Boca Raton City Council Elections Loom August 28th

 TOWER 155 RISES ALONG (AND ON) SE MIZNER BOULEVARD IN DOWNTOWN BOCA

TOWER 155 RISES ALONG (AND ON) SE MIZNER BOULEVARD IN DOWNTOWN BOCA

Boca Raton is at a crossroads.

As a recent vote in our City Council so dramatically illustrated, our elected officials were split 2-2 between the desires of developers and the wishes of local residents. At issue was whether to grant a zoning variance so that the developer of Tower 155 could use a vacant lot on SE Mizner Boulevard as a “staging area” to facilitate construction. SE Mizner Boulevard is a neighborhood, and neighbors objected vociferously to the creation of another construction site near their residences. Council Members Singer and Rogers sided with the developer; Council Members O’Rourke and Mayotte with the opposition. The proposed variance failed on a tie vote—a victory for the residents on SE Mizner.

Tower 155 is a twelve-story, two-acre building that an earlier Council vote allowed to be built on a 1.2 acre parcel. It may be the Taj Mahal (and priced accordingly), but it’s the Taj Mahal on a postage stamp. Just look at how it rises like a concrete and glass wall right next to the sidewalks on either side. The developer doesn’t even have enough room to maneuver his construction equipment without shutting off lanes of both SE Mizner and East Boca Raton Road. The existing alley between Tower 155 and the Post Office is now wide enough for little more than bowling. Don’t believe me? Take a walk or ride over there and see for yourself. The first thing you will ask is “Who approved this?”

The answer is Councilmen Singer, Weinroth, and Mullaugh on a 3-2 vote. Councilmen Weinroth and Mullaugh are no longer on the City Council—although Weinroth is running for Palm Beach County Commissioner this November. Scott Singer became Mayor of Boca following Mayor Haynie’s removal, and is currently running for election to a full term.

Councilman Singer’s elevation to Mayor created two Council seats to be filled on August 28th. The occupants of those two seats will determine the future direction of our City Council—and of our City. Three candidates are running for Mayor. Scott Singer and BocaWatch founder Al Zucaro are the two frontrunners. Running for Singer’s old seat (Seat A) are Andy Thomson, who has the endorsement of the Chamber and a lot of developers, and local activists Tamara McKee and Kathy Cottrell. BocaBeautiful.org is taking a close look at the positions and voting records of all the candidates and will be deciding about endorsements in the next few weeks. We think that Boca’s City Government needs a change of vision and direction. We are looking for the best people to deliver that change.

Make sure you are registered to vote

The election date was chosen because it is the day that Palm Beach County holds primary elections for the November ballot. It is ironic that such an important vote on Boca’s future will take place at a time when many residents are out of town. You can thank ex-Mayor Haynie’s legal difficulties for that. If you want to have a voice in Boca’s future it is important that you make sure you are registered to vote. You can find out by making a simple phone call to the Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections office in Delray: 561-276-1226 or in West Palm Beach: 561-656-6200. They will tell you. The deadline for registration for the primary is July 30th.

What to do if you are registered but out of town & how to get an absentee ballot?

Once registered, if you are not going to be in Boca on August 28th or for the early voting August 18–25, you can request an absentee ballot from the Supervisor of Elections office. The easiest way is online at www.pbcelections.org. Just click on “vote by mail” and follow the instructions. If you don’t have a computer but have a car, take a leisurely drive up Congress to 345 S. Congress Ave, Room 103, in south Delray Beach and the friendly staff behind the counter will take good care of you. No fuss, no muss, no waiting. Absentee ballots will be mailed to you after July 24th at the address you provide. Be sure to mail it back well before August 28th so your vote will be counted. You can also call one of the phone numbers above and request a vote by mail application that, once you receive it, you can mail back and get your absentee ballot mailed to your non-Boca address.

On August 28th we will know which way Boca’s future lies. With a resident-friendly majority on our City Council and some fresh faces in City Government that future can be a lot brighter. The stakes on August 28th couldn’t be higher. Wherever you are, be sure to vote.

John C. Gore
President
BocaBeautiful.org

An open letter to Boca Raton's City Council

Last August, after a lengthy battle, the developer of the mammoth Mizner 200 project in downtown Boca, agreed to significant design concessions. Major sight lines were included, as was a green space border between the building (now called The Monarch) and its southernmost neighbor Townsend Place. There were also significant steps to make the enormous building more “Mizneresque.”

As a result of these concessions, Elad’s major opponents BocaBeautiful.org, Townsend Place and Investments Limited urged the CRA to approve the project. This the CRA did by a vote of 5-0.

ELAD’S CONCESSIONS WERE KEY TO THE OUTCOME OF THIS VOTE. WITHOUT THEM, THE PROJECT MOST LIKELY WOULD NOT HAVE BEEN APPROVED.

 A rendering of the planned luxury condominium complex at at 200 Southeast Mizner Boulevard, formerly known as Mizner 200 but re-branded The Monarch Boca Raton. Demolition began to make way for the project in January.  (© Palm Beach Post)

A rendering of the planned luxury condominium complex at at 200 Southeast Mizner Boulevard, formerly known as Mizner 200 but re-branded The Monarch Boca Raton. Demolition began to make way for the project in January. (© Palm Beach Post)

Now we learn that Elad is coming to City staff and eventually to you, asking for important changes to the deal. First, they want an amendment to Ordinance 4035 governing how the height of a building is measured. The purpose of this amendment is simple: it would allow them to increase the total square footage of the already massive structure. What happened to all those promises that the building was fully compatible with the metric requirements of 4035?  Maybe it was, but now Elad wants those requirements changed.

More importantly, Mizner 200 (now The Monarch) was presented approved as a single building.  All of the design elements and amenities such as open space, were geared to that compromise single building design. Now Elad is asking City staff and eventually you for permission to build the building in “stages,” i.e. to build a stand-alone building (the “North Tower”) first and the rest of the structure at a later date—if ever. What they are really asking for is permission to build a stand-alone building which looks remarkably like the unremarkable Mark, see how it sells, and then decide what to do with the rest of the property later.

IF THEY WANT TO BUILD TODAY’S VERSION OF THE MARK, THEY SHOULD HAVE ASKED TO DO SO BACK IN AUGUST. THIS IS NOT WHAT THE CRA APPROVED.

IF THEY WANT TO BUILD A TOTALLY DIFFERENT PROJECT, THEY SHOULD START THE APPROVAL PROCESS—AND NEGOTIATIONS WITH THEIR NEIGHBORS—ANEW.

Elad is not demonstrating good faith. They are changing much more than just the name of the building. They are not keeping their promises to their neighbors or to the CRA. 

We urge you to reject their appeals for changes to their August agreement.  Build what we agreed to and the CRA approved or reapply. Your decision on this will be a clear indication whether politics in Boca have indeed changed for the better.

The Board of Directors
BocaBeautiful.org

A common sense approach to Boca's downtown parking problems

As Boca has grown, so has frustration over traffic and parking. The problem with traffic is that we have too many cars on too few streets. The problem with parking has always been ascribed to the “fact” that too many cars are looking for too few spaces.

Boca-Raton-parking-solutions.jpg

There may not be much than can be done about traffic, other than building fewer buildings that attract cars. But a closer examination of the parking situation in Downtown Boca tells a different story. In fact, a significant amount of parking spaces in Downtown Boca sit empty every day and night, due to Boca’s antiquated development laws and red tape at City Hall.

That’s right. Kimley-Horn, the City’s outside traffic engineers just did a study of five parking garages and a number of surface lots in the Downtown. Regarding that limited study, we are advised that Kimley-Horn found 400 empty parking spaces at 7 PM on a Friday. 

We estimate that there are over 1,500 empty parking spaces in all the parking garages and surface lots in the Downtown. Especially in those new concrete buildings/garages that have been rushed to completion over the past few years. And there are many more empty parking spaces to come with the current building binge.  

Why the surplus? The simple answer is that all of our shiny new buildings are far from full.  They are not renting or selling as their developers had hoped. As a result, their five and six story parking garages sit empty while residents and business customers search in vain for a place on the street or for an expensive valet service.

