Friday, April 27, 2018

After Boca Ratón mayor's arrest, a new push is on to scale back downtown building heights.

Kudos to Palm Beach County State's Attorney Dave Aronberg for arresting Boca Ratón Mayor Susan Haynie.

A likely future State AG or U.S. Senator, Dave Aronberg places a priority on investigating public official corruption, unlike St. Johns County State's Attorney RALPH JOSEPH LARIZZA (is he in on it?)

Remember when St. Augustine Commissioner SUSAN BURK publicly announced that she wanted to turn St. Augustine into a rich-guy town like Boca Ratón?

I do.

And I smell a rat -- with predictable 4-1 votes, St. Augustine City Commissioners have repeatedly voted to authorize noncompliant projects in violation of local and state law, violating the reasonable expectations of probity.

If only Dave Aronberg were appointed a special prosecutor for St. Augustine and St. Johns County.

UPDATE:  Governor Scott suspended Boca Ratón Mayor Susan Haynie on April 27.

From Sun Sentinel:

After Boca mayor's arrest, a new push is on to scale back downtown building heights

Anne Geggis
Contact ReporterSouth Florida Sun Sentinel
With Boca Raton Mayor Susan Haynie facing criminal charges and absent from city proceedings, there’s a new movement afoot to reverse pro-development policies that thrived under her tenure.
City Council member Andrea O’Rourke on Thursday said she wants to roll back rules that allowed taller buildings downtown, rules that were hotly contested through the years.
Haynie’s potential departure could tip the scales in favor of O’Rourke, giving her a shot at securing a majority vote on her side. It could mark a shift from an era of go-go growth, when those who opposed higher-rising buildings were consistently outvoted.
Those who opposed pro-development policies see an opening, particularly to undo rules that allowed 10-story buildings to rise 40 feet, or up to four stories higher.

In particular, The Mark “brought people to the downtown, which is great,” O’Rourke said. But as far how it has enhanced the city’s look, walkability and small-town, yet cosmopolitan appeal, “it’s been a failure.”
Charles Siemen, who represented many of the developers who went before the council, said the benefits of taller buildings in Boca are apparent. He thinks the taller heights have allowed for a more interesting skyline than what had been built before.
On rolling back the heights, Siemon said: “I’m sure the people I represent will be concerned about that.”
The Mark, near the intersection of Palmetto Park Road and Federal Highway, was the first building that went higher than what’s been permitted since height regulations were instituted. And it was followed in quick succession by three other 12-story buildings.
They were approved, kicking off a three-year boom that saw a doubling in the number of permitted downtown residences. They are:
— Hyatt Place Hotel Boca Raton, a 200-room hotel at Palmetto Park Road and Federal Highway that opened for guests in 2016.
— Via Mizner, a 366-unit apartment complex on the corner of Camino Real and Federal Highway that opened the first of its three buildings on that block last August.
— Tower 155, a 170-unit condominium building in 100 block of East Boca Raton Road, now under construction.

Charles Helton, an IBM retiree, said he’s looking forward to seeing a change in attitude about downtown growth with Haynie’s departure, particularly in these rules that allowed the higher heights.
“That’s going to be a key thing to watch — no question,” he said.
O’Rourke campaigned for Monica Mayotte, who won in the March election. Some saw it as a first in many years, where the council had more than one consistent vote on the council for limiting development. Before then, Haynie was part of the majority of council members who supported allowing taller buildings and exceptions that allowed developers special privileges.
On Tuesday, Haynie was booked into the jail on seven criminal counts, including three counts of official misconduct, as well as counts of misuse of public office and failure to disclose a voting conflict. The charges stem in part from voting favorably on issues that would benefit real estate investor James Batmasian while not disclosing she did business with him through Community Reliance, a property management company she founded with her husband.
Though she was freed on bond, Haynie hasn’t yet resurfaced publicly.
Jonathan Kolbe, an urban planning and design consultant, said the heights backed by Haynie allowed more space for the public on the ground. As the reasoning goes, if developers build higher, they can get the same square footage without the sprawl.
“The higher you go, the less area you need at the ground level to achieve the same results,” Kolbe said.
But O’Rourke sees allowing taller buildings as a threat to the character that has made Boca Raton a desirable destination with a well-known brand. O’Rourke says Boca’s low-rise look needs to be preserved. The downtown will be improved in other ways, by getting new lighting and other amenities to boost pedestrians’ experience.
“You get the feeling you are in a special place, a special community that cares how it looks and focuses on people,” she said.
Staff writer Marci Shatzman contributed to this report.


Boca Raton Mayor Susan Haynie's arrest could end long history of service

Acting on complaints, prosecutors began their investigation of Boca Raton Mayor Susan Haynie the same month she was elected mayor, according to a 10-page arrest report.

