This year was full of heart-rending and far-reaching stories, from potential land deals to tragic deaths. We want to know which story you think is the biggest story in Palm Beach County in 2013.
Click the link at left, or click here, to vote in our poll. We’ll list your top picks in an upcoming series.
1. Massive Avenir project proposed in Palm Beach Gardens
Avenir, a canal-laced walkable community three times the size of Jupiter’s Abacoa, with 7,600 homes and enough space for 20,000 people, was proposed for the sprawling Vavrus Ranch property off of Northlake Boulevard in western Palm Beach Gardens. The plan by Landstar Development Group and Waterstone Group also calls for a 4,000-student campus for Keiser University and a pediatrics center hosted by Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital on the 7-square-mile property. The developers say Avenir’s medical facilities, classrooms and residential areas would bring jobs and commercial development to the undeveloped area. To opponents of Avenir – French for “Future” — the plan is too large for the area, which in 2003 was one of several sites proposed for development associated with The Scripps Research Institute that finally landed in Jupiter. No date has been set for the Palm Beach Gardens city council to consider the Avenir plan but the council showed signs of opposition.
2. Harbourside construction begins in Jupiter
Five years after it was approved, construction began in April of the $150 million Harbourside, a marina/hotel/restaurant complex the developer says will be “Mizner Park on the waterfront” on 10 acres on the northwest corner of Indiantown Road and U.S. 1. Opening for Harbourside, on the former location of the Burt Reynolds Friends Museum, is planned for summer. The developers, Palm Beach Gardens-based Allied Capital Development, won federal approval from the Department of Homeland Security to develop Harbourside through an EB-5 regional center. Created in 1990 to attract foreign investment, EB-5 allows foreigners to contribute $500,000 apiece to U.S. businesses in return for them and their families getting visas, the ability to apply for green cards and ultimately become permanent U.S. residents. The developer has signed up investors from South Korea, Russia, Brazil, China and many other nations.
3. For the eighth straight year, no hurricane hits county or state
Only 13 systems grew to named tropical storms. Only two of those turned into hurricanes – Ingrid and Humberto. One that did was Tropical Storm Andrea that formed June 5 and was the only named tropical storm to make landfall in the United States this year. Still it spawned at least eight tornadoes in Florida, including one near Belle Glade, one in southwest Palm Beach County, and finally, the strongest moved through The Acreage at 6:45 a.m. on June 6. It plowed north at 25 mph for 2 miles toppling trees, including an oak that crashed into Priscilla Hastey’s home, breaking both of the 85-year-old’s legs. The storm also dumped more than 6 inches of rains in several spots throughout the county.
4. FAU president resigns; private prison naming rights deal pulled
After a meeting in Jupiter, students surrounded the car of Florida Atlantic University President Mary Jane Saunders to protest the school’s decision to accept $6 million to name its new football stadium for private prison operator GEO Group. One student suffered bruises after the car’s right-front mirror brushed her as Saunders pulled out. In the face of persistent opposition, GEO withdrew its offer. A month later, Saunders resigned, citing the “fiercely negative media coverage.”
5. Controversial “Jesus” paper puts FAU in national spotlight
In March, FAU defended an intercultural communications class lesson asking students to write “Jesus” on a paper and step on it. In March, the school apologized for the “Jesus” exercise and removed it from curriculum. Gov. Rick Scott asked the head of the state’s university system to look into the controversy surrounding the class assignment, demanding assurances that “this type of ‘lesson’ will not occur again.”
6. Teachers get raise from state earmark
The Florida Legislature, at the urging of Gov. Rick Scott, earmarked $480 million statewide to pay for raises for teachers, school psychologists, guidance counselors, media specialists, principals and assistant principals. Palm Beach County’s share was about $33 million, with $3 million going to charter schools and $30 million going to the school district. After months of negotiations and with most of the other major school districts in Florida already settled on their raises, the Palm Beach County School District and Classroom Teachers Association reached a tentative agreement giving beginning teachers $1,000 raises retroactive to July 1 and more experienced teachers larger raises up to $2,914. The main point of contention was that the union wanted the school district to add more money for raises on top of what they got from the state and district officials insisted they had no other money to give.