Another factor is that the City’s required parking ratios assume the peak use of the property, which is often not the case. City Code does not allow the owner of a Downtown parking garage or surface lot to make his empty parking spaces available to the general public or another Downtown property owner in need of parking. This has resulted in unintended consequences.

But imagine this: You are going out to dinner at your favorite restaurant Downtown, or shopping, or you are going to an event in the Downtown. Rather than circling endlessly for a parking space, you pull into the nearest parking garage or surface lot, pay the attendant a nominal charge and are directed to a convenient parking space. 

There must be a way to make this happen. One solution might be a simple amendment to Ordinance No. 4035. The amendment must first allow the Downtown garage and surface lot owners to make their empty spaces available to the general public. Second, the amendment must establish a thorough but quick approval process. No need for the CRA to become involved in each application. The amendment should set forth the standards and let the CRA Executive Director grant the approvals.

The CRA is scheduled to hear the Kimley-Horn Report on Downtown Garages at its April 23 Meeting. It would appear that there are a very large number of Downtown parking spaces that could be made available to the public. The CRA should be able to find a way to make that happen. It would be a nice win-win for Downtown Boca.

It seems like this is a problem in search of a common sense solution.

John C. Gore
President
BocaBeautiful.org

A disappointing public meeting on closing Boca's Downtown Post Office

 Is this to be our new Boca raton post office?

Is this to be our new Boca raton post office?

The US Postal Service held its perfunctory meeting on the possible closing of Boca’s only downtown Post Office on March 29th. As expected, an overflow crowd of very unhappy residents showed up—despite the fact that the public session was scheduled at 4:30 in the afternoon on the eve of Passover and Easter.

Mr. Damian Salazar, a “real estate specialist” from USPS’ Dallas office conducted the meeting.  He has obviously done this before. He explained 1) that the current situation is the result of the Post Office losing its lease; 2) that USPS would really like to relocate to a smaller, more efficient location somewhere “nearby”; 3) that there is a legal process which is triggered by this public meeting, followed by 30 days for comment and then a “decision”; 4) USPS has identified some alternative sites, but is nowhere close to choosing any one of them, if they choose any at all.  He offered a vague pledge to keep the current location operating “until a suitable alternative can be found and provided we have a lease,” but then admitted that the decision was not his to make.

Mr. Salazar then took “questions” from the floor.  His scattershot approach to receiving citizen input further exacerbated the frustration of those present. However, amidst the somewhat chaotic outrage, a few important facts emerged:

SUN SENTINEL AD TO HELP SAVE BOCA's DOWNTOWN POST OFFICE

  1. The USPS does have a four-year lease on the property. It was signed by the landlord seven months ago and has been sitting on somebody’s desk at USPS ever since. It is a four-year extension, but the landlord was never advised that USPS was looking for a ten-year lease as Mr. Salazar claimed. The landlord, who was at the meeting, expressed a willingness to negotiate a 10-year lease and he even offered to work with USPS to help them relocate to another of his properties once they sign the lease. This was above Mr. Salazar’s pay grade, but he promised to pass along the offer.
  2. After today’s public meeting, the public has 30 days to send comments in writing (hard copy) to Mr. Damian Salazar, 7800 N. Stemmons Fwy., Suite 400, Dallas, TX 75247-4220. Only hard copies by mail will do. Apparently the USPS needs the business. It is very important that each and every one of us who cares about our downtown post office write to Mr. Salazar. It can be short and sour, it just has to be in writing. They will be counting the number of letters they receive.
  3. At the end of the 30-days, a “decision” on the future of Boca’s downtown post office will be made. Mr. Salazar had to admit that a possible decision might be to close the post office, “although that is not what we want to do.”
  4. The lease issue was not Mr. Salazar’s only credibility problem. The USPS maintains a public list of sites that are being considered for closure. Boca’s downtown post office has been on that list for many years. In fact, the Mayor and city officials were successful in their attempt to keep the post office open several years ago. To say this has all come about because their lease is up in July is a bit disingenuous… maybe as disingenuous as them claiming that this is all about relocation.
  5. The good news is that today’s public meeting was very well attended, with an overflow crowd at the Community Center Annex. The attendees were quick to register their anger. The bad news is that such a reaction was expected and did not change any USPS minds at the meeting. But maybe that doesn’t matter because we were repeatedly told that they were not the decision makers.

The bottom line: today’s meeting was just the opening gambit in the procedural game that’s about to unfold. Boca’s downtown post office is clearly at risk. A decision to close could come as early as May.

What should we be doing about it? 

  1. First, send a letter to Mr. Salazar expressing your outrage at the possible closure and the process. If they are seriously considering alternative sites, why aren’t we holding public meetings about THAT? 
  2. Second, urge USPS to work with the current landlord to find a compromise that will keep our 2nd Street station open. 
  3. Third, send a copy of your letter to Boca’s Congressman Ted Deutch, US House of Representatives, Washington DC. And a copy to each of our US Senators: Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio, at the US Senate, Washington, DC. Do this within the next two weeks! Do it today!

The fate of Boca’s downtown post office will ultimately be decided in Washington. If we are to influence that process, we must show that we are united and determined to keep the 2nd Street station open. Boca’s City Council has already passed a non-binding resolution to that effect; we have shown up in force to express our displeasure; organizations such as BocaBeautiful and BocaWatch will be contributing to the lobbying effort in Washington. We will be pushing for a large letter writing campaign in the weeks ahead to bolster our case.

Thanks to those who attended the CRA meeting on Monday and today’s pro forma session with the US Postal Service bureaucrats. Attending these things is about as much fun as a root canal, but your participation is key to our ability to influence the outcome.

Status Report on Mizner 200—Now called "The Monarch"

There have been significant developments since the City Council gave preliminary approval last August to Elad for construction of a more neighbor-friendly building on SE Mizner Boulevard, next door to Royal Palm Plaza and Townsend Place. It is still three blocks long and 100+ feet high, but the developer agreed to important set backs, green spaces and design improvements. 

Elad, the developer, is now asking the City for major changes which effectively abrogate the deal it made with Investments Limited, BocaBeautiful.org and Townsend Place.  

We have seen this play before: a developer wins approval of a project based on detailed drawings only to come back and ask for significant changes once preliminary approval has been granted. This is how Tower 155 (just up the street at Palmetto) managed to put a 2-acre project on just 1.5 acres. It’s so close to the property line, they can’t even build it without closing off adjacent streets and our Post Office.

Elad is now asking that Boca’s basic downtown construction ordinance, Ordinance 4035, be amended to allow it to build the building higher. More importantly, it is asking to be allowed to build the building in STAGES.

Why is this important to Boca Raton residents?  

First, Elad swore up and down that its project was in full compliance with the metric requirements of Ordinance 4035. Now it wants to change the law to allow measurement of the height of the building from the highest point on the property and special treatment for its rooftop pool “and amenities.” Why didn’t they ask for this back in August when we thought we had a deal?

Second, by asking to build the building in stages, Elad is effectively proposing an entirely new project. They want to build only the north portion of the building first, leaving the now semi-derelict Mizner On The Green townhouses in place until enough Monarch units have been sold to finance the rest of the building. The catch here is that most of the public amenities we demanded for the project are located on the southernportion of the property, the portion that borders Townsend Place. So they get to build a building which looks a lot like The Mark, and the neighbors get nothing—not even a guarantee that Elad will complete the Monarch as originally approved.

This is bait-and-switch Boca style. Why the change of strategy by Elad? Either they were lying to us all along, and/or they are getting cold feet about the economic viability of their massive project.  

We all know they overpaid for the land when they bought Mizner On The Green before the 2008 crash. They have been trying to recoup their investment ever since, starting with their proposal for two 30+ story high rises on the property. Now comes the staged construction gambit, where they get to build part of a building and we get left with the mess if things don’t work out financially. If Elad wants to build something different than what was approved by the CRA last August, they should start the approval process all over again.

As a concerned Boca Raton resident, what can you do about all this? 

First, you should send  a strong letter to the City Council opposing Elad’s proposed changes. You should communicate your personal opposition directly to Council Members:  

Second, you can send a contribution to BocaBeautiful.org to help us carry on the fight.
There are two ways to do this:

  1. On line at www.bocabeautiful.org/donations/ or
  2. By mail to BocaBeautiful
    233 S. Federal Highway, Apt. 721
    Boca Raton, FL 33432

Our financial resources are limited, especially compared to the money that Elad is spending to get its way.

