Boca’s Interim Design Guidelines Should Be Repealed and their Sibling – The Pattern Book – Should be Scrapped
Developers have been exploiting Boca’s Interim Design Guidelines (IDG) to achieve higher density development and clog Boca’s downtown. The IDG allows downtown buildings to rise 60% higher than the traditional Development Ordinance (to 160 feet rather than 100 feet). Further, developers have exploited the complexity of the IDG and loopholes in its Guidelines to increase density (square feet of development per square foot of land) as well as height. Now the City is considering adopting the Pattern Book which would extend the 60% increase in height to the entire Downtown!
In contrast to Boca’s standard Development Ordinance (Ordinance 4035), the IDG and the Pattern Book require complicated quantitative and qualitative assessments of any development plans. According to City Staff, these assessments are so technical that they are subcontracted to a private firm, Urban Design Associates (UDA), the firm that worked with the City to develop the IDG and its sibling, the Pattern Book.
The City is presently considering adopting the Pattern Book in the near future. UDA, the private firm that developed both the IDG and the Pattern Book has no offices near Boca Raton; however, it decides whether or not a development project is in agreement with their guidelines and recommends approval or disapproval. Not having the capability to perform the necessary assessments themselves, our City staff’s role has been reduced to rubber stamping UDA’s approval recommendations. If UDA’s Pattern Book were adopted by the City Council, the current arrangement with this private firm under the IDG would become permanent, as only they would be capable of assessing development projects and determining whether or not they are in compliance with the complex development regulation they have developed. This is not a healthy situation for our City, but is a very advantageous one for UDA’s bottom line.
Look around at what is coming out of the ground in “downtown” Boca. Do you think that Urban Design Associates is doing a good job designing our downtown? Should a private firm have such major influence on our City’s development?
Complicated Regulations like the IDG and the Pattern Book Don’t Work
Research that examines regulations warns that complicated regulations will be gamed by those regulated. Regulations need to be simple and clear so that those charged with enforcing the regulations can enforce them and those affected by the regulations can understand potential impacts.
Both the IDG (Ordinance 5051 and Ordinance 5052) and the Pattern Book fail the simplicity test big time! They represent a failed attempt to micro manage growth in Boca Raton.
Realizing this, the City Council declared the first project approved under the IDG a “test case”. The test case, the Mark at Cityscape, is now virtually completed and renting apartments. Late Friday afternoon, March 27, the City posted notice of a “Pattern Book Workshop”, led by UDA, would be held on April 2 to obtain public comment on the IDG and Pattern Book. What is wrong with this?
Ø Problem 1: the City should widely publicize a meeting to obtain “Public Comments” well in advance of scheduled date so Citizens can make plans to attend and prepare comments. Late Friday notification on a City website for a Thursday meeting will not allow wide public comment on the Design Guidelines for Boca’s Downtown.
Ø Problem 2: Firms should not be allowed to assess their own work or to assess work in which they have a financial interest. UDA should not be involved, other than to answer questions, at workshop to evaluate the IDG and its test case.
Ø Problem 3: April 2 is the Thursday before Passover and Easter. Important meeting like this should not be schedule at times when families are preparing and traveling for important holidays.
Boca needs an independent firm to evaluate the IDG test case. A workshop led by UDA is not an independent evaluation of the IDG/Pattern Book and the test case!
More Council IDG Approvals without Waiting for Test Case Evaluation
Without waiting to assess the IDG test case, the City Council went ahead and approved four other major developments under the IDG (Via Mizner, Palmetto Promenade, Tower 155 and the Hyatt Hotel). These projects, like the Mark at Cityscape, have exploited loopholes in the IDG to increase both height and marketable square footage.
How Developers Exploit IDG Loopholes
Morphing Test Case
The test case for the IDG morphed from being a multiple-use, multiple building project on a 4.5 acre tract of land to being a much higher density, single use project (The Mark at Cityscape, rental apartments) on a far smaller parcel of land. The developer of the project obtained approval for the project under the IDG and then simply sold off 1.087 acres of the original parcel. The sale included the transfer of the right to develop under the IDG on the 1.087 acre parcel, even though the downtown development ordinances only allow development under the IDG for parcels of 1.2 acres or more.
So we end up with more density and less open space, courtesy of the IDG.
Construction of a 200 room, 12 story Hyatt Hotel is scheduled to begin on the 1.087 acre parcel this spring. Both the Mark and the Hyatt will be denser than foreseen under the IDG because of its loopholes. The high density and limited open space of the Mark has created Boca’s first unban canyon. Walk down Royal Palm Place to see the oppressing and unappealing result.
IDG Loophole Exploited: Allowable square footage of construction calculated on the basis of the size of the original parcel not on the size of the building site used for individual buildings.
Tower 155: Move from Ordinance 4035 to Ordinance 5052 via Special Ordinance 5289
The Tower 155 condominium project on Boca Raton Road provides an example of what happens when a developer moves from developing a project under Boca’s traditional Development Ordinance (Ordinance 4035) to development under the IDG (Ordinance 5052). It also shows a Council ready to approve special Ordinances to benefit a single development.
Tower 155 was originally approved under Ordinance 4035. The developer returned to the Council to request approval for the project under Ordinance 5052. As part of the move to Ordinance 5052 the developer increased the residential gross area of the building by 10%, increased the area devoted to parking and added a retail component to the project.
IDG exploited to increase both the height and density of a project. Similar things will happen throughout the Downtown if the Pattern Book is adopted.
The Tower 155 project also shows a City Manager and UDA willing to recommend and a Council willing to pass special ordinances to benefit a single development. The IDG Ordinance limits use of the IDG to parcels of 2 acres or more. Tower 155 will be developed on a parcel that is less than 2 acres and, thus, could not be approved under Ordinance 5052. No problem… On the recommendation of the City Manager and Urban Design Associates (the people who developed the IDG and the Pattern Book), the Council approved a special ordinance, Ordinance 5289, that lowered the acreage required for development under the IDG to 1.2 acres, allowing Tower 155 to be approved under the IDG.
To sum it all up: The so-called Interim Design Guidelines are so complex that they have led to a building binge that threatens the quality of life in downtown Boca. The Pattern Book is even more complex and untested. It will extend the 60% increase in height to the entire Downtown. Developer will exploit the complexity of the Pattern Book just as they have exploited the complexity of the IDG.
Evaluations and approvals have been left to those that have a vested interest in the outcome. Complex regulations and loopholes have been exploited by developers to increase height and density of new developments in the Downtown. These increases are unwanted by us, the residents. We can all see the results and the results detract from Boca’s Beauty!
The solution: Repeal the IDG and scrap the Pattern Book. Return to Boca’s 1992 Master Plan and its traditional development ordinance, Ordinance 4035.
Sources: IDG Quantitative Checklists, meetings with Mayor, Council Members, City Manager and Assistant City Manager, emails with Assistant City Manager, Boca’s Downtown Manager and other city staff, Council Meetings and news articles.