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

Status Report on Mizner 200—Now called "The Monarch"

There have been significant developments since the City Council gave preliminary approval last August to Elad for construction of a more neighbor-friendly building on SE Mizner Boulevard, next door to Royal Palm Plaza and Townsend Place. It is still three blocks long and 100+ feet high, but the developer agreed to important set backs, green spaces and design improvements. 

Elad, the developer, is now asking the City for major changes which effectively abrogate the deal it made with Investments Limited, BocaBeautiful.org and Townsend Place.  

We have seen this play before: a developer wins approval of a project based on detailed drawings only to come back and ask for significant changes once preliminary approval has been granted. This is how Tower 155 (just up the street at Palmetto) managed to put a 2-acre project on just 1.5 acres. It’s so close to the property line, they can’t even build it without closing off adjacent streets and our Post Office.

Elad is now asking that Boca’s basic downtown construction ordinance, Ordinance 4035, be amended to allow it to build the building higher. More importantly, it is asking to be allowed to build the building in STAGES.

Why is this important to Boca Raton residents?  

First, Elad swore up and down that its project was in full compliance with the metric requirements of Ordinance 4035. Now it wants to change the law to allow measurement of the height of the building from the highest point on the property and special treatment for its rooftop pool “and amenities.” Why didn’t they ask for this back in August when we thought we had a deal?

Second, by asking to build the building in stages, Elad is effectively proposing an entirely new project. They want to build only the north portion of the building first, leaving the now semi-derelict Mizner On The Green townhouses in place until enough Monarch units have been sold to finance the rest of the building. The catch here is that most of the public amenities we demanded for the project are located on the southernportion of the property, the portion that borders Townsend Place. So they get to build a building which looks a lot like The Mark, and the neighbors get nothing—not even a guarantee that Elad will complete the Monarch as originally approved.

This is bait-and-switch Boca style. Why the change of strategy by Elad? Either they were lying to us all along, and/or they are getting cold feet about the economic viability of their massive project.  

We all know they overpaid for the land when they bought Mizner On The Green before the 2008 crash. They have been trying to recoup their investment ever since, starting with their proposal for two 30+ story high rises on the property. Now comes the staged construction gambit, where they get to build part of a building and we get left with the mess if things don’t work out financially. If Elad wants to build something different than what was approved by the CRA last August, they should start the approval process all over again.

As a concerned Boca Raton resident, what can you do about all this? 

First, you should send  a strong letter to the City Council opposing Elad’s proposed changes. You should communicate your personal opposition directly to Council Members:  

Second, you can send a contribution to BocaBeautiful.org to help us carry on the fight.
There are two ways to do this:

  1. On line at www.bocabeautiful.org/donations/ or
  2. By mail to BocaBeautiful
    233 S. Federal Highway, Apt. 721
    Boca Raton, FL 33432

Our financial resources are limited, especially compared to the money that Elad is spending to get its way.

BocaBeautiful.org has two missions in 2018: to save our downtown post office from closing and to prevent the construction of something truly ugly on SE Mizner Boulevard. We need your help to accomplish both.

Taming the Monster on Mizner

While most of you were away…

Under pressure from Boca Raton’s City Council/Community Redevelopment Agency and from advocacy groups such as BocaBeautiful.org and Boca Watch, the developer of the mammoth Mizner 200 project in downtown Boca agreed to correct the design and reduce the visual impact of the building. The corrections are intended to bring Mizner 200 into compliance with Ordinance No. 4035 and to address many, but not all, of the concerns of the building’s neighbors. The corrected Mizner 200 will remain the biggest building in downtown Boca. But the corrected Mizner 200 will have greater separation from the buildings next door, a more “Mizneresque” design, and a variable roof line that will offer vistas and views where there once was only steel and concrete.

At the August Community Redevelopment Agency Meeting, the developer’s corrections were met with cautionary approval from the project’s two major neighbors: Investments Limited, which owns the Royal Palm Plaza, and the Townsend Place Condominium. Their approval was conditioned on the developer actually following through on what has been promised. Too many times in the past we have seen developers promise one thing (look at the pretty pictures) and then deliver something else. Not this time. We will be watching carefully.

The approval saga of Mizner 200 offers several important lessons for future development projects in Boca:

The first is that it is far better to inform, work with, and win the approval of your neighbors before approaching Boca’s City Council/Community Redevelopment Agency for approval. The developer of Mizner 200 tried to ram through a flawed design that did not even comply with the basics of Ordinance No. 4035 and wasted a staggering amount of everybody’s time and money.   