BocaBeautiful.org has two missions in 2018: to save our downtown post office from closing and to prevent the construction of something truly ugly on SE Mizner Boulevard. We need your help to accomplish both.

The Mission of Bocabeautiful.org for 2018

Infrastructure should not be an afterthought. You don’t need a degree in urban planning or a million dollar traffic study to know that the roads in our City of Boca Raton are overcrowded. Or that our parking facilities are overcrowded. Or that our schools are overcrowded, and that our hospitals are next.

What now? The urbanization of our once quiet residential village by the sea is well underway. Just look around, or try and drive around Boca. The mammoth development projects approved by our City Council in the past eight years have altered our lifestyles as much as our skyline. And if developers have their way, there is much more to come—uptown, downtown, and midtown.

Those who care about Boca’s future clearly need a better game plan for 2018. The key word here is “plan.” We need to ensure that additional development in our city is conditioned on adequate infrastructure being in place: roads, parking, schools, hospitals, water treatment, and emergency services.

You don’t need a degree in urban planning or a million dollar traffic study to know that our roads are overcrowded. Or that our parking facilities are overcrowded. Or that our schools are overcrowded, and that our hospitals are next. All that additional concrete means that our streets and garages flood more frequently. We have built and built, and more and more people are coming. It won’t be long until our emergency services will struggle to cope with Boca’s population boom. We’ll need more police, more firefighters, more fire houses—just like right now we need more teachers and classrooms.

And still there is NO PLAN for coping with all this. Infrastructure should not be an afterthought, it should be an integral part of City Council decision-making regarding development. If we allow this to be built, are we certain that it will not put further stress on our resources and our residents?

So that is the first plank in BocaBeautiful’s 2018 platform: Produce a comprehensive city-wide development plan for Boca Raton before approving any more major development projects. Back in the 1990s, the last time we tried this, it involved a dialogue with the public, the employ of an outside urban planning consultant, traffic engineers, and city government staff who were responsive to the suggestions of the citizenry. After the mistakes of the last eight years, it is critical that the development of any comprehensive city-wide development plan for Boca be an open and inclusive process. And it must focus on infrastructure, as well as density and design elements. We should think about rewriting Ordinance 4035 and making it apply city-wide; we should also think about incorporating elements from the 2010 Downtown Pattern Book into law.

BocaBeautiful’s second objective for 2018 is to find a more creative way to make developers part of the solution to our City’s problems. For openers, the City Council and Community Redevelopment Agency should demand proof that developers have sought the approval of those in the neighborhood of any multi-story, multi-unit construction project. There needs to be good faith negotiation before a project goes before the CAB, P&Z and the CRA for consideration. Even better would be for the City Council to pass an Ordinance requiring a Community Impact Statement prior to approval of major development projects in Boca Raton. Such an assessment would be required from any major project developer seeking City Council approval and would include impact on traffic, parking, core infrastructure capacity, demands on city services, schools, etc. The developer could also include benefits such as jobs, increased tax revenues, scenic enhancement, etc. Most importantly, the developer’s creative team could provide suggestions as to how they or the City might address any quality of life concerns raised by the assessment. Why not get developers involved in helping solve the problems they create?

The developer’s Community Assessment would be reviewed by City staff, outside consultants and the City Council itself as part of the CAB, P&Z, CRA and City Council approval process for new development proposals. The residents of Boca Raton could weigh in with their comments and suggestions. It might mean additional work (and creativity) for the developer, but it would address the concerns of residents and save the City and its taxpayers money in the long run. It could also save a developer time and money by addressing concerns before a project faces a contentious up-or-down vote in the CRA or Council or a disputed development ends up in court. If done honestly and in good faith, such a process could result in a more beautiful and livable Boca Raton. It could help dig us out of the high-rise hole in which we find ourselves.

BocaBeautiful’s final objective for 2018 is to work to elect a more resident-friendly City Council. While we are not a PAC and do not make political contributions or sponsor campaign ads, BocaBeautiful can provide Boca residents information on which candidates up for election in March of 2018 share our views about Boca’s future. Our Mayor, contrary to what she said during the campaign last spring, has decided to run for Palm Beach County Commissioner. Councilman Scott Singer is anxious to take her place. Jeremy Rodgers, who has a mixed record on development issues, is up for reelection. Robert Weinroth, who is the most unabashed supporter of development on the Council, is facing opposition for the first time as he seeks reelection. The bottom line: big changes could be coming to City Hall and these could be good news for Boca’s future.

This is both a positive and an ambitious agenda. As always, it is contingent on the financial support of those who care as much about Boca’s future as we do. Give us that support and we will put it to work for a better Boca.

John C. Gore
President
BocaBeautiful.org

 

Boca Raton Development Updates

We need your donations. The future of Boca is in your hands!

Dear supporter of Bocabeautiful.org,
As we begin our 2018 campaign, our coffers are in dire need of replentishment. Over the past three years, we have raised and spent over $135,000 in our efforts to block ugly new buildings in Boca Raton and to educate our city council. We have made progress, but as you will see below, there is much more to be done. Please support our efforts with your generous contribution:

CREDIT CARD
Credit card contribution right here at Bocabeautiful.org 

CHECK PAYABLE TO:
Bocabeautiful.org
Mail to J.C. Gore
233 S. Federal Highway,
Apartment 721.
Boca Raton, FL 33432. 

The future of Bocabeautiful.org and of Boca Raton is in your hands. Without your financial support we could not do what we do. Thank you so much!

Snowbirds returning to our fair city are in for some surprises—some good and some not so good. 

The first should come as no surprise to anyone: traffic is terrible in Boca and getting worse.  Most “urban centers” have rush hours; most major cities like New York have horrible traffic jams to and from their beaches; most have parking problems. Welcome to the developers’ urban vision for Boca Raton. Welcome to what happens when you build buildings without considering the infrastructure necessary to support such rapid development. 

We have seen plenty of development over the last eight years, but no credible studies on the impact of that development.  As they approved project after project, often with many variances, City Council officials were content to rely on 30-year old planning assumptions. Only now are they scrambling to address Boca’s traffic mess, proposing things like a $48 million dollar one way system for Federal and Dixie Highways, or $ millions for “mass transit” that most people will find less convenient than their cars.

You may feel relieved not to see, like in winters past, multiple new concrete blocks darkening Boca’s skyline, other than Tower 155 (a very large building slowly rising on a very small parcel of land) and 327 Royal Palm Way, nine stories of concrete and glass (mostly concrete) which will cannibalize the views of residents in the recently-constructed Promenade building on Palmetto. But the construction respite will be short-lived. Demolition will soon begin for Via Mizner Phases II and III that will result in two more mammoth structures along Federal Highway between Camino and SE Mizner. Just look at the (mostly vacant) concrete block at the corner of Camino and Federal and multiply that times three. In August the City Council gave preliminary approval to the three-block long Mizner 200 project. The good news here is that 1) the developer agreed to significant design modifications and 2) they appear in no rush to build the thing. 

But what is really surprising is the number of major development projects still in the planning stage. If all of these are completed, they will transform the nature of our entire city. 

Here’s what’s in the Boca Raton “progress” pipeline:

  1. A new midtown “urban village” near Boca’s Town Center Mall, with up to 2500 new apartments, restaurants and shops. Traffic would be reduced by providing parking for only 1000 cars. Really?
  2. The complete redevelopment of the historic Royal Palm Place shopping plaza (home of the Saturday farmers’ market) with four 14-story apartment buildings, townhomes, retail space and new parking facilities.  Planning permission is currently being sought to build two of the towers.
  3. Three nine-story condos at 475 E. Royal Palm, overlooking East Palmetto Park Road and the Boca Resort golf course.
  4. A nine-story assisted living facility at 375 E. Royal Palm, between 327 (currently under construction) and the proposed 475 Royal Palm condos.
  5. A seven-story condo on the corner of Palmetto and A1A (already approved).
  6. A nine-story 50,000 square foot office building at 26 SE 3rd Street, just off Federal.
  7. Camino Square residential and retail on the old Winn Dixie site at 171 W. Camino: two eight-story apartment buildings plus 35,000 sq. feet of commercial development on nine acres, with no road improvements planned.
  8. Ongoing development in NW Boca.
  9. Redevelopment of the NW 20th Street corridor.
  10. University Village, a proposed development off of Spanish River Road with a single entry and exit point.

