The Mission of Bocabeautiful.org for 2018

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
President
BocaBeautiful.org

 

Boca Raton Development Updates

We need your donations. The future of Boca is in your hands!

Dear supporter of Bocabeautiful.org,
As we begin our 2018 campaign, our coffers are in dire need of replentishment. Over the past three years, we have raised and spent over $135,000 in our efforts to block ugly new buildings in Boca Raton and to educate our city council. We have made progress, but as you will see below, there is much more to be done. Please support our efforts with your generous contribution:

CREDIT CARD
Credit card contribution right here at Bocabeautiful.org 

CHECK PAYABLE TO:
Bocabeautiful.org
Mail to J.C. Gore
233 S. Federal Highway,
Apartment 721.
Boca Raton, FL 33432. 

The future of Bocabeautiful.org and of Boca Raton is in your hands. Without your financial support we could not do what we do. Thank you so much!

Snowbirds returning to our fair city are in for some surprises—some good and some not so good. 

The first should come as no surprise to anyone: traffic is terrible in Boca and getting worse.  Most “urban centers” have rush hours; most major cities like New York have horrible traffic jams to and from their beaches; most have parking problems. Welcome to the developers’ urban vision for Boca Raton. Welcome to what happens when you build buildings without considering the infrastructure necessary to support such rapid development. 

We have seen plenty of development over the last eight years, but no credible studies on the impact of that development.  As they approved project after project, often with many variances, City Council officials were content to rely on 30-year old planning assumptions. Only now are they scrambling to address Boca’s traffic mess, proposing things like a $48 million dollar one way system for Federal and Dixie Highways, or $ millions for “mass transit” that most people will find less convenient than their cars.

You may feel relieved not to see, like in winters past, multiple new concrete blocks darkening Boca’s skyline, other than Tower 155 (a very large building slowly rising on a very small parcel of land) and 327 Royal Palm Way, nine stories of concrete and glass (mostly concrete) which will cannibalize the views of residents in the recently-constructed Promenade building on Palmetto. But the construction respite will be short-lived. Demolition will soon begin for Via Mizner Phases II and III that will result in two more mammoth structures along Federal Highway between Camino and SE Mizner. Just look at the (mostly vacant) concrete block at the corner of Camino and Federal and multiply that times three. In August the City Council gave preliminary approval to the three-block long Mizner 200 project. The good news here is that 1) the developer agreed to significant design modifications and 2) they appear in no rush to build the thing. 

But what is really surprising is the number of major development projects still in the planning stage. If all of these are completed, they will transform the nature of our entire city. 

Here’s what’s in the Boca Raton “progress” pipeline:

  1. A new midtown “urban village” near Boca’s Town Center Mall, with up to 2500 new apartments, restaurants and shops. Traffic would be reduced by providing parking for only 1000 cars. Really?
  2. The complete redevelopment of the historic Royal Palm Place shopping plaza (home of the Saturday farmers’ market) with four 14-story apartment buildings, townhomes, retail space and new parking facilities.  Planning permission is currently being sought to build two of the towers.
  3. Three nine-story condos at 475 E. Royal Palm, overlooking East Palmetto Park Road and the Boca Resort golf course.
  4. A nine-story assisted living facility at 375 E. Royal Palm, between 327 (currently under construction) and the proposed 475 Royal Palm condos.
  5. A seven-story condo on the corner of Palmetto and A1A (already approved).
  6. A nine-story 50,000 square foot office building at 26 SE 3rd Street, just off Federal.
  7. Camino Square residential and retail on the old Winn Dixie site at 171 W. Camino: two eight-story apartment buildings plus 35,000 sq. feet of commercial development on nine acres, with no road improvements planned.
  8. Ongoing development in NW Boca.
  9. Redevelopment of the NW 20th Street corridor.
  10. University Village, a proposed development off of Spanish River Road with a single entry and exit point.

And who knows how many more projects are percolating in the developers’ fertile minds? Just look around. There are plenty of single story properties in Boca that are potential targets for redevelopment. 

Boca’s urban cheerleaders tout these projects as representing progress, a booming economy and the inherent attractiveness of our City. But these proposed developments should raise red flags, for the simple reason that they ignore the demands they will put on our roads; our emergency services; our water, sewer and storm drain capacity; and our schools. 

You don’t have to be Malthus to understand that if you increase the population of Boca Raton by thousands of residents, you will be placing demands on our infrastructure.  We will need better roads, more fire stations, increased emergency services, better healthcare facilities, better storm drainage, and enhanced water treatment facilities. We already need to do something about Boca’s overcrowded schools.  We will need to be better prepared for natural disasters such as Hurricane Irma. And we will need to find affordable housing for our new policemen, firemen, healthcare providers, service industry employees, schoolteachers, etc.  Where will they live? In Pompano?

Putting it kindly, the building boom in Boca of the past eight years is the result of an arrogant and myopic attitude on the part of our elected officials:  “Build it, they will come, and we will address any adverse consequences later.”  

Why not address the consequences of over-development in Boca Raton first? 

Many years ago, when our City fathers actually engaged in an attempt at urban planning and drafted Ordinance 4035, specific infrastructure improvements (nine pages of them) were required before downtown development could proceed.  While the speed and scope of development in Boca may no longer make such a proscriptive process feasible, there are other ways to insure that infrastructure concerns are a prerequisite to any development decisions. 

The simplest—and most obvious—would be to impose a moratorium on major new development projects until the City has certified that our infrastructure is adequate to handle the impact to our community. The politics of Boca is changing, but it has not changed enough to support an approach that the developers and their lawyers would consider draconian.  We may get to that point, but not yet.

A more practical solution would be a better consultation process prior to the approval of any major new development project. 

The 1969 Federal Environmental Policy Act is a good example.  It requires the preparation of a comprehensive environmental impact statement prior to the initiation of any major project requiring Federal government approval.  How about a Community Impact Statement prior to approval of major development projects in Boca Raton? Such an assessment could be required from any 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. While not necessarily putting the cart before the horse (as in Ordinance 4035) such a process would at least force the consideration of the cart and the horse contemporaneously.  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. 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.

Now that would be progress.

John C. Gore
President
Boca Beautiful.org

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.