offenders with the higher level offenses provided by the law. Aronberg claimed that they do but provided no specifics. Our readers may have noticed that we frequently report on the criminal history of those arrested. We never see repeat offenders charged with the higher level offenses. This is not just a Palm Beach problem. Knowles’ fourth case was in Broward and was charged at the lowest level as well.
Rather than address the issue Aronberg then decided to attack this reporter. Along with his political consultant in the back of the room they accused me of being rude to their office and engaging in politics.
As a response to that bogus claim, my e-mails to his office are below:
Ms. Cruz and/or Mr./Ms. Harris,
I write to inquire about the State Attorney’s position on the case of Brett Knowles. PBSO advises that the case has been forwarded to the Palm Beach County State Attorney.
Please let us know the status of this case.
West Boca News
Reply from Ms. Cruz (same day):
This case pertains to an active criminal investigation and is exempt from disclosure pursuant to Florida Statute 119.07(2)(c)1.
My reply (again, same day):
I’m not asking for records. I’m asking if the SA has any statement to make on the case. My question relates both to the pending investigation as well as Mr. Knowles past history.
And by the way I don’t see how there’s an active investigation. PBSO finished their investigation. It’s in the SA’s hands now per PBSO. So who’s investigating?
No need to reply until next week.
There was no reply from Aronberg’s office.
Ms. Cruz (and Mr. Edmonson?):
I just noticed that Mr. Knowles had a subsequent DWLS case in Palm Beach County: 50-2014-CT-023520-AXXX-SB, citation # A3B50ZE.
Court records show that case was resolved with a nolle prosse.
Please e-mail or fax (518-708-8752) me all records in the SA’s possession regarding this case. Also, please let me know if the SA has any statement it wishes to make regarding the decision to nolle prosse the case.
Regarding my previous inquiries you asserted that there was an active investigation. I don’t think you can make that argument with regard to a case that has been nolle prossed.
If the Sheriff’s investigation is accurate, three kids were hit by Mr. Knowles while he was driving on a suspended license. Had prosecutors held Knowles accountable according to the law, the accident wouldn’t have happened. Call me rude all you want. Aronberg’s blasé attitude toward repeat offenders makes us all unsafe. His disregard for the Public Records law is offensive for someone in the position of enforcing the law.
The full pdf of the old Collier PUD map is below:
Update: At bottom we’ve posted a federal case that upheld Pembroke Pines’ ordinance against panhandling and similar behavior.
In our recent article on panhandlers, a lot of readers have asked why we don’t see them in the city of Boca Raton. The city adopted specific ordinances to deal with the problem, and not just panhandlers.
First, there’s an ordinance about soliciting on streets:
Sec. 16-3. – Soliciting, collecting, etc., upon streets.
No person shall stand or walk on the paved portion of any right-of-way, except sidewalks and bike paths, or in any paved or unpaved median strip of any street, road or highway in the city for any of the following purposes:
(a) Soliciting donations of money or of property of any kind for charitable, religious, educational, benevolent or any other purposes from the occupant of any motor vehicle;
(b) Collecting donations of money or of property of any kind for charitable, religious, educational, benevolent or any other purposes from the occupant of any motor vehicle;
(c) Soliciting the purchase of property or of services of any nature whatsoever by the occupant of any motor vehicle;
(d)Selling property or services of any nature whatsoever to the occupant of any motor vehicle.
(Code 1966, § 21-82; Ord. No. 5132, § 2, 4-27-10)
Note that it allows sidewalks and bike paths. This is important from a constitutional perspective because it fits under “time, place and manner” restrictions. Also note that it does not discriminate based on the type of solicitation. That also helps make it constitutional in that it’s not based on the content of the person’s “speech” (solicitation being a form of speech).
Second, they created an exception to the rule for “special events,” requiring a permit:
Sec. 8-160. – Special event permit to solicit funds, donations, etc.—Required.
It shall be unlawful for any person to conduct a special event, solicit funds or donations of money or of property of any kind for charitable or benevolent purposes without first obtaining a special event permit from the city and payment of the fee specified in the Boca Raton Municipal Facilities and Services User Fee Schedule. A special event is defined as any meeting, activity, gathering, or group of persons, animals, or vehicles, or a combination thereof, having a common purpose, design or goal, upon any public facility, street, sidewalk, alley, park, or other place or building where the special event substantially inhibits the usual flow of pedestrian or vehicular traffic or which occupies any area or building generally open to the public and preempts use by the general public. A special event shall include but not be limited to a festival, carnival, concert, parade, walk, race, fund-raising sale and similar gatherings.
