Boca Raton Development Updates

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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:

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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

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).

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

Coming to Your Downtown Boca Neighborhood: Another Monster Construction Project.

MONSTER 200.  Another mammoth construction project.
You thought that Boca’s building binge was over? That developers had crammed about every square foot of concrete they could into our square mile downtown? Think again.

Take a look at what’s being proposed to replace the two-story townhouse development known as Mizner on the Green on SE Mizner Boulevard, just across from Royal Palm Plaza. It’s called Mizner 200. We call it Monster 200.

 Proposed design for mizner 200

Proposed design for mizner 200

What you are looking at is one building, three blocks long and ten stories high. A single wall of concrete and glass that will block out sun, sea and sky. It dwarfs its neighbors and the Boca Resort golf course (they will have to put up netting the entire length of the fourth hole). The style of the building does not comply with the Mizner architectural guidelines contained in our City’s building code. The scale of the building is ridiculous—unless you are a developer only interested in selling high-priced golf course or ocean view apartments.

At a time when Boca residents are choking on traffic as a result of Boca’s building binge, it is almost unbelievable that our city advisory boards and City Council are considering approving a building such as this. There is still a chance that sanity and good taste might prevail. They can send Monster 200 back to the drawing board.

The developers of Mizner 200 will be seeking permission to begin construction from the Community Appearance Board, the Planning and Zoning Board and ultimately the City Council. If you agree with us that this monstrosity has no place in what used to be our village, please let our city officials know your feelings. You will find their e-mail addresses below. Send them a message!

Community Appearance Board

Planning and Zoning Board

The Boca Raton City Council

If they chose to ignore you, you can send them another message when we have City Council elections next March.

—John C. Gore  |  President
BocaBeautiful.com
September 20, 2016

You can impact Downtown Development

Make your voice heard!

Tell the Mayor and other City Council members what you think about changes in Boca. 

Click here to see the dates and agendas of upcoming City Meetings 

Proposed Projects  |  Scheduled for Planning Advisory Review (first step—where you can have a big impact) 

  • Royal Palm Place Master Plan Revisions
    194 Southeast 1st Avenue
    Proposal to reapprove the previous Individual Development Approval Master Site Plan and utilize the Downtown’s Interim Design Guidelines to change the design of the F-1 building by increasing the height of the building from 100 FT and 9 stories to 140 FT and 13 stories and from 149 residential units to 200 units, and increase the square footage of the restaurant from 4,500 SF to 5,500 SF.
  • Royal Palm Assisted Living Facility
    375 East Royal Palm Road
    Proposal to construct a 214,416 SF, 9-story, 203-bed assisted living (memory-care) facility on a 1.02-acre site. 

Proposed Projects—Recommended by Planning and Zoning; Pending City Council Public Hearing 

  • Hyatt Place Hotel
    120 East Palmetto Park Road
    IDA Amendment
    An Amendment to Individual Development Approval (IDA) CRP-08-03R3 allowing the modification of Condition No. 52, related to the timing of the installation of underground utilities for the Hyatt Place Hotel Boca Raton.
  • Chabad of East Boca
    770 East Palmetto Park Road
    Conditional Use
    Conditional use approval to construct a 2-story, 18,364 SF place of worship with 222 seats along with other accessory uses and a 26,265 SF parking garage structure with technical deviations on a 0.84-acre site. 
  • Chabad of East Boca
    770 East Palmetto Park Road
    Site Plan Approval
    Site plan approval to construct a 2-story, 18,364 SF place of worship with 222 seats along with other accessory uses and a 26,265 SF parking garage structure with technical deviations on a 0.84-acre site . 

Proposed Projects In Process (IP), but Public Hearing (PH) Not Yet Scheduled

  • Via Mizner Phases 2 & 3
    700-998 South Federal Highway
    IDA Amendment
    Amendment to an existing Individual Development Approval (CRP-06-01R3) to revise Phase 2 from a 118- room hotel to a 175-room hotel with 25,030 SF retail and Phase 3 from 84 condominiums to 100 condominiums with 22,505 SF of retail on a 6.79 acre- site
  • 327 Royal Palm Road Condominium
    327 Royal Palm Road
    IDA Site Plan
    IDA site plan to allow construction of a 9-story, 25-unit, 81,352 SF multi-family condo building with an automated parking system and a technical deviation related to driveway design on a 0.51-acre site.
  • Hyatt Place Hotel
    120 East Palmetto Park Road
    IDA Amendment
    IDA amendment to delete Condition No. 24 of CRP-08- 03R2 to allow the project to include a gate.
  • Houston’s Restaurant
    551 East Palmetto Park Road
    Special Case
    A Comprehensive Plan Land Use Map Amendment changing the future land use designation from Residential Low (RL) to Commercial (C) ) for the northern portion (approximately 1.1337 acres) of the property located at 551 East Palmetto Park Road (formerly known as the Wildflower property).
  • Houston’s Restaurant
    551 East Palmetto Park Road
    Zoning Change
    A rezoning from Single- Family Residential District (R-1-B) to Local Business District (B-1) for the northern portion (approximately 1.1337 acres) of the property located at 551 East Palmetto Park Road (formerly known as the Wildflower property.

Contact Information for City Staff