Two RPB Officials Return To Council Seats Unopposed

Royal Palm Beach Vice Mayor Jeff Hmara and Councilman Richard Valuntas each got another two years in office having drawn no opponents when filing closed Tuesday.

Hmara returns for a second term in Seat 1, while Valuntas is beginning his third term in Seat 3.

Mayor Matty Mattioli, meanwhile, will face three challengers on March 11: businesswoman Laurel Bennett, community activist and Royal Palm Beach Planning & Zoning Commission Alternate Felicia Matula and former Royal Palm Beach Councilwoman Martha Webster.

Hmara, who won a three-way race to claim an open seat in 2012, said he perceives having no challengers to mean he has the community’s general approval.

“I’ll take that as kind of a vote of confidence that I seem to be doing the right thing for the most part,” Hmara said. “I think that’s an indication to encourage me to keep doing what I’m doing. There’s plenty to be done out there, that’s for sure.”

Hmara believes he has accomplished something on each of the issues he promised voters two years ago.

“When I look back at some of those things, like compatible development in the area, transparency of government, education and veterans’ activities, I can see that I’ve actually done something in each of those areas, but there is much to be done,” he said.

Hmara looks back at the redesignation of the land use for the village’s old wastewater treatment plant site from utility to single-family residences as one of the most significant accomplishments of the past two years.

It was an issue that brought much strife among council members and residents for years, but has now been resolved. “However, we have many more decisions to be made when we get to the site plan stage before it actually manifests itself into something that we think is the right mix of the right kind of homes with the right amount of green space,” he said.

Other issues coming up include a 35-acre mixed residential and commercial development called Park Central at Cypress Key on Southern Blvd. east of the Publix shopping center at Crestwood Blvd.

“That will be coming before us, and there will certainly be issues to be dealt with,” Hmara said.

Developer K. Hovnanian recently bought the property from the Maharaj family, which had partially developed it before the economic downturn.

“There are typical issues of the developer wanting one thing and the community is concerned about some of the ideas that the developer has,” he said.

Issues also remain to be worked through with the developers of a commercial center at the southwest corner of Pioneer Road and State Road 7, which faces objections from residents of the nearby Westwood neighborhood.

Hmara is also concerned about proposed developments outside the village, including Minto West and Highland Dunes, which he said will affect local roads.

“We have to see that things are done in a timely fashion now that we’ve lost this concurrency demand,” Hmara said. “It’s up to us now, with the county hopefully working with the surrounding communities, not to stifle growth, but see that it’s done in the right way.”

Other pressing issues include following up on the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s proposed flood maps and making sure that the State Road 7 connection to Northlake Blvd. is finished.

“I’ve worked for the federal government long enough to know that if you take your eye off an issue that might be of concern to you, thinking that it’s going well, that’s just when it reverses course on you and you wind up with a serious problem,” Hmara said.

He is also proud of the work being done by the Royal Palm Beach Education Advisory Board, to which he is the council’s liaison.

“We’ve got some good people whose instincts and backgrounds are a good match for the subject of education,” Hmara said.

Like Hmara, Valuntas believes that voters think he’s doing a good enough job not to challenge him. This is the second time in a row that he has won a new term without opposition.

“I hope people at least see the logic or reasoning behind the positions or votes that I have taken,” Valuntas said. “Hopefully it’s apparent enough to folks why I am doing what I’m doing.”

Valuntas cites a recent stand he took to repeal the village’s “blue law” prohibiting Sunday morning sales of packaged alcohol because he thought it was discriminatory.

“I’ve got no problem looking at ordinances that are on the books and seeing if they are still applicable today,” he said. “If they need to be revisited, I’ve got no problem with that.”

He believes that two huge accomplishments during his time in office were finally getting Royal Palm Beach Commons Park open and maintaining the same tax rate despite a difficult economy. “I don’t think taxes have actually gone down, but it’s a good thing to keep the tax rates steady and lend a little predictability to what people expect their tax rates to be, at least for the municipality,” he said.

Balancing the budget and paying for Commons Park maintenance, estimated at about $500,000 a year, is a big concern, he said. “It’s well-used, but it costs money to maintain it and it’s going to come from tax dollars, or whatever we can do to offset that,” Valuntas said.

He also sees getting a land-use designation that everyone seems to be comfortable with for the wastewater treatment plant site as a major accomplishment.

“In addition, one of the biggest things was getting Aldi to locate here in Royal Palm Beach,” Valuntas said. “Whenever I drive by there, I see a lot of construction and a lot of stuff going on, so that’s good and can’t get done quick enough as far as I’m concerned.”

He also wants to see the completion of the SR 7 extension to Northlake Blvd.

“I’m looking forward to what the people have apparently been looking forward to for three decades,” he said. “I know some people against it are trying to throw a monkey wrench through lobbying up in Washington and in Tallahassee, but hopefully the Florida Department of Transportation is doing its job. It’s a much-needed thing not only for the residents of Royal Palm Beach, but The Acreage and even folks up in Palm Beach Gardens and West Palm Beach.”

Valuntas is also concerned about the development of Cypress Key, which is adjacent to the Cypress Head community, where he and his family live. Opposition to the original Cypress Key plans spurred Valuntas’ early forays into Royal Palm Beach community activism.

He said the new developer is asking for changes to the previously approved plan, including more commercial and less office space, and eliminating an entrance with a traffic light at the center of the development, using existing intersections to the east and west instead. Valuntas said that would negatively affect his community.

“He apparently wants considerable changes, which we’ll see if they come to pass or not,” Valuntas said.


ABOVE: Royal Palm Beach Vice Mayor Jeff Hmara.