Joe Miller: Cove Killer? - 03/21/09
Joe Miller didn't attend any of the meetings that put together the Cove Charette Master Plan (CCMP). Now as work commences, the District 1 commissioner wants to take a new look at the plan for the renovation of the Cove Shopping Center.
Mizner Park in Boca could be a model for the Cove Shopping Center in one's farthest imagination. In fact, the early CRA concept plan for this area of Deerfield Beach was quite ambitious. You might call it a mini-Mizner.
All we would need to achieve such a grand reconstruction is a few hundred million bucks and the political will to use the power of eminent domain to displace hundreds of residents and shut down scores of businesses.
All this, of course, in the name of "economic development."
If anyone thinks they can get the voter support that would be required, go ahead: try.
A different -- much less ambitious -- plan was adopted last year. Planned mprovements will occur in two phases. The first phase implements the basic plan hammered out by business and land owners in the Cove. The projected cost is $2.5 million, using existing CRA funds.
The second phase would construct a 5-story parking garage. This would be financed by a revenue bond. Or it could be a private-public partnership.
For some reason, improvement of the Cove Shopping Center was barely discussed in public after the adoption of the CRA. It seemed as if there were powerful forces that did not want anything significant to happen with the property. Or they preferred to keep the plans under wraps. Thus, we have learned, city manager Larry R. Deetjen privately commissioned a developer to take a look at the area with possible ideas for redevelopment. LRD, you will recall, liked to do deals behind the scenes especially when they involved major projects that might encounter public opposition. Deetjen had big ideas about how he wanted to transform the east side of Deerfield Beach. In this case, the deal shifted to the beach. The developer, I am told, was RenÚ LÚpine.
It is the universal constant of public opinion in Deerfield Beach that the Cove could use an upgrade. Everybody seems to agree it has potential as a kind of "downtown" for the city. A few things have already been done: the marina was rebuilt, and Charley's Crab was razed to make room for another restaurant and other projects, including, possibly, a parking garage.
One of the consistent complaints at the meetings held to develop a plan was that the center did not have enough parking. Because there is little available space at the center, the logical solution is a multi-story parking garage. Even before the current plan was developed, the city hired an architect -- a buddy of ex-Mayor Capellini, Bill Gallo -- to design a city garage at the Cove site. This was considered a plan to relieve the parking crunch at the shopping center and to provide additional parking for beach goers. The Gallo concept, parking/retail, never materialized into an actual parking structure, but it could serve as a model for the parking garage that may be built as part of the new master plan.
Meanwhile, a high rise condo that would cut off the main part of the center from the Intracoastal view and also take away some of the existing parking spaces is on paper. Such a project probably would not be consistent with the master plan. It would, moreover, require a land-use change. The previous commission was not favorably inclined to such a plan, but the owner of the land, Sue Agnew, is close to, and employed, the new mayor, Peggy Noland.
One of LRD's most notorious deals at the beach was the controversial commercial parking garage on N.E. 2d Street when it was still in the planning stage. Deetjen and the owner of the property, Mike O'Leary, secretly negotiated a public-private partnership to finance the construction. The deal collapsed when it became public. LRD could well have been fired over this deal because none of the commissioners officially knew of it. At some levels, the unauthorized commitment of public moneys is considered misappropriation.
The same Mike O'Leary owns the Charley's Crab property, which is the likely site of a parking garage at the Cove. Both O'Leary and Ms. Agnew supported Noland and Miller during the election. What do you suppose they were promised?
O'Leary is into land investments. Based on the history of his previous dealings with the city, including the beach parking garage deal, it is unlikely that he will want to finance the garage construction or do the construction at the Cove. While the master plan already calls for public financing, it leaves room for partial private funding and use of pre-existing CRA money. How the city obtains the land for the garage is also not specified in the master plan.
So, despite the redevelopment frenzy across the Waterway and these goings on at the Cove, there was no effort to write a workable master plan for the shopping center until Commissioner Pam Militello came into office in 2005. The reason for this is not entirely clear, but the official excuse is that the myriad businesses and landowners that make up the center would never agree to a unified approach. As suggested by the foregoing discussion, there were many interests at play.
In 2008, after a series of public meetings, including a charette, the CCMP was adopted, nine years after the creation of the CRA.
For those readers who are not familiar with the peculiarities of the Cove Shopping Center, we offer a briefing with the help of some satellite imagery:
The aerial view on the right shows the Cove from 4,576 feet, as well as the adjacent residential area and the shopping center west of the residential area. In this view, East is at the bottom of the image and West is at the top. The roadway on the right side is Hillsboro Blvd., the east-west artery which leads over the bridge to the beach area.
The Cove Restaurant and the marina are at the east end of the complex on the Waterway to the left of the bridge in the image. This is the most likely location for a parking garage (marked in red). Another idea for a parking structure near the west side of the center (marked in yellow) was proposed. The objection to the "yellow" garage was that it would block the surrounding restaurants and businesses. It is not part of the CCMP.