7. Charter school growth explodes, but some charters falter
Enrollment at charter schools, which receive public money but are run by outside companies, boomed in 2013 as dozens of new charter schools opened and dozens more sought permission to open next year. Charters grew by more than 4,100 students at the start of the 2013-2014 school year while enrollment at traditional district-run schools decreased by about 750 students. This trend is predicted to continue. As the number of schools and size of the charter population boomed, several charter schools ran into difficulties. In April, the school board voted to close West Palm beach-based Excel Leadership Academy. The charter appealed but the closure was upheld in court. In August, the board voted to require another charter school that closed on its own earlier this year, My Choice Academy, to remain closed until at least next school year. In September, the board voted to close Igeneration Academy.
8. Wellington Equestrian Village controversy settled
After the Wellington Council voted to revoke previous council approvals of Mark Bellissimo’s $80 million planned Equestrian Village project near Pierson Road and South Shore Boulevard in 2012, Bellissimo sued the village in January. After months of legal fighting and ethics complaints, the village in June reached an agreement with Bellissimo that froze the litigation and required Bellissimo to submit new applications for the two approvals the council revoked, a master plan amendment and compatibility determination, as well as a seasonal use permit for the annual Global Dressage Festival events held on the 59-acre site. The council granted the seasonal special use permit for the festival in July and in October granted the development approvals needed to finally move ahead with the project.
9. Office Depot, after merger with Office Max, keeps headquarters in Boca
Office Depot, which merged with Office Max in November, announced that its headquarters will remain in Boca Raton, rather than move to Naperville, Ill., the home of Office Max. The merger had been announced in February. The joint company forecasts sales of about $18 billion a year. As one of Palm Beach County’s two Fortune 500 companies, the office supply superstore chain is a big fish. It employs 1,700 people at its headquarters and invests heavily in the county through its foundation and active internship programs with local universities.
10. Texting and driving becomes secondary offense
Florida enacted a law making it illegal to text while driving, but police can only issue tickets if they pull someone over for another infraction. In Palm Beach County, 16 drivers were ticketed in the first month of the state’s ban on texting. That was more than all but one other county in the state — Miami-Dade, where 45 tickets were written. Some 168 tickets were written in Florida.
11. Home prices soar
Median sale prices for Palm Beach County existing single-family homes soared in 2013, reaching a high in April of $265,000 before cooling off some with November’s $252,000. Eager investors with cash and historically low interest rates fueled much of the gains as buyers competed for shrinking inventory. There was a five months’ supply of homes for sale in November, down 11 percent from the same time in 2012 and 72 percent below where it was in November 2009.
12. Former Boynton mayor guilty in two cases, sentenced to probation, 59 days house arrest
Former Boynton Beach Mayor Jose Rodriguez pleaded guilty to ethics violations and bank fraud. He was sentenced to five years’ probation — reduced to three if he behaves — as well as about $1,000 in fines and court costs, more than $100,000 in restitution, and 59 days in jail. Rodriguez, 50, was suspended from office Jan. 27, 2012, one day after his arrest on charges that he pressured Police Chief Matt Immler and interim City Manager Lori LaVerriere to stop an investigation into allegations that he abused his then-11-year-old stepdaughter. Investigators declared the abuse allegations unfounded, but Rodriguez was charged with misusing his power as mayor. Rodriguez also was arrested in July 2012 in a separate case in which prosecutors charged he defrauded a bank when he did a “short sale” of a Palm Beach condominium but actually sold it to a relative and, in effect, back to himself.
13. Water district land billboard program canceled amid heavy criticism
After an unidentified lawmaker slipped a last-minute provision allowing billboards on water district land into a funding bill, the South Florida Water Management District awarded a company owned by Harkley Thornton, a former board member and former business partner of the executive director, a contract to build billboards on the district’s public land. Amid heavy criticism, the district canceled its billboard program after The Post’s report.
14. Record-setting summer rains force release of water into estuary, causing damage
Water in the St. Lucie Estuary and Indian River Lagoon became so polluted after record-setting summer rains that health officials posted signs warning people to avoid contact with the water. Fearing a breach in the decrepit dike around Lake Okeechobee, the Army Corps of Engineers released billions of gallons of fresh water into the estuary. That water, mixed with stormwater runoff from roads, yards and farmland caused extensive damage to plants and wildlife along the waterway.