And who knows how many more projects are percolating in the developers’ fertile minds? Just look around. There are plenty of single story properties in Boca that are potential targets for redevelopment. 

Boca’s urban cheerleaders tout these projects as representing progress, a booming economy and the inherent attractiveness of our City. But these proposed developments should raise red flags, for the simple reason that they ignore the demands they will put on our roads; our emergency services; our water, sewer and storm drain capacity; and our schools. 

You don’t have to be Malthus to understand that if you increase the population of Boca Raton by thousands of residents, you will be placing demands on our infrastructure.  We will need better roads, more fire stations, increased emergency services, better healthcare facilities, better storm drainage, and enhanced water treatment facilities. We already need to do something about Boca’s overcrowded schools.  We will need to be better prepared for natural disasters such as Hurricane Irma. And we will need to find affordable housing for our new policemen, firemen, healthcare providers, service industry employees, schoolteachers, etc.  Where will they live? In Pompano?

Putting it kindly, the building boom in Boca of the past eight years is the result of an arrogant and myopic attitude on the part of our elected officials:  “Build it, they will come, and we will address any adverse consequences later.”  

Why not address the consequences of over-development in Boca Raton first? 

Many years ago, when our City fathers actually engaged in an attempt at urban planning and drafted Ordinance 4035, specific infrastructure improvements (nine pages of them) were required before downtown development could proceed.  While the speed and scope of development in Boca may no longer make such a proscriptive process feasible, there are other ways to insure that infrastructure concerns are a prerequisite to any development decisions. 

The simplest—and most obvious—would be to impose a moratorium on major new development projects until the City has certified that our infrastructure is adequate to handle the impact to our community. The politics of Boca is changing, but it has not changed enough to support an approach that the developers and their lawyers would consider draconian.  We may get to that point, but not yet.

A more practical solution would be a better consultation process prior to the approval of any major new development project. 

The 1969 Federal Environmental Policy Act is a good example.  It requires the preparation of a comprehensive environmental impact statement prior to the initiation of any major project requiring Federal government approval.  How about a Community Impact Statement prior to approval of major development projects in Boca Raton? Such an assessment could be required from any developer seeking City Council approval and would include impact on traffic, parking, core infrastructure capacity, demands on city services, schools, etc. The developer could also include benefits such as jobs, increased tax revenues, scenic enhancement, etc. Most importantly, the developer’s creative team could provide suggestions as to how they or the City might address any quality of life concerns raised by the assessment. Why not get developers involved in helping solve the problems they create? 

The developer’s Community Assessment would be reviewed by City staff, outside consultants and the City Council itself as part of the CAB, P&Z, CRA and City Council approval process for new development proposals. The residents of Boca Raton could weigh in with their comments and suggestions. While not necessarily putting the cart before the horse (as in Ordinance 4035) such a process would at least force the consideration of the cart and the horse contemporaneously.  It might mean additional work (and creativity) for the developer, but it would address the concerns of residents and save the City and its taxpayers money in the long run. It could also save a developer time and money by addressing concerns before a project faces a contentious up-or-down vote in the CRA or Council. If done honestly and in good faith, such a process could result in a more beautiful and livable Boca Raton. It could help dig us out of the high-rise hole in which we find ourselves.

Now that would be progress.

John C. Gore
President
Boca Beautiful.org

Taming the Monster on Mizner

While most of you were away…

Under pressure from Boca Raton’s City Council/Community Redevelopment Agency and from advocacy groups such as BocaBeautiful.org and Boca Watch, the developer of the mammoth Mizner 200 project in downtown Boca agreed to correct the design and reduce the visual impact of the building. The corrections are intended to bring Mizner 200 into compliance with Ordinance No. 4035 and to address many, but not all, of the concerns of the building’s neighbors. The corrected Mizner 200 will remain the biggest building in downtown Boca. But the corrected Mizner 200 will have greater separation from the buildings next door, a more “Mizneresque” design, and a variable roof line that will offer vistas and views where there once was only steel and concrete.

At the August Community Redevelopment Agency Meeting, the developer’s corrections were met with cautionary approval from the project’s two major neighbors: Investments Limited, which owns the Royal Palm Plaza, and the Townsend Place Condominium. Their approval was conditioned on the developer actually following through on what has been promised. Too many times in the past we have seen developers promise one thing (look at the pretty pictures) and then deliver something else. Not this time. We will be watching carefully.

The approval saga of Mizner 200 offers several important lessons for future development projects in Boca:

The first is that it is far better to inform, work with, and win the approval of your neighbors before approaching Boca’s City Council/Community Redevelopment Agency for approval. The developer of Mizner 200 tried to ram through a flawed design that did not even comply with the basics of Ordinance No. 4035 and wasted a staggering amount of everybody’s time and money.   

Only when the City Council/Community Redevelopment Agency put its foot down and refused to approve Mizner 200 as presented did the developer belatedly realize its error. The City Council/Community Redevelopment Agency has the discretionary authority to approve or disapprove the design aesthetics of downtown construction projects. 

What is or is not “Mizneresqe” is in the eyes of our elected officials. Just because the metric requirements of Ordinance No. 4035 are met does not mean the design requirements have been met. Just because the City Staff, City Boards and the City’s Urban Consultant have approved a project does not mean the City Council/Community Redevelopment Agency will.

Second, our elected officials have learned that public outrage over traffic and density in downtown Boca has become a political liability. Those running for office in March of 2018 will be measured on their willingness to disapprove projects that will only increase congestion.  Those who have looked with favor on almost every development project, no matter how egregious, will face tough opposition for the first time.

Third, we have learned that educational and advocacy efforts by non-profit groups such as BocaBeautiful.org and Boca Watch can produce salutary results. The amount of time and money invested by concerned citizens can pay quality-of-life dividends.

Fourth, the developer of Mizner 200 waged a dishonest public relations campaign, filled with gross misinformation, in local papers and blogs. The developer hired a high power litigating attorney to threaten the City with a law suit if Mizner 200 as presented was not approved.  These efforts failed in the end. One hopes that in the future, developers will not resort to these heavy-handed tactics.

Fifth, our City Staff, City Boards and Downtown Consultant (The Mellgren Planning Group) need to reflect on their enthusiastic support of Mizner 200 as originally presented. The City Council and the Community Redevelopment Agency took the needed time and extra effort to listen carefully to both sides and then apply Ordinance No. 4035 according to its clear terms.  How did the City Staff, the Community Appearance Board, the Planning and Zoning Board, and the Downtown Consultant get it so wrong?

Finally, we have seen that the battle for Boca’s future is far from over. Massive new development projects, such as for Boca’s Midtown, are on the drawing boards. Barring another recession, developers will press to cram more and more units into the new “urbanized” Boca.  The problems that the excesses of the last eight years have brought us—no places to park, terrible traffic, and concrete canyons where there used to be sunlight and sky—will only get worse.  We need to continue to fight for sensible development in Boca. We need our elected City Officials, City Staff and City Boards to follow the Code. We need to elect City Officials who will protect and improve our quality of life.

This is the mission of BocaBeautiful.org. With your continued financial support, we are confident that we can continue to be a positive force for change in Boca.

John C. Gore
President
BocaBeautiful.org

Opposition to Mizner 200 and building suggestions

Over the past few years individuals and groups have opposed the development of Mizner 200 as it has been planned. We invite you to read the analysis and opinions from two well known sources who have communicated their concerns to the City of Boca Raton and furthermore have issued basic recommendations that could be implemented in order to improve the development issues presented.

Want to see what the proposed design changes look like? Click to enlarge the corresponding drawings of design suggestions. Download the redesign drawings here (pdf).

