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