Chair and Vice Chair appointments to the City’s Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) will be determined Wednesday night at City Hall. Commissioners Lesa Peerman and Joanne Simone were appointed by colleagues in September, but with the introduction of two new Directors to the CRA Board, changes may be in order. Elected officials in Margate sit not only as commissioners, but also as CRA Directors.
Peerman and Simone presently sit as Chair and Vice Chair to the Agency. The two were appointed recently by a majority of city commissioners, including former Vice Mayor, Joyce Bryan and Commissioner, Frank Talerico, who voted “aye” to appointments prior to leaving office in November.
To this end, newly elected Commissioner, Anthony Caggiano and Vice Mayor, Arlene Schwartz, have gone on record to say that the downtown development plan is not being represented properly and isn’t what Margate residents altogether want. The two, along with Mayor, Tommy Ruzzano, have voiced concerns over selling $30 million worth of taxpayer property to a developer for $10 million and populating the 36-acre city site with nearly 1,000 apartments spread over a mixed use area. The Agency is bleeding payroll dollars and has yet to put a shovel in the ground or present a viable conceptual site plan to commissioners or the public. Poor leadership they say is responsible, and Simone and Peerman may be under-qualified for Chair and Vice Chair positions at this time.
While reputable Margate businesses have offered to purchase CRA lands and start building, developers propose selling it back to taxpayers at a substantial markup. A move Ruzzano labeled as “greedy.” Developers have failed also to provide interested Margate businesses the cost of per square feet to lease space in new storefronts.
(Concept drawings seen at the right of the page currently appear on the Margate Community Redevelopment Agencywebpage, but are nearly four years old and do not represent actual plans for downtown Margate.)
In office since 2012 and a General Contractor by trade, Ruzzano has expressed that he either wants to rework the existing development deal or scrap it altogether. He believes the sale of the land to a developer for a price far below market value and what the city paid for it is bad business - in particular as taxpayers own it. If the city developed the land itself, plans might move forward quicker and more cost efficiently. Ruzzano warned his colleagues three years ago of skyrocketing billable hours when outsourcing the CRA to a private company, which has proven to be true. At the same time, Ruzzano suggests the downtown project target amenities that cater to residents living here now and who have been waiting for more than a decade for something to get built. Also to attract visitors to a quality leisure center - not by creating new populations with the potential for crime. Moreover, Ruzzano has suggested the city retain ownership of the land and offer long term leases to quality, well-leveraged businesses, which feasibly could bring more revenue to the city than property taxes. To boot, the city-owned asset would benefit generations to come. As far as the development deal currently in place, Ruzzano isn't sure on legalities of backing out of it.
Contrary to the other three, Commissioners Peerman and Simone are on record as supporting the current plan. They have been told by developers that dense apartment living is needed for businesses to succeed in the new downtown. Without it, commercial rents will be a tough sell. This, despite a consumer base of 50,000 motorist trips a day on State Road 7 and thousands of households and apartments within walking or bicycling distance from downtown. The two say increased traffic caused by apartment dwellers will be partially alleviated by costly new construction of side streets and through agreements with FDOT (Florida Department of Transportation) and Broward County to calm traffic on the precarious thoroughfare. The two have attended redevelopment conferences and say that the City has been unsuccessful in getting businesses to come to Margate. Nobody has been interested, which is why experts are needed to determine what will and won’t work in downtown Margate.
To the contrary, Ruzzano sees the function of the company hired to run the CRA as a costly "middleman" hired to do a job the city can do itself. Ruzzano has said publicly that he has talked to businesses interested in locating to downtown Margate provided the deal is right.
The majority of residents who have offered public speak at past meetings have opposed excessive housing in the plan. Few have spoken in favor of it. Margate residents have suggested a community center, possibly a theater, an outdoor space for concerts and markets and a few restaurants and retail outlets - all of which according to Ruzzano could have been done years ago.
In a survey issued by the Community Redevelopment Agency in 2013, nearly 70% of respondents said they prefer little or no housing downtown. Eleven percent of respondents suggested apartments, and a slightly higher percentage suggested townhomes or condominiums.
The city meeting takes place at 7 p.m. Wednesday, December 7 at Margate City Hall 5790 Margate Blvd. Residents are allowed to speak on the reappointment of a Chair and Vice Chair for the CRA. (Click here for Agenda Details)