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

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).

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

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

2015, a very bad year for the City of Boca Raton

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The year was a major disappointment as the City of Boca Raton continues to be overbuilt while the City Council ignores the concerns of its citizens.

For those of us who have been arguing that Boca Raton is being cavalierly and callously overbuilt, 2015 was a major disappointment. As the year draws to a close, our City Council and its developer-dominated advisory boards continue to ignore citizens’ concerns over the building binge in Boca, with vote after vote supporting more and more development. 

Examples of building binge in Boca Raton:

  • Approval of two more mammoth Via Mizner buildings, one of which MAY house a Mandarin Oriental Hotel.  Promised by the developer, but no guarantee. For sure we will get two more concrete leviathans. Who the tenants will be is by no means certain. Ask yourself, why would Mandarin Oriental choose to operate a five-star hotel with no beach or golf course access smack on Federal Highway? So guests can walk to Publix?
  • Approval of an additional 500,000 square feet of development just north of FAU, bringing the total to 1.5 million square feet, with NO ASSURANCE of what will be built there and NO IDEA where the traffic will go, other than on to Spanish River Boulevard.
  • A zoning variance for a private developer to build a four-story mega-mansion on a pristine section of Boca’s beach because the developer threatened to sue if denied a variance. Some things are worth fighting for.

We need different outcomes in 2016. Specifically:

  • A moratorium on new construction in the downtown area until we can assess the impact of what is now being built.
  • Creation of a creative traffic plan for downtown Boca, before traffic becomes such a mess that it negatively impacts both commerce and residents.
  • Immediate establishment of an oversight and enforcement mechanism to ensure that developers adhere to the designs that were approved by the CRA and the Council. No more bait and switch!

As activist organizations such as BocaBeautiful.org and Boca Watch seek citizen support for our 2016 campaign, we are increasingly being told that what we are doing is too little, too late. True, while we were sleeping, the developers and their allies in government have succeeded in transforming downtown Boca into a new “urban center.”  The look and feel of our village has been irretrievably altered.

The question now is what can be done to protect our quality of life in this new “urban” environment, as well as in the rest of Boca. Can we hold developers to their promises, ensuring that the buildings under construction are attractive and pedestrian friendly? Can we somehow keep 6000+ additional cars from clogging our downtown streets? Can we hold in check runaway development in other parts of our city? Or at least plan for it better?

If we cannot convince our elected officials of the wisdom of our approach in 2016, we promise to work hard to bring new thinking to City Hall in the elections of 2017. The battle for Boca is far from over.