Analysis from Jorge Camejo AICP

Download PDF Analysis from Jorge Camejo AICP >
Retired from the City of Boca Raton after 28 years, having served as Executive Director of the CRA (Community Redevelopment Agency) and Development Services Director, among other capacities, Mr Camejo provides a complete analysis of the development of Mizner 200 along with a list of recommendations and simple measures that can be taken to reduce the visual and physical impact of the proposed project. From a widening of the building separations at the center driveway, to providing additional architectural breaks along Mizner Boulevard and the south property line.

Analysis from Investments Limited by Robert A. Eisen

Download PDF Analysis from Investments Limited >
In this report Investments Limited (IL) expresses its position regarding the IDA Approval of Mizner 200, focusing on the fact that IL has consistently questioned the absence of horizontal and vertical breaks and separations in the building mass of EL-AD's Mizner 200 along Mizner Boulevard. Horizontal and vertical breaks and separations in building mass are significant Architectural Guidelines serving to harmonize and equalize the relationship of Downtown buildings especially for the few large parcels in Downtown, affording the side benefit of sharing views and vistas throughout.

The challenges faced by Boca Raton today are a symptom of the city's success. East Boca Raton has become a desirable residential market and the CRA should take appropriate measures to ensure that future projects will add value and not detract from the desirability currently enjoyed by Downtown Boca Raton.

Boca's Last Chance

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If Boca’s City Council approves the mammoth Mizner 200 project this July it is game, set and match for the over-developers.

It all comes down to this: following approvals by the Community Appearance Board and the Planning and Zoning Boards, Boca’s City Council (sitting as the Community Redevelopment Agency) will consider whether to approve the Monster on Mizner on July 24th. It will take three votes to send the project back to the drawing board for further improvements or to send a signal that “anything goes” when it comes to development in our already crowded downtown.

Here are three good reasons why the City Council should reject Mizner 200 as proposed:

  1. The building is too large for the neighborhood in which it will sit. Distinguished local architects Doug Mummaw and Derek Vander Ploeg have written a detailed treatise on this and the other design flaws of Mizner 200. It is well worth reading. As a single building of over 1 million square feet (almost 1000 feet long, 120 feet high and 400 feet deep), it is by far the largest project ever proposed for Boca’s Downtown. In contravention of Boca’s Architectural Design Guidelines, it will block the vistas and views of its neighbors. It should be broken up into three distinct buildings, as was ordered on other large sites, for example the Via Mizner property on Camino and Federal.
  2. Downtown Boca does not have the infrastructure in place to support yet another concrete monstrosity. With most of the new and approved construction in our downtown yet to be finished and occupied, traffic on the five major streets in our Downtown is already intolerable.  There is no place to drive, no place to park. Worse, there is no plan in place to correct this; only plans like Mizner 200 that will make it worse. Why not take a pause in the approval of new construction projects until you have a plan in place to deal with the impact of these projects on our quality of life? Why the rush to gridlock?
  3. Mizner 200 is more than just a big, ugly building (think of the Mark times four). It is perhaps the last chance for our City Council to take corrective action to slow the unfettered “urbanization” of our Downtown. Development is good; overdevelopment is not. New construction should be neighborhood friendly and infrastructure compatible.  Mistakes were clearly made in the development of Downtown Boca over the past 8 years.  Do not compound those errors by approving Mizner 200 as it is currently proposed. You will make a lot of unhappy voters angry, and a lot of angry voters even angrier.

IF YOU AGREE, TELL BOCA’S CITY COUNCIL MEMBERS TO VOTE AGAINST APPROVAL OF MIZNER 200 AS NOW PROPOSED. WE NEED PLANS FOR BETTER PARKING AND TRAFFIC, NOT PLANS FOR MORE CONCRETE MONSTROSITIES. 

How to make your voice heard by July 24th:

Boca Raton City Council e-mail addresses:

City Council Address for regular mail:

Name of your chosen representative
Boca Raton City Hall
201 W. Palmetto Park Road
Boca Raton, FL33432

City Personnel and Offices:

City Manager Leif Ahnell
561-393-7703      
bocacm@ci.boca-raton.fl.us     

City Attorney Diana Frieser  
561-393-7716       
dfrieser@ci.boca-raton.fl.us

City Council & Mayor’s Office   
561-393-7708

If you don't have access to email or feel like writing, just call the city council number 561-393-7708 and leave a strong message!

Download and read the architectural treatise by Derek Vander Ploeg, AIA, Douglas Mummaw, AIA, NCARB and Robert A. Eisen, JD LLM (PDF).

The pause that refreshes

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As the City of Boca grows and grows, The City Council should be asking developers, “Before you build this building, how do you suggest we handle the additional traffic it will generate?”

Dealing with traffic and parking first would actually open the path to more graceful and resident-friendly development in the future. 

Here’s a novel idea for our City Council as they contemplate their agenda for the next two years: Why not take a slight pause in approval of major new construction projects until we have a plan in place for solving Boca’s traffic and parking problems, particularly in our downtown?

Not a moratorium, but a pause, to give our city leaders a chance to put in place some creative ideas for congestion relief. A pause would also give them time to measure the impact of all of the buildings currently under construction or not fully occupied. We won’t fully realize that impact until the snowbirds return next November. The increase in traffic could be dramatic, particularly on Dixie, Federal, and Palmetto and in all those adjacent neighborhoods, as frustrated drivers look for alternative routes.

This is not only good planning, it is good politics. Why pour more gasoline on the fire when Boca residents are already unhappy about overdevelopment? Why add to the problem and approve more massive construction projects like 200 Mizner during the summer when many residents are out of town?

Developers will not like the idea of a pause—time is money, after all. But a pause to get our infrastructure right and make Boca more habitable is better than outright rejection. Dealing with traffic and parking first would actually open the path to more graceful and resident-friendly development in the future. And to make the pause as brief as possible, developers could devote their considerable resources to coming up with creative solutions to Boca’s congestion and parking problems. The City Council should be asking, “Before you build this building, how do you suggest we handle the additional traffic it will generate?” The more creative minds working on this, the better. The quicker and smarter the solutions, the better for all of us.

It’s a win-win. And it’s common sense.

Norman Waxman
Vice President
BocaBeautiful.org

Paradise Lost or Paradigm Found?

This is a tale of two developers and the future of Boca Raton. 

The first is—or was—involved in a controversial project on Boca’s barrier island. But at the request of City leaders and staff, developer Ramon Llorens agreed to work directly with nearby residents to find a project that would be acceptable to all. The result, a 70-unit condominium called Ocean Palm on the SW corner of Palmetto Park Road and A1A, stands as a model for future development in Boca.

Instead of his originally proposed ten story, 200 room hotel and 70 condominiums project, the developer has agreed to build a six story condominium-only building. There are generous setbacks on all four sides of the building, and every attempt will be made to protect adjacent neighbors from increased traffic flow. Most importantly, the revised project is compatible in style and scale to the other buildings in the neighborhood. 

As a result of the developer’s willingness to talk to affected residents first, the rancor and controversy surrounding his project has evaporated, resulting in a win-win for all involved.

Contrast this with the behavior of developer El-Ad and their proposed ten story, three block long condominium project on SE Mizner Boulevard in the heart of Boca’s “downtown,” where the low-rise Mizner on the Green is now located. 

Dubbed “the Monster on Mizner” by local residents, the 384-unit condo building, called 200 Mizner, is the largest ever attempted in the area governed by Boca’s basic development law: Ordinance 4035. It is significantly larger than the three block long Palmetto Promenade rental building that now dwarfs the north side of Palmetto Park Road between Mizner Boulevard and the Intracoastal bridge. Both in scale and style it is indeed a monster.

El-Ad has been trying to redevelop the Mizner on the Green site for over three years now. It has proposed project after project that to date have been rejected because 1) they required significant zoning variances, e.g. 30 stories instead of ten; or 2) because the proposed building failed to meet other metric or style requirements contained in Ordinance 4035.   

Why has the El-Ad Mizner Boulevard project been mired in controversy and been stalled for over three years and counting? First, because the developer is politically tone deaf. El-Ad assumed that because other developers had received all sorts of variances from Boca’s formerly compliant City Council, it would receive the same treatment. It was international and rich and powerful. But the politics of development has changed in Boca. City officials are now wary of resident backlash, should they bend Boca’s development laws to suit an individual developer or project. “My way or the highway” lobbying is actually counter-productive.

