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

Boca's Last Chance

Mizner-200-Monster-Building-20160405.jpg

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

Boca-Beautiful-Traffic-Control-FL98074396.jpg

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

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'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

Repeal the Interim Design Guidelines – Scrap the Pattern Book

Repeal the Interim Design Guidelines – Scrap the Pattern Book

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?

Read More

A Letter to the Mayor of Boca Raton

Dear Mayor Haynie and Boca City Council Members,

As a veteran of 45 years in the government relations business, I enjoyed watching you all in action as you debated the 2-acre "housekeeping" resolution yesterday and this evening.  I recognize a done deal when I see one.  But I got the impression that, technicalities aside, you might not have been listening to what your unusually large audience was trying to tell you.  There was an elephant in the room.

As a result of construction approvals made over the last 5+ years, including now Tower 155, there is a groundswell building against unfettered high rise development in Boca.  This is a direct result, not of some influx of anti-development conservationist zealots, but of the practical effect of what we as residents in the "downtown" area see each day.  The  buildings which have been approved as exceptions to the old height limitations are not exceptional.  The Mark looks like a prison.  I don't know what the Archstone project will look like in the end, but at over three football fields in length, I am not optimistic.  The 14-story pile going up at the corner of Camino and Federal will block out the sun on the 7th and 8th holes of the Resort Golf course as well as for the residents of those $6+ million homes in Mizner Estates (too bad for them).  We will wait and see just how aesthetically pleasing Tower 155 is-- but it is a very big building crammed on a very small lot abutting a very small side street.  I hope it is magnificent, I really do.

But Boca's recent construction track record does not afford much cause for optimism.  This is why a rapidly growing number of residents are concerned and disappointed.  Just the concept of the New Mizner on the Green Project has set off alarm bells.  Too often we have seen developers propose 40-story buildings only to "accept" a 25-story result.  And we have seen such faux compromises touted as a reduction in density.

What you heard yesterday and tonight in your Council chambers was "enough is enough."  I would expect that rallying cry will become louder and more persistent in coming months, as concerned citizens get more organized and involved.  I expect that there will be political consequences unless our elected leaders put a brake on future high rise development in the downtown.  What's done is done.  Let's take a deep breath and assess the damage (or benefits) once this latest construction binge has run its course.

But from this point forward, there will be a significant and growing number of people watching development decisions with a very critical eye.  I expect they will be well organized and well funded.

Enough is enough.  I hope you got the message.  I did.

John C. Gore
—Boca Raton

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