(Code 1966, § 16-24; Ord. No. 4533, § 3, 9-12-00)
The exception includes an application process in Section 8-161 and 8-162. It requires proof of various things such as that the person is genuinely employed by a genuine charitable organization.
Our county elected officials are hiding behind the false idea that they can’t stop panhandlers and others from creating traffic hazards because of constitutional limitations. Most of our readers figured out this was phony because they see that the problem is far less in cities like Boca Raton. The way Boca Raton does it shows how it can be done if our county commissioners want to do it.
For now at least it’s apparent that they don’t. We specifically asked Commissioners Berger and Abrams (who represent West Boca) and they have not responded, instead hiding behind the County Attorney. In light of the County Attorney’s response, we have again asked them and they have so far not responded.
Please note that Commissioner Abrams faces challenger Andy O’Brien in the election going on right now. We will ask Mr. O’Brien if he has a position on the issue.
Update: A reader sent us this case from the federal court that covers South Florida, regarding this issue in Pembroke Pines. The court ruled in favor of the city’s ordinance restricting panhandling and similar behavior.
Update: County Attorney Denise Nieman responded. See bottom of this article.
Having received numerous complaints from readers about panhandlers, we decided to contact our elected officials to see if they have anything meaningful to say on the subject. Here’s our letter to the County Commissioners Steven Abrams and Mary Lou Berger, along with County Attorney Denise Nieman and a few others.
Commissioners Abrams and Berger,
West Boca News receives frequent complaints from our readers about panhandlers, mainly at intersections.
I see them often myself at major intersections. Complaints relate to most major intersections on 441, Glades Road, Palmetto Park Road and more.
Since you are the county elected officials for West Boca, I’d like to ask you some questions on behalf of our readers regarding panhandlers and panhandling.
Do you consider panhandling to be a problem?
What, if anything, should the county do about it?
What, if anything, have you done about it?
I’ve included others as cc’s on this message, including the County Attorney, West Boca Community Council, and a few people in PBSO.
If you prefer, I would be happy to meet with you in person in or near West Boca. Or maybe Ms. Scarborough could make this a topic for a Community Council meeting and you could attend.
West Boca News
The response from the County Attorney follows:
This is a difficult issue that comes up regularly. The County has investigated and discussed panhandling many times throughout the years, including the possibility of enacting an ordinance. However, due to current laws and court cases, the County has not adopted an ordinance banning or regulating panhandling due to the difficulty of doing so within the parameters of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.
Marlene Everitt, a senior attorney in my office, is an expert on this topic, and has prepared a summary of the law that she recently shared with some concerned constituents. I hope this overview is helpful to you:
Streets, medians and sidewalks, hereinafter collectively referred to as ‘Right-of-Ways’ are traditional public forums and as such are protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. This protection limits, but does not eliminate, a government’s ability to restrict the time, place and manner of activities in the Rights-of-Ways. However, the regulation must be the least restrictive means necessary to promote the health, safety and welfare of the public and apply equally to all individuals and groups attempting to use a public Rights of Way.
Under this analysis, it is impossible to allow some people or groups to use the Right-of-Ways and deny that right to others; irrespective of whether it is called loitering or vagrancy or whether it benefits the individual or group to which an individual belongs. Under current law, we cannot ban panhandlers from using the medians without banning firefighters and the Police Benevolent Association as well.
Notwithstanding the difficulty in prohibiting panhandling, the Board of County Commissioners has not given up on the issue. At the Commissioners’ request, staff will continue to keep abreast of what’s happening on the local, state and federal level and advise the Board of any updates or changes in the law.
There it was, a tweet from Palm Beach County Fire Rescue:
Why is a career political insider speaking to people about hurricane preparedness?
This opinion is not about Ms. Berger alone, nor is it limited to Democratic politicians. I feel the same when Republicans do it. It could be Rick Scott or Marco Rubio and I’d be just as irritated.
But turning to Ms. Berger, I wondered if she has some special experience regarding hurricanes. So I checked her bio.
No. She doesn’t. She worked for Montgomery Ward in Pittsburgh before moving here in 1989. She did clerical work for the court system. Then she started working as Burt Aaronson’s assistant 20 years ago.
Nothing in her bio shows anything close to expertise about hurricane preparedness.
So let’s be clear about why Berger was there and why this was tweeted by a county agency.
It’s politics. It’s a politician pandering to an audience of frequent voters. And the pandering is amplified on Twitter by an agency subject to her budget votes.
But don’t worry. Berger sits in a heavily gerrymandered district so she’ll be pandering to us for several more years until she’s term-limited out and the next one comes along.
Cynical? You bet.