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

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

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.