But El-Ad’s biggest mistake has been its refusal to meet with and win approval of its neighbors.  Various stakeholders such as residents of nearby condominiums, powerful landowners who have commercial interests in nearby properties such as Royal Palm Plaza, and various resident advocacy groups such as BocaBeautiful.org and BocaWatch have not been part of the process.  They have not been consulted. They have been insulted.

From day one, El-Ad has attempted to play the insider game, trying to advance its latest version of 200 Mizner at each stage of the approval process, making alterations only sufficient to win support of the group whose approval it needs. Their backchannel approach has been evident in their pleadings before the Community Appearance Board. A necessary precursor to achieve ultimate approval by the City Council, the CAB is supposed to be the arbiter of style and taste in Boca. What has been El-Ad’s strategy? To meet privately with each CAB member and receive suggestions how they might best make cosmetic changes in order to win CAB approval.   

As a result, concerned residents have to attend the CAB meetings to get a glimpse of the latest version of 200 Mizner. They then get two minutes each to comment on something which they are seeing for the first time, but which definitely affects their quality of life and property values.  Then, once El-Ad wins over the CAB, they use that approval as leverage with the next review board:  Planning and Zoning. And so on, up the chain, until the Monster on Mizner is before the City Council itself. The system is anything but resident-friendly. No wonder that overdevelopment has become such a hot political issue in Boca Raton.

The twisted tale of 200 Mizner took an interesting turn earlier this year, when BocaBeautiful.org asked the City Council to have Boca’s newly-hired downtown consultant take a look at the project.  The Council agreed, and since then the Mellgren Group has reviewed the project and on March 17th delivered a draft report to city officials that concluded that the current iteration of 200 Mizner “does not fully satisfy the design standards included in Ordinance 4035.”  It is nice to have professional confirmation of what nearby residents have been complaining about all along.

El-Ad’s response? Again, the insider game. According to pro-development reporter Randy Shultz, El-Ad has been meeting privately with the Mellgren Group in an effort to convince them that they are wrong. According to Shultz’s source at City Hall, El-Ad has enjoyed some success in its backchannel effort. It is interesting (and depressing) that the first word that any of us get of either Mellgren’s disapproval or the private efforts to reverse it comes from Shultz via some unnamed City Hall official. Certainly from El-Ad’s point of view, the headline Mizner 200 Fails, then Passes is better than Mizner 200 Fails. That’s how development politics in Boca used to work. Fix it before it stinks.   

But as the Ocean Palm project shows, there is clearly a better way to fix things. Sit down with all of the affected parties and work out a compromise.  It is a lesson that El-Ad may eventually learn, as it spends the next three years in a futile effort to build something in Boca’s downtown that almost nobody wants. 

John C. Gore
President
BocaBeautiful.org

Boca Raton Election Results

Voters in Boca clearly registered their concerns about over-development and traffic in the March 14th municipal elections, and our new City Council has promised to take notice.

Al Zucaro came within 1200 votes of defeating incumbent Mayor Haynie, despite her enormous developer-financed funding advantage, name recognition and an extremely negative attack campaign against Mr. Zucaro. But judging from her statements during and after the campaign, the Mayor got the message that all is not well in Boca. For his part, Mr. Zucaro will return to his role as civic activist as editor-in-chief of BocaWatch. This is good news for all who are concerned about Boca’s future.

BocaBeautiful’s preferred candidate, Andrea O’Rourke handily won her race, giving us a voice on the Council who will be critical of new development that is not supported by sufficient infrastructure and which violates the design criteria in Boca’s building codes. Scott Singer also handily won reelection.  During the campaign he appeared to heed the concerns of those whose neighborhoods and lives have been impacted by overdevelopment, and from those who are afraid that their neighborhoods might be next. We have hope that Mr. Singer’s experiences of the last three years will make him an advocate for more prudent development. If he continues to listen carefully to the concerns of Boca residents, he will be.

That leaves only one unabashedly pro-developer member of the City Council: Robert Weinroth. When it comes to the concerns of our residents, Mr. Weinroth is often in denial, but even he must feel the winds of change that have started to blow through City Hall.

Thanks to all of you who contributed and voted in this year’s municipal elections. It is startling to realize out of a population of 80,000, Boca’s future was decided by only 11,000 voters. It is comforting to realize that at almost half of them supported candidates endorsed by BocaBeautiful.org. We shall see if this translates into a change of direction in the management of our City. We will be working hard to ensure that it does.

John C. Gore
President
BocaBeautiful.org

Bocabeautiful.org endorses Al Zucaro for Mayor and Andrea Levin O'Rourke for City Council Seat B

 Al Zucaro, candidate for Mayor of the City of Boca Raton

Al Zucaro, candidate for Mayor of the City of Boca Raton

 Andrea Levine o'Rourke candidate for Boca City Council Seat B

Andrea Levine o'Rourke candidate for Boca City Council Seat B

Al Zucaro has been arguing strenuously for the past five years for orderly, planned development in Boca, hedeserves a chance to practice what he preaches as Mayor of Boca Raton. Andrea O’Rourke can be expected to take a fresh and balanced approach to future development in Boca and to pay immediate attention to our city’s parking and traffic problems—she deserves your vote.

March 14th will be a critical day in the history of Boca Raton. Voters will be presented with a clear choice as they vote to fill a majority of the seats on the five-member City Council. For too long, Boca’s City Council has served the interests of big developers and the Chamber of Commerce. As a result, we have experienced an unprecedented and unplanned for building boom: block after block of concrete behemoths in our square mile downtown, with similar plans pending for midtown Boca. We have seen the unintended consequences: traffic jams, parking problems, and 14-story buildings where the sun and sky used to be.

As Mayor and long-time City Council Member, Susan Haynie must bear some responsibility for Boca’s building binge. She calls now for responsible development and for traffic solutions, and has made some positive moves in that direction. But she has been on the City Council for the past decade and has voted for many of the most unpopular development projects in our city.  Al Zucaro, on the other hand, has been arguing strenuously for the past five years for orderly, planned development in Boca. He has railed against insider deals that benefitted big developers at the expense of our quality of life. His website, BocaWatch, has attracted thousands of loyal readers in its quest for a more resident-friendly government in Boca. He strongly supported a “yes” vote on the Boca Question on last November’s ballot; the Mayor was opposed. The “yes” vote, which was really a referendum on overdevelopment in Boca, carried by 67%. Al Zucaro deserves a chance to practice what he preaches as Mayor of Boca Raton.

Andrea O’Rourke is running for Council Seat B against Emily Gentile and Andy Thomson. A 20-year resident of West Boca and a 17-year resident of East Boca, she has a distinguished record of service to the community, having served as the Chairperson of the Federation of Boca Raton Homeowner’s Associations and as Editor of Boca Watch. Unlike her opponents, she is not beholden to either development interests or to the Chamber. Mr. Thompson moved to Boca only six months ago and his campaign appears to be financed by developers and their attorneys. Ms. Gentile is also an unknown quantity, but the fact that pro-development retiring Council Member Mullaugh has endorsed her is a worrying sign. By contrast, Andrea O’Rourke has been active in Boca civic affairs for well over 15 years. During her tenure as Editor of Boca Watch she was a voice of moderation on development issues. She can be expected to take a fresh and balanced approach to future development in Boca and to pay immediate attention to our city’s parking and traffic problems. She deserves your vote.

Scott Singer is running for reelection for City Council Seat A. He has been a deliberative and thoughtful Councilman who has been more than willing to listen to the concerns of residents.  Of late, he seems to have taken those concerns to heart—particularly where development is concerned.  But Mr. Singer has voted for some of Boca’s most egregious development projects during his brief tenure on the Council, and for that reason the Board of BocaBeautiful is unable to endorse his candidacy. However, nor can we wholeheartedly endorse his opponent, Patty Dervishi, due to her lack of government experience. What she lacks in governing experience, she makes up for in her passionate opposition to rampant development. We suggest you make your choice for Seat A based on the credibility of what each candidate says between now and March 14th. Do their words match your concerns, and do you believe them?