Anne Geggis and Marci Shatzman
Sun Sentinel
April 26, 2018

The arrest of Boca Raton Mayor Susan Haynie could bring an abrupt end to a long history of public service by a woman who has been both driven and polarizing.

Haynie, 62, rose to prominence over nearly two decades, providing years of volunteer and civil service to Boca before becoming an elected official. A fixture in the city, she always showed up to meetings and galas, often wearing her signature red, a power color.

But her political career was dealt a blow Tuesday, when she was booked on seven criminal counts that include corrupt misuse of public office and perjury.

Deputy Mayor Scott Singer, who’s among those asking for Haynie’s resignation, called it “a sad day for the city of Boca Raton.”

“I am upset and disappointed by the new information that came out last night,” said Singer, one of four who filed to run for her seat before her arrest.

Susan Haynie photos during her time as a politician in Boca Raton
Susan Haynie photos over the years
Haynie is accused of hiding more than $335,000 in income and lying about money she took from developers, according to an arrest report. Haynie also is accused of voting favorably on issues that would benefit real estate investor James Batmasian while not disclosing she did business with him through Community Reliance, a property management company she founded with her husband.

Haynie emerged as a polarizing figure in the city in recent years. She was both criticized and praised for her role presiding over a downtown construction boom that has doubled the number of apartments and condominiums since 2012.

Haynie, a native Floridian, moved to Boca Raton as a student at Lynn University at the age of 16.

She has two biological children and three stepchildren with her husband, J. Neil Haynie, who she married in 1995.

The two ran a golf software company. She also has been a licensed general contractor, specializing in disaster restoration work, and licensed as a professional staff member for homeowner associations.

Most recently, Haynie’s ambition was to move up in the political realm. She filed to run for Palm Beach County Commission in November. She wanted to fill the seat vacated by term-limited Steven Abrams, who also once served as Boca Raton mayor.

Derek Vander Ploeg, a contributor to her campaigns and an architect in the city, recalled Haynie’s work on the city’s behalf over the 40 years he has known her.

Vander Ploeg said she struck a balance between moving the city forward in its development while managing growth.

Ethics panel fines Boca Raton Mayor Susan Haynie for failing to disclose voting conflict
He also credited Haynie with promoting causes that helped the city, such as the Festival of the Arts Boca, which draws an estimated 15,000 visitors to arts events every March; Boca Helping Hands, which helps the needy; and the Boca Raton Historical Society, which preserves the city’s history.

Before getting elected, Haynie served on numerous volunteer city boards, including planning and zoning. “Her total public service is considerable,” Vander Ploeg said. “She went above and beyond the call of duty.”

But Haynie has been a lightning rod for those who opposed changing the rules that allowed for taller buildings downtown.

Haynie’s former opponent in the last mayoral election said her arrest didn’t surprise him.

Al Zucaro said during the election, he raised issues of her dealings with Batmasian, who owns property in Boca worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

“If Susan Haynie truly has the residents’ interests at heart, she should resign immediately,” Zucaro said.

Haynie succeeded the long-serving Mayor Susan Whelchel, bringing a softer style to the dais. While her predecessor was more outspoken, Haynie employed a restrained attitude.

“Susan has worked very hard over the years, and no one wanted to see her political career end up this way,” said Robert Weinroth, a former Boca council member who was going to be one of her rivals in her canceled bid for County Commission.

Boca Raton Mayor Susan Haynie: From election triumph to corruption charges
In the city, hardly a neighborhood picnic, festival or ribbon-cutting event went by without the mayor in attendance.

The governor never appeared in Boca without Haynie at his side. And in January, she was on hand for a news conference that pushed safety in response to a spate of deaths on railroad tracks.

Weinroth, who often aligned with Haynie on the dais for years, had a falling out with the mayor when their political ambitions clashed.

On Wednesday, Weinroth said it’s up to the mayor to decide if she wants to resign. “No one has the right to tell Susan what to do at this point,” he said.

If Haynie doesn’t resign, the governor still could suspend her from office.

Weinroth credited Haynie for helping make Boca Raton a preferred destination for half of all the businesses that recently moved to Palm Beach County.

He said she’s going to be best remembered for her dogged pursuit of getting the Interstate 95 exchange built at Spanish River Boulevard.

For a dozen years, she lobbied for the I-95 exchange. Part of it opened in December.

During Haynie’s tenure, key institutions of the community experienced leaps forward: Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raton Regional Hospital and numerous corporate headquarters, Weinroth said.

“A mayor who has been in government over the last dozen years can take pride that the city is functioning as well as it is,” Weinroth said.

Glenn Gromann, another candidate who wants to fill the mayor’s seat, called himself a tacit supporter of Haynie’s.

He said her arrest left him “shocked and dismayed.”

Staff writer Skyler Swisher contributed to this report.

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