15. Palm Beach style icon Lilly Pulitzer dies
Lillian Lee McKim Pulitzer Rousseau, whose colorful Lilly Pulitzer fashions endure as a one of the strongest symbols of Palm Beach, died April 7 at her South County Road home after a brief illness. Rousseau, whom everyone called “Lilly,” was 81. She founded Lilly Pulitzer Inc., which produces clothing and other such wares featuring bright, colorful, floral prints. As the brand is popular with high society, she was called the “Queen of Prep.”
16. Doctor in Medicare case is raided twice
A Palm Beach County eye doctor with ties to New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez was investigated by the FBI, a probe that is still ongoing nearly a year later. Dr. Salomon Melgen’s West Palm Beach office was raided twice – in January and in October. Melgen and the Department of Health and Human Services have been at odds since 2009 over Medicare payments Melgen received for Lucentis treatments. Melgen administered three or four doses from each vial of Lucentis; a June administrative ruling by HHS said that “each vial should only be used for the treatment of a single eye.”
17. Turnaround for job outlook
Palm Beach County’s job market continued its dramatic turnaround in 2013. By November, the state’s unemployment rate had fallen to 6.4 percent, the lowest since mid-2008. Florida’s jobless rate soared into the double digits after the Great Recession. Private employers in the state created 188,100 jobs over the past year. Not all the news is good, economists say, with nearly 600,000 Floridians still seeking work.
18. Inspector general doesn’t seek reappointment
Inspector General Sheryl Steckler announced she won’t seek reappointment when her contract expires in June 2014. Amid protracted litigation over how cities pay for her office, Steckler faced a harsh critic in County Administrator Bob Weisman, who said he would urge that she be “terminated for bad judgment.” She is the county’s first inspector general and has held the position since 2010.
19. State committee asks county to suspend ethics commission
State Sen. Joe Abruzzo ordered a state review of the Palm Beach County Commission on Ethics after it mistreated his chief benefactor, Wellington petroleum heiress Victoria McCullough. In the fallout, one ethics commissioner resigns after it was pointed out that he had made a $250 political contribution in 2011 despite commission rules banning such gifts. After the state review comes out, Abruzzo’s audit committee asks the county to suspend the ethics commission until it answers questions raised in the state audit.
20. I-95 crash kills realty titan Francis “Chappy” Adams
Francis “Chappy” Adams III, a titan in Palm Beach County real estate as president of Illustrated Properties, was killed Jan. 10 in a traffic accident while exiting Interstate 95. Adams, 48, of Palm Beach Gardens, ran the company his father F.F. “Bud” Adams founded in 1975. It has 20 offices statewide and 550 agents. Illustrated Properties had grown from a company founded by Adams’ grandfather in the 1930s. In 1975, his father began Illustrated Properties and is still the broker and CEO. Adams started working there in 1987, learning the ropes as an agent before becoming president in 1995.
21. Ground broken on convention center hotel
After a decade of setbacks, a convention center hotel in Palm Beach County reached a long-awaited moment of ceremonial groundbreaking in December. The hotel is projected to rise 13 stories across Okeechobee Boulevard from CityPlace and the Kravis Center. It will boast two ballrooms and a two-story, 423-space parking garage. Palm Beach County Mayor Priscilla Taylor said the hotel will bring 560 construction jobs, plus additional permanent jobs and what she pegged as up to $1 billion in economic impact over 10 years. A hotel had been part of the plan since the convention center was built 10 years ago, but previous proposals with various players collapsed amid economic downturns and county commission scandals.
22. Goodman gets a new trial; juror can be tried for contempt, judge rules
The juror responsible for handing Wellington polo mogul John Goodman a new DUI manslaughter trial is himself facing criminal contempt charges. Dennis DeMartin, 70, faces up to six months in jail based on his actions as a juror in the 2012 trial that sent Goodman to prison for 16 years. Goodman had been found guilty of DUI manslaughter in the February 2010 drowning death of Scott Patrick Wilson. In May, Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Jeffrey Colbath overturned Goodman’s conviction and gave him a new trial after DeMartin disclosed that his ex-wife had once been arrested on a DUI charge — a fact he had previously failed to tell the court.
