Video: Before he set car afire, Ellington breached City Hall security

A police officer tries to talk Douglas Ellington into leaving city hall (Videocommission chambers.

(Video by Tony Doris)

Douglas Ellington, the former sewage plant worker whom city officials say drove onto the property Monday and set his car on fire, is well known at City Hall, where officials already had stepped up security in light of his bursts through the metal detectors and an escalating email-writing campaign.

(On Tuesday, Ellington appeared before a judge and was ordered to have a mental evaluation.)

Ellington, 52, was escorted from a city commission meeting arrested Feb. 1, after seeking redress for his firing and refusing to leave until he got it.

The incident culminating in Douglas Ellington’s removal brought the meeting to a halt for about 10 minutes and led the mayor and two commissioners to leave the dais as it unfolded. After trying to persuade him to leave the auditorium and discuss his concerns in the hall, two West Palm Beach police officers secured his hands behind his back and walked him out.

That was his third trespassing arrest at City Hall in the space of a year.

Ellington being placed under arrest prior to being escorted from City Hall on Feb. 1. (TONY DORIS / The Palm Beach Post)

Prior to Monday, when another city commission meeting was scheduled to take place at 5 p.m., officials already had ordered additional police protection at the entry to City Hall.

It turned out the precautions were unneeded — Ellington never made it there. Monday morning he drove past the barbed-wire-lined gates of the West Palm Beach sewage plant, got out of his white SUV and set it on fire Monday morning, city officials say.

Ellington watched flames spread over the car, then officials said he told an employee standing nearby that he had placed bombs at both that sewage plant and the Riviera Beach Utility District, where he also worked until being fired a few weeks ago.

Ellington’s claims ignited chaos in the two cities.

Investigators evacuated everyone from the utility district, on Blue Heron Boulevard near Old Dixie Highway, and the East Central Regional Water Reclamation Facility, on Roebuck Road near Florida’s Turnpike, and searched for a bomb.

A device was found at the sewage plant, but it “turned out to be a hoax,” said Elliot Cohen, spokesman for the city of West Palm Beach.

Ellington was arrested shortly after the car fire. No one was hurt in the incident.

The Feb. 1 incident began just after 5 p.m., when Ellington, wearing a hooded sweatshirt, rose to address the commission during the public comment section of the meeting. Ellington said he believed his grandfather was killed at the hands of the government 78 years ago and that now he had been harmed and wanted the mayor’s support, as he had no legal means of redress.

After his three allotted minutes were up, the mayor declined to respond — the mayor and commissioners as a rule don’t respond to public comment at the meetings — and repeatedly asked him to step down from the lectern.

“The time has come for somebody to redress the harm,” Ellington said. “My family has suffered irreversible financial and emotional harm because they fail to recognize the information I brought to them.”

Ellington was calm and subdued but persistent. At one point as officers approached him and asked him to leave, he lifted open the sides of his gray hoodie to show them he was unarmed.

According to Green, Ellington worked at the city’s East Coast Regional Reclamation Facility, a sewage treatment plant near Roebuck Road, and was fired four or five years ago. “The bottom line is, he didn’t want to come back. We were having a disciplinary hearing but he didn’t want to come to it. He got bad legal advice. … He was terminated because he wouldn’t come back to his job. …

“He wants us to do something about it. We’ve met with him quite a few times. We’ve explained it to him.”

Mayor Jeri Muoio, expressing concern that Ellington might be released pending trial, said Monday afternoon that security again has been stepped up. She declined to provide details.

“It’s a sad situation,” the mayor said. “He’s a disturbed person.”

New rail crossing considered to help rush hour traffic cut through downtown

Driving downtown on Okeechobee Boulevard, or trying to.

West Palm officials hearing an earful about traffic tie-ups don’t have all the answers. But they are looking at one option that might ease rush hour congestion for commuters.

They’re asking the Florida Department of Transportation to consider adding a crossing to the Tri-Rail tracks off Australian Ave.

Right now, a lot of morning commuters take Okeechobee Boulevard to northbound Australian Avenue and then turn east on Banyan Boulevard to get downtown. But Banyan has become quite a bottleneck.

Rendering of the planned Transit-Oriented Development, known as the T-O-D. The contemplated crossing would be on the far left, cutting through from Australian Boulevard to Fern Street.

So the thinking is to add a crossing south of Banyan and the huge Transit-Oriented Development that’s being developed. That way, many commuters could turn off Australian and cross the tracks at Fern Street, without having to go all the way to Banyan.

Not a panacea for downtown traffic woes but it could provide relief, officials say — much needed at a time when a trainload of development is on the way downtown.

“Micro” apartments proposed for downtown

Greene Banyan
Developer Jeff Greene’s latest downtown project: 400 “micro units” planned for the corner of Banyan Boulevard and Rosemary Avenue.

With downtown coming to life these days, people in their 20’s want to live there but have a tough time affording rents that range past $1,800 a month for a typical 1,100-square-foot, one-bedroom apartment.

Jeff Greene says he has an answer for that.

The developer this week submitted plans for a 12-story apartment building at the corner of Banyan and Rosemary, that consists of “micro units.”

At about 450 square feet, the apartments will be less than half the size of a typical downtown one-bedroom — but at about half the rent. Greene says he plans to stuff the building with amenities to make up for the size of the units, such as common areas where renters can drink espresso and hang out.

He bought the 1.25-acre site, at 550 Banyan Blvd., in June 2014 for $3,477,500. It’s across the street from the police department, a block or so from Clematis Street, the train station, city hall and the courthouses and a few blocks from City Place.

Real estate investor Jeff Greene at the abandoned Sail Club on Executive Center Drive in West Palm Beach where Greene talked about his plans for the property Thursday, February 11, 2016. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)
Real estate developer Jeff Greene.

The building will house 400 apartments, with full kitchens and washer-dryers. Rents: roughly $995 to $1,200.

It’s being designed by Arquitectonica, the Miami firm that’s also designing the 30-story, two-tower office and hotel/condo

project he’s starting at 550 Quadrille Blvd., called One West Palm.

The micro units are not just for 20-somethings, he says. They could serve as inexpensive crash pads for attorneys or other professionals from Miami, for instance, who come to West Palm once in a while and want to be walking distance from everything. “It’s a cool pied a terre idea.”

“It’s meant to be luxury living but with smaller individual living spaces and great common areas,” he says. “It’s a trade-off.”