So there you have it. If you don’t like what has happened to Boca and would like to see a change of direction at City Hall, March 14th is your chance to make it happen. Vote to elect Zucaro, O’Rourke and either Singer or Dervishi to ensure a more beautiful future for Boca Raton. With your vote, we can secure a resident-friendly rather than a developer-friendly City Council.

The Board of Directors
BocaBeautiful.org

What has Bocabeautiful accomplished?

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As President of BocaBeautiful.org, I am often asked “Why do you bother?” or “What have you accomplished?” Looking around Boca as it has mushroomed in the past five years, it is easy to conclude that the battle to save the character and quality of our city has been lost. 

But to give up now is to ignore 1) the dramatic political shift that Boca’s building binge is producing, and 2) the raft of enormous development projects that are still awaiting approval. Make no mistake. The defenders of development are far from finished. There are development projects on the drawing board for downtown and midtown Boca that could result in 50% more construction between now and 2020, and a commensurate increase in traffic, parking, water, pedestrian safety and other problems. The battle for Boca is far from over. There is still time to get it right.

So what have organizations like BocaBeautiful.org accomplished with your hard-earned donations?

  • We have highlighted the problems of overdevelopment in downtown Boca Raton. Thanks in part to our efforts, this is now a hot button issue.
  • We have done this through strengthening our media and government presence in our website, with full page newspaper ads in the Sun Sentinel and Coastal Star, in articles and Facebook posts on the widely-read Boca Watch site, in press interviews, through our repeated presence and presentations at City Council and other government meetings, and by coordinating with other concerned residents on development issues such as last November’s Boca Question ballot referendum.
  • Through our efforts we have helped change the political dynamic in Boca. We have provided a channel for the residents to express their anger at what has happened here. As a result, no longer can a developer expect instant approval and zoning variances for any project. The City Council is suddenly wary of public disapproval and of what might happen in the Council elections this March.
  • We have helped delay, for three years and running, the largest development project ever proposed for downtown Boca: 200 Mizner—the Monster on Mizner. The developer is regrouping for another try, and we will be there, urging them to pay attention to residents’ concerns.
  • Above all, we have bought precious time for those who run this City to step back, take a breath, and to do the traffic and infrastructure planning necessary before any more massive construction projects are approved. We have given them a reason to say “no” to the developers who would rob our city of its distinctive style and elegance. We are providing a counter weight to years of developer dominance and developers’ money in Boca Raton politics.

With important City Council elections coming in March, now is not the time to give up the fight, throw up your hands in despair and move to Vero. Join us, and get involved in the effort to save what is left of Boca Raton that is really beautiful.

Want to make a difference?  

Make a donation to BocaBeautiful.org on our website or by mail to 500 SE Mizner Blvd. Apt A-109 Boca Raton FL 33432. We will be your voice at City Hall.

John C. Gore
President
BocaBeautiful.org

BOCABEAUTIFUL.ORG. 500 SE MIZNER BLVD. APT A-109, BOCA RATON, FL 33432. TEL: 561-517-5383. REGISTRATION #CH4841. A COPY OF THE OFFICIAL REGISTRATION AND FINANCIAL INFORMATION MAY BE OBTAINED FROM THE DIVISION OF CONSUMER SERVICES BY CALLING TOLL-FREE (800-435-7352) WITHIN THE STATE. REGISTRATION DOES NOT IMPLY ENDORSEMENT, APPROVAL, OR RECOMMENDATION BY THE STATE.

 

What's wrong with development in Boca Raton?

Developers are losing significant ground as public disapproval of monster construction projects in Boca Raton has been manifested in relevant ballots. This past November a whopping 63% of Boca’s voters approved a measure banning commercial development on city lands adjacent to the Intracoastal Waterway. With City Council elections coming up on March 14th, we invite you to vote for candidates that can do better for the City of Boca Raton.

To be blunt, it is just as stupid to characterize those who oppose development in Boca Raton as “not-in-my-back-yard crazies” as it is to claim that those who support it are the “paid stooges of developers”. The 2017 local elections are upon us, and you are going to hear plenty of this.  Vital questions surrounding Boca’s future deserve a more intelligent debate.

Development—or redevelopment—comes in many forms. There are projects, big and small, of quality and taste. One could argue that Mizner Park (although it was very controversial at the time) falls into that category. Then there are projects that look like they don’t belong in Boca.  The Mark and the new budget Hyatt Hotel are examples. Some projects are just too big for the land or neighborhoods they occupy: Palmetto Promenade, Tower 155 (it received a special variance), and the proposed monster Mizner 200 come to mind. Some projects don’t belong in the neighborhoods for which they are proposed: a Walmart on the beach or a museum in a residential enclave. These are all questions of style, taste, quality and suitability.

But the issue of what you build is only part of the development story. Equally important is the question of how you sustain development. Do you have the roads, the parking and other infrastructure in place to ensure that the addition of thousands of new hotel rooms and residences does not impair quality of life? Do you have a vision? Are you working to a comprehensive and detailed plan? This is not rocket science; it is common sense. For if you do development in a piecemeal fashion—one project at a time—you end up with unintended consequences and angry residents.

This is what has happened in Boca Raton. Over the past eight years, our City Council has approved project after project—some good, some bad, some very ugly—without careful consideration of the consequences. To be fair, some Council Members such as Robert Weinroth do have a vision: of an exciting “urban center” where our old downtown used to be. He just does not have a detailed plan of what it is supposed to look like or how it is supposed to work.  He has no plan for parking or traffic, and neither (as of this writing) do his colleagues on the City Council. Like in some urban Field of Dreams, their philosophy is “build it, and they (parking and better roads) will come.” So we have had development in Boca without the necessary foresight or planning. And it is a growing mess.

The resulting problems, traffic and parking and overall congestion, have led to public disapproval. Most recently this was manifest in the “Boca Question” on the November ballot, when a whopping 63% of Boca’s voters—a majority in every precinct, east and west—approved a measure banning commercial development on city lands adjacent to the Intracoastal Waterway. This ballot measure, which was vigorously opposed by both sitting City Council members and the Chamber of Commerce, is the clearest indication to date that our civic leaders have not handled development in Boca well. It was a referendum on the quality and pace of development, and the developers lost overwhelmingly.

What’s next? First, there will be a pause in major development decisions, as three of five City Council seats are up for election on March 14th. No politician in his right mind would want to vote for another big construction project until after that date. Then on March 14th, the voters will decide the direction that future development in Boca will take.

Make no mistake. The development and redevelopment of Boca will continue. No sensible person is advocating otherwise. At issue are the quality, character and pace of that development; and whether we have adequate infrastructure to handle it all in place before the buildings are built.

How to decide which of the many candidates running for City Council is best qualified to deal with these complex issues? Here’s a simple test:

If you are happy with what has happened in Boca over the last eight years, vote for the status quo. If you are unhappy and think we could do better, vote for candidates who advocate change.

The future direction of development in Boca is yours to decide on March 14th.

John C. Gore
President
BocaBeautiful.org

What's wrong with Boca Raton?

Boca Raton, once our oasis of calm sophistication has become  an undistinguished jungle of enormous concrete buildings. Here are the top 3 things you can do right now to help.

When my wife and I moved here in 2003, downtown Boca was a very different place. It was an oasis of calm sophistication. But look at our downtown now. Enormous city-block square concrete buildings, many of them of undistinguished architectural design (i.e. ugly), block out the sun and sky. When it comes to having a view, beggar thy neighbor, rather than do unto others, seems to be the rule. This is our “urban center” utopia, brought to you over the years by Mayors and City Councils who never met a development (or developer) they didn’t like.

So let’s say you are one of the thousands of residents who are unhappy with what you see?  What can you do about it? Well, you can start attending the meetings of the City Council and the other quasi-judiciary panels like the Community Appearance Board and the Planning and Zoning Board that rule over matters developmental in Boca. At each of these you will be given time (five minutes or two minutes) to express your concerns. You might have to wait two hours, depending on the agenda, but you will get your chance—eventually. And when you do get up to make your little contribution, why is it that the people you are talking to seem so disinterested or condescending? Why does it have to be a confrontation rather than a conversation? Why isn’t our government more resident friendly?