23. West Palm sewage plant workers, about to accuse boss, ordered off job
Two West Palm Beach sewage plant supervisors were yanked out of a meeting with the city’s internal auditor and suspended without pay, ostensibly for an unrelated matter, and one fired. After The Post story came out that they were about to talk about mismanagement of the largest sewage plant in the county, pinning the blame on a recently promoted utilities official, the city reversed itself, gave the workers back their jobs and forced the resignation of the utilities official. Mayor Jeri Muoio launched three investigations and the internal auditor spent four months combing through the issues but has not released a final report.
24. Spring training baseball stadium proposed for Palm Beach Gardens
Word came out mid-year that the Houston Astros and Toronto Blue Jays secretly had been searching Palm Beach County for a site for a $100 million stadium and spring training complex. They had selected a 117-acre tract set aside for parkland in Palm Beach Gardens. Residents near the wooded, county- and city-owned site off Central Boulevard said the complex would bring noise and traffic to their neighborhoods and endanger children at two schools along its approach road. They pledged to oust city council members who supported the project. With elections less than three months off, on Dec. 19 the city manager urged the county to see if it could find better sites elsewhere. But since the city didn’t rule out the Gardens site, council member Joe Russo said he’d call for a definitive vote Jan. 9 to put the matter to rest. An Astros official said that could force the team to consider Arizona instead.
25. Five killed in Blue Heron Boulevard crash
Two young men and three teenage girls were killed during an early morning crash April 13 on eastbound Blue Heron Boulevard near Interstate 95 in Riviera Beach. Jason Mahlung and Orane Cummings, both 22, along with , Shonteria Grimsley, 17, Christina Oliver Joseph, 17, and Makita Campbell, 14, died when their 1994 Lexus was struck by a 2008 Mercedes exiting from northbound I-95. The Mercedes driver,Jabari S. Kemp, 21, of Florida City, was arrested on multiple counts of manslaughter.
26. Missing school nurse found dead in Hendry County cane field
Kimberly Lindsey, 49, of suburban Palm Beach Gardens, was reported missing Oct. 28 when she failed to show up for work as a school nurse at Bak Middle School of the Arts. Days later, workers discovered a woman’s decapitated body in a Hendry County sugar cane field, near Clewiston. Authorities confirmed the body was Lindsey’s and identified her ex-husband, Dr. Albert Lambert, as the prime suspect. Lambert died a few days later at his sister’s home in Miami of an apparent drug overdose.
27. West Palm mother kills daughter, self
Pamela Brooks, 48, and her 10-year-old daughter, Alexandra were found stabbed to death in their West Palm Beach home late on Sept. 12. Police later said that Brooks killed Alexandra and then took her own life. It was one of seven murder-suicide cases countywide in 2013.
28. Officer-related shootings include seven fatalities
After nine people were killed by law enforcement officers in Palm Beach County in 2012, the violent confrontations continued into 2013. In all, 15 officer-involved shootings occurred in 2013, seven of them fatal.
29. Driver charged in crash that killed toddler had six DUIs
Three-year-old Priscila Perez-Gaspar was walking near her home in suburban Lake Worth with her baby-sitter on the evening of Sept. 23 when she was struck and killed by a pickup truck. The driver, Steven W. Barnes of Lake Worth, was later charged with vehicular homicide and driving with a revoked license. Barnes. 57, previously had his license revoked and had been arrested six times on drunken driving charges between 1979 and 1999, according to law enforcement records.
30. Illegal immigrants coming ashore
Authorities reported numerous incidents of illegal immigrants attempting to come ashore along coastal Palm Beach County. In August, a 14-year-old girl was found dead on the beach in Palm Beach. It was believed the girl was part of an attempt to smuggle Haitian immigrants into the country. Nine others were taken into custody. Two months later, nine more Haitian citizens were taken into custody after they illegally attempted to come ashore in Palm Beach, town police said.
31. Dreyfoos custodians found shot to death at the school
School of the Arts custodians Christopher Marshall and Ted Orama were found shot to death at the school on June 19. A third custodian, Javier Burgos, wanted in connection with the shootings, has not been found. West Palm Beach police detectives found more than a dozen guns, along with ammunition, in his home.