Only when the City Council/Community Redevelopment Agency put its foot down and refused to approve Mizner 200 as presented did the developer belatedly realize its error. The City Council/Community Redevelopment Agency has the discretionary authority to approve or disapprove the design aesthetics of downtown construction projects. 

What is or is not “Mizneresqe” is in the eyes of our elected officials. Just because the metric requirements of Ordinance No. 4035 are met does not mean the design requirements have been met. Just because the City Staff, City Boards and the City’s Urban Consultant have approved a project does not mean the City Council/Community Redevelopment Agency will.

Second, our elected officials have learned that public outrage over traffic and density in downtown Boca has become a political liability. Those running for office in March of 2018 will be measured on their willingness to disapprove projects that will only increase congestion.  Those who have looked with favor on almost every development project, no matter how egregious, will face tough opposition for the first time.

Third, we have learned that educational and advocacy efforts by non-profit groups such as BocaBeautiful.org and Boca Watch can produce salutary results. The amount of time and money invested by concerned citizens can pay quality-of-life dividends.

Fourth, the developer of Mizner 200 waged a dishonest public relations campaign, filled with gross misinformation, in local papers and blogs. The developer hired a high power litigating attorney to threaten the City with a law suit if Mizner 200 as presented was not approved.  These efforts failed in the end. One hopes that in the future, developers will not resort to these heavy-handed tactics.

Fifth, our City Staff, City Boards and Downtown Consultant (The Mellgren Planning Group) need to reflect on their enthusiastic support of Mizner 200 as originally presented. The City Council and the Community Redevelopment Agency took the needed time and extra effort to listen carefully to both sides and then apply Ordinance No. 4035 according to its clear terms.  How did the City Staff, the Community Appearance Board, the Planning and Zoning Board, and the Downtown Consultant get it so wrong?

Finally, we have seen that the battle for Boca’s future is far from over. Massive new development projects, such as for Boca’s Midtown, are on the drawing boards. Barring another recession, developers will press to cram more and more units into the new “urbanized” Boca.  The problems that the excesses of the last eight years have brought us—no places to park, terrible traffic, and concrete canyons where there used to be sunlight and sky—will only get worse.  We need to continue to fight for sensible development in Boca. We need our elected City Officials, City Staff and City Boards to follow the Code. We need to elect City Officials who will protect and improve our quality of life.

This is the mission of BocaBeautiful.org. With your continued financial support, we are confident that we can continue to be a positive force for change in Boca.

John C. Gore
President
BocaBeautiful.org

Opposition to Mizner 200 and building suggestions

Over the past few years individuals and groups have opposed the development of Mizner 200 as it has been planned. We invite you to read the analysis and opinions from two well known sources who have communicated their concerns to the City of Boca Raton and furthermore have issued basic recommendations that could be implemented in order to improve the development issues presented.

Want to see what the proposed design changes look like? Click to enlarge the corresponding drawings of design suggestions. Download the redesign drawings here (pdf).

Analysis from Jorge Camejo AICP

Download PDF Analysis from Jorge Camejo AICP >
Retired from the City of Boca Raton after 28 years, having served as Executive Director of the CRA (Community Redevelopment Agency) and Development Services Director, among other capacities, Mr Camejo provides a complete analysis of the development of Mizner 200 along with a list of recommendations and simple measures that can be taken to reduce the visual and physical impact of the proposed project. From a widening of the building separations at the center driveway, to providing additional architectural breaks along Mizner Boulevard and the south property line.

Analysis from Investments Limited by Robert A. Eisen

Download PDF Analysis from Investments Limited >
In this report Investments Limited (IL) expresses its position regarding the IDA Approval of Mizner 200, focusing on the fact that IL has consistently questioned the absence of horizontal and vertical breaks and separations in the building mass of EL-AD's Mizner 200 along Mizner Boulevard. Horizontal and vertical breaks and separations in building mass are significant Architectural Guidelines serving to harmonize and equalize the relationship of Downtown buildings especially for the few large parcels in Downtown, affording the side benefit of sharing views and vistas throughout.

The challenges faced by Boca Raton today are a symptom of the city's success. East Boca Raton has become a desirable residential market and the CRA should take appropriate measures to ensure that future projects will add value and not detract from the desirability currently enjoyed by Downtown Boca Raton.

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

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