What makes this shopping center unique, is that only the parking area is owned by the city. All of the buildings around the parking lot (retail fronts, apartments and professional offices) are privately owned.
The typical shopping center has one owner. This feature of the Cove Shopping Center, with multiple owners, complicated the process of finding common ground for how the property might be improved. In the CRA concept plan, the residential area and businesses along Hillsboro Blvd. west of the center would have been absorbed into a shopping district that would extend from the Intracoastal Waterway to the Hillsboro Square (Publix) shopping center west of the residential area, part of which appears in the top portion of the image. This, of course, is still an option, but the real and social costs would be staggering. One advantage of the CCMP is that the first phase (without a garage) can be implemented with already accrued CRA funds, and not a single resident or business will be displaced.
When she assumed office in 2005, Commissioner Militello convened a public meeting to discuss the future of the center. The meeting, held January, 2006, was attended by 200 citizens and interested parties. After this, a charette was organized to receive input from landowners, business people and citizens, and to build a consensus in a systematic way. Building a consensus was regarded as the most difficult task because there are 40 privately-owned parcels that comprise the Cove Shopping Center. From this process, the CCMP was written and approved by the CRA. This the first time in the history of the CRA that citizens were involved from the outset and had a definitive role in the development of a project.
Now comes Joe Miller, the newly elected commissioner. During the campaign, he grumbled about the plan for the Cove. But what does Joe Miller have against this plan?
The follow-up question is how specific Millerphiles fit into the picture. Miller is reportedly close to Mike O'Leary, the Charley's Crab property owner; and to Steve Edwards, who proposed the "yellow" garage noted above that was not folded into the plan. Edward's firm was a candidate to do the design work for the project. The contract eventually went to Keith & Associates. The CCMP, as written, plans construction of a parking garage in Phase II. The 5-story garage is the most controversial part of the plan (primarily because of aesthetics and debate over efficacy) even though there was agreement on the need for more parking. It is the most costly aspect of the proposed renovations.
In fact, it could be the cost factor rather than concern of how such a structure fits into the landscape that may delay this part of the plan, and possibly delay it out of existence. The CCMP estimates the cost of the garage between $7 and $10 million. Current cost projections are up to $20,000 per parking space. If the project is publicly financed, taxpayers may want to get out their calculators and hold on to their wallets.
The Chamber of Commerce is also cool to this plan. This is difficult to explain, because the Chamber's job is to promote business and most of the business people affected agreed to the CCMP in principle. It is the main purpose of the Cove renovations to make the shopping center more attractive, thus to stimulate business. Yep, you could call it a stimulus package for Deerfield Beach.
At Commissioner Miller's request, a CRA workshop on the Cove Shopping Center will be held on March 31st. The purpose of this meeting is not clear. Perhaps Mr. Miller will tell us his concerns. If this is an attempt to stall or kill the renovation plan on behalf of his political allies, that too should become clear.
Given the effort to develop the CCMP and the fact that the plan was already considered and approved by the CRA, this is not an 11th hour move. It is already after midnight for this plan, and it should proceed as planned unless there is a truly fatal defect. To quote myself roughly from a previous article, its looks maybe as if "them good old days" is back when insiders controlled the city's growth agenda.
Because so many people -- excluding Mr. Miller -- worked hard to develop the CCMP, the public will given an opportunity to speak at this meeting. Nothing comes easy when developers are in charge, so the people who contributed to this plan may have to stand up again and defend their work if they really want the project to move forward.
It should be stated for the benefit of readers who did not participate in the development of the master plan, the CCMP is not a plan thrown together by bad people over lunch at a local bar. Some other proposals may have been, but not this one.
In fact, the CCMP was a collaborative effort by the business and property owners of the Cove Shopping Center, developed in a methodical way at a charette conducted by an outside consultant. Not every one necessarily agreed to every provision of the master plan, but it does reflect what most participants hoped for. The final cut puts together the many ideas discussed at the charette.
There was no preconceived plan, as is the case of most redevelopment proposals. The only premise was that the property could be improved if there was the will.
There were three "design approaches" to what could be done. The first approach was termed "minimalist" because it stressed relatively low-cost renovation rather than extensive redevelopment of the center as contemplated in the original CRA plan. The second design approach included a parking structure to address the number 1 complaint -- lack of parking. The third idea included a larger parking garage.
By implication, there were other possible ways to go. One, do nothing. Two, redevelopment. Three, consolidation of the property under one owner. This may be what Deetjen had in mind when he called in LÚpine to look at the area. Four, a synthethis.
In effect, this is what the final plan is -- a synthesis of various components of the three defined design approaches, based on the opinions and priorities stated at the charette.
If you are interested in the details from the source, the CCMP is a must read. Even if you only look at the pictures, you will get an eye-opening view of what's planned for the center. Is there a perfect consensus? No, and there never will be.
For further reading, good summaries of the first phase of the project are provided by Bett Willett on her blog and on the city website.