The good news is that some of our government leaders are listening—and you can bet they will be listening carefully as the March 2017 City Council elections draw near. Next March, there is an outside chance that the City Council, which makes all these development, zoning, traffic and parking decisions, could be completely transformed. Out with the pro-development majority, in with a resident-friendly majority. Three out of five seats are up in March, in an off-year local election that usually attracts about 8000 out of 70,000+ eligible voters. You do the math. A dedicated get-out-the-vote effort can swing the results.

In the meantime, here are three common sense suggestions for those in City Hall who really want to reconnect with the voters who put them there:

  1. Try solving some existing problems before you create any new ones. You don’t need statistics to know that downtown Boca has been transformed. Just look around, or try and drive around. We need creative solutions to our traffic problems and parking problems. Solutions that go beyond “walking is good for you” or “just stand by the curb until a Chamber of Commerce jitney comes by.” We need solutions that involve cars and what to do about them. Most importantly, do not approve any more massive construction projects in the square mile downtown until you have had time to assess the impact of what you have already approved. No more new buildings until the ones under construction are fully occupied and functioning.
  2. Take some simple steps to make citizen participation in Boca’s government proceedings easier and more productive. Putting it bluntly, the meeting notification process stinks.  Either you send out incomprehensible blue written notices to the locals announcing life-altering massive projects, or you put up yellow signs with one-inch type that are useless to anyone who doesn’t make a special trip to read them, or you put something on line at the last possible moment. Surprise! As for the agendas of these important meetings, only the insiders seem to know in advance. There should be greater advance public notice of meetings and earlier publication of agenda items.
  3. The format of City Council meetings could also be vastly improved. The current “public comment” period of 5 minutes for each speaker is archaic and inefficient. Petitioners such as big developers are given ample time for slick Power Point presentations. Organized citizens groups such as BocaBeautiful.org or Boca Watch should be given the same opportunity. It would save the Council from having to hear 8-10 people say the same thing, with varying degrees of clarity or passion. Or how about when people get mad enough that 100 show up, each demanding their five minutes of angst? That’s over 8 hours of public comment. Our City Council meetings should not be an endurance test.  They should be a constructive discourse. 

If we don’t work together in a more cooperative and constructive manner, we will never solve the problems that Boca now faces.

Three years ago, when I made my first appearance before the City Council as President of BocaBeautiful.org, I warned that Boca’s building binge was out of control, that there was insufficient thought given to the effects that all this new construction would have on traffic, parking and infrastructure, and that the anger among Boca’s citizenry was real and growing.  Where are we today? There are still enormous downtown building projects awaiting government approval. Traffic and parking are worse than ever. And public anger continues to grow.

It is not too late for our City Council to do something about it. To solve problems before creating new ones. To make citizen input easier and more welcome. We need to say “enough is enough” before there is nothing left of the Boca we knew and loved.   

John C. Gore
President
BocaBeautiful.org

Coming to Your Downtown Boca Neighborhood: Another Monster Construction Project.

MONSTER 200.  Another mammoth construction project.
You thought that Boca’s building binge was over? That developers had crammed about every square foot of concrete they could into our square mile downtown? Think again.

Take a look at what’s being proposed to replace the two-story townhouse development known as Mizner on the Green on SE Mizner Boulevard, just across from Royal Palm Plaza. It’s called Mizner 200. We call it Monster 200.

 Proposed design for mizner 200

Proposed design for mizner 200

What you are looking at is one building, three blocks long and ten stories high. A single wall of concrete and glass that will block out sun, sea and sky. It dwarfs its neighbors and the Boca Resort golf course (they will have to put up netting the entire length of the fourth hole). The style of the building does not comply with the Mizner architectural guidelines contained in our City’s building code. The scale of the building is ridiculous—unless you are a developer only interested in selling high-priced golf course or ocean view apartments.

At a time when Boca residents are choking on traffic as a result of Boca’s building binge, it is almost unbelievable that our city advisory boards and City Council are considering approving a building such as this. There is still a chance that sanity and good taste might prevail. They can send Monster 200 back to the drawing board.

The developers of Mizner 200 will be seeking permission to begin construction from the Community Appearance Board, the Planning and Zoning Board and ultimately the City Council. If you agree with us that this monstrosity has no place in what used to be our village, please let our city officials know your feelings. You will find their e-mail addresses below. Send them a message!

Community Appearance Board

Planning and Zoning Board

The Boca Raton City Council

If they chose to ignore you, you can send them another message when we have City Council elections next March.

—John C. Gore  |  President
BocaBeautiful.com
September 20, 2016

How does Boca Raton's Primary Election affect development and building issues in the city?

Boca-Raton-Primary-Election.jpg

If you care about development issues in Boca Raton, your vote in the August 30th Primary Election is important.

First, there are seven candidates running to fill two seats on the very influential Greater Boca Raton Beach and Park District. 

Having watched the debate among all the candidates, BocaBeautiful feels that both incumbents, Dennis Frisch and Earl Starkoff deserve reelection. They have the necessary experience and have shown a willingness to listen to the concerns of Boca’s beach and park users. 

For the job of Appraiser, we recommend Dorothy Jacks

One would not think of the job of Appraiser as one with a development angle, but Shelly Vane is running for the post. Residents of the Mizner Trail area remember her as a commissioner who voted to allow development on the site, over their heated objections. Now that she is running for Appraiser, they—and others with overdevelopment concerns—have a channel to express their disapproval. We recommend you vote for Dorothy Jacks for Appraiser.

Check the back of your ballot for 2 important issues

There are two important issues on the back of the ballot. Be sure to turn it over when you vote.

  1. The first would require that replacements to vacancies on the Boca City Council by elected, rather than appointed. Vote YES on this question, as it is critical to ensuring that we have a more responsible City Council on development issues in the future.
  2. The second ballot issue is whether the pay of Boca’s City Council Members should be increased by roughly 300%. Boca Watch has recommended a ‘yes’ vote on this issue.  We at BocaBeautiful tend to look at it as a referendum on the Council’s performance. If you think they have done a good job, by all means vote ‘yes.’  If you are less than happy about the decisions they have made over the past 5 years, vote ‘no.’ Their pay may be poor, but so has been their response to the concerns of Boca residents over what is happening to our city.

Be sure to vote on August 30th.  If you are out of town, you can get an absentee ballot this week from the Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections at pbcelections.org. Time is of the essence.

Downtown Development Will Raise Your Taxes

Boca Raton has seen a rash of development in its downtown and there is more to come. Developers frequently cite the increase in taxes that will occur when development is completed as a major reason for the City to approve their plans.[1] The unspoken implication is that the new development will lower your taxes. It won’t! Why? City operating costs will increase by more than City revenue produced by the new development. 

[1] For example see http://thecoastalstar.com/profiles/blogs/building-boom-boca-raton-s-downtown-construction-unprecedented-an and http://bocawatch.org/more-new-mizner-on-the-green-pr/

FIGURE 1 - Boca Raton CRA Boundaries (click to enlarge)

Where do the revenues go?

Downtown Boca Raton is a Community Redevelopment Area (CRA). See Figure 1 for the boundaries of the Area. Revenue increases that result from development in the CRA go to finance public activities needed to allow revitalization of the Downtown.

Other public entities like the City and County receive limited revenue from the development of the downtown. Indeed, a 2010 report by staff (hyperlink Figure 2 to “report by staff”) to the CRA indicated that all types of development in the downtown would result in costs that exceed revenue gains to the City. For example, 100,000 sq ft of apartment development will cost the city $102,000 and will produce only $37,000 in revenue. The implication is that the City will have to find additional revenue, most likely through tax increases, to pay the added cost for City services for new Downtown developments.

Revenues and Cost of Public Services
(after tax increment payment)

Example: Palmetto Promenade (East Palmetto Park Avenue)

This development has approximately 460,000 square feet. Using the City staff data above, the project will cost the city approximately $300,000 more each year than it will bring in in revenue. 

What are the implications?

Your taxes are likely to go up not down as a result of the new development in the Downtown! The Downtown will have more TIF revenue to pay off loans for previous infrastructure improvements and other costs and will have new monies to make further improvement in the Downtown.

The City, the County and other taxing entities will have additional costs that exceed the additional revenue they receive as a result of Downtown development. You the taxpayer are the most likely source of the added revenue the City and other taxing jurisdictions will need!