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

A disappointing public meeting on closing Boca's Downtown Post Office

 Is this to be our new Boca raton post office?

Is this to be our new Boca raton post office?

The US Postal Service held its perfunctory meeting on the possible closing of Boca’s only downtown Post Office on March 29th. As expected, an overflow crowd of very unhappy residents showed up—despite the fact that the public session was scheduled at 4:30 in the afternoon on the eve of Passover and Easter.

Mr. Damian Salazar, a “real estate specialist” from USPS’ Dallas office conducted the meeting.  He has obviously done this before. He explained 1) that the current situation is the result of the Post Office losing its lease; 2) that USPS would really like to relocate to a smaller, more efficient location somewhere “nearby”; 3) that there is a legal process which is triggered by this public meeting, followed by 30 days for comment and then a “decision”; 4) USPS has identified some alternative sites, but is nowhere close to choosing any one of them, if they choose any at all.  He offered a vague pledge to keep the current location operating “until a suitable alternative can be found and provided we have a lease,” but then admitted that the decision was not his to make.

Mr. Salazar then took “questions” from the floor.  His scattershot approach to receiving citizen input further exacerbated the frustration of those present. However, amidst the somewhat chaotic outrage, a few important facts emerged:

SUN SENTINEL AD TO HELP SAVE BOCA's DOWNTOWN POST OFFICE

  1. The USPS does have a four-year lease on the property. It was signed by the landlord seven months ago and has been sitting on somebody’s desk at USPS ever since. It is a four-year extension, but the landlord was never advised that USPS was looking for a ten-year lease as Mr. Salazar claimed. The landlord, who was at the meeting, expressed a willingness to negotiate a 10-year lease and he even offered to work with USPS to help them relocate to another of his properties once they sign the lease. This was above Mr. Salazar’s pay grade, but he promised to pass along the offer.
  2. After today’s public meeting, the public has 30 days to send comments in writing (hard copy) to Mr. Damian Salazar, 7800 N. Stemmons Fwy., Suite 400, Dallas, TX 75247-4220. Only hard copies by mail will do. Apparently the USPS needs the business. It is very important that each and every one of us who cares about our downtown post office write to Mr. Salazar. It can be short and sour, it just has to be in writing. They will be counting the number of letters they receive.
  3. At the end of the 30-days, a “decision” on the future of Boca’s downtown post office will be made. Mr. Salazar had to admit that a possible decision might be to close the post office, “although that is not what we want to do.”
  4. The lease issue was not Mr. Salazar’s only credibility problem. The USPS maintains a public list of sites that are being considered for closure. Boca’s downtown post office has been on that list for many years. In fact, the Mayor and city officials were successful in their attempt to keep the post office open several years ago. To say this has all come about because their lease is up in July is a bit disingenuous… maybe as disingenuous as them claiming that this is all about relocation.
  5. The good news is that today’s public meeting was very well attended, with an overflow crowd at the Community Center Annex. The attendees were quick to register their anger. The bad news is that such a reaction was expected and did not change any USPS minds at the meeting. But maybe that doesn’t matter because we were repeatedly told that they were not the decision makers.

The bottom line: today’s meeting was just the opening gambit in the procedural game that’s about to unfold. Boca’s downtown post office is clearly at risk. A decision to close could come as early as May.

What should we be doing about it? 

  1. First, send a letter to Mr. Salazar expressing your outrage at the possible closure and the process. If they are seriously considering alternative sites, why aren’t we holding public meetings about THAT? 
  2. Second, urge USPS to work with the current landlord to find a compromise that will keep our 2nd Street station open. 
  3. Third, send a copy of your letter to Boca’s Congressman Ted Deutch, US House of Representatives, Washington DC. And a copy to each of our US Senators: Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio, at the US Senate, Washington, DC. Do this within the next two weeks! Do it today!

The fate of Boca’s downtown post office will ultimately be decided in Washington. If we are to influence that process, we must show that we are united and determined to keep the 2nd Street station open. Boca’s City Council has already passed a non-binding resolution to that effect; we have shown up in force to express our displeasure; organizations such as BocaBeautiful and BocaWatch will be contributing to the lobbying effort in Washington. We will be pushing for a large letter writing campaign in the weeks ahead to bolster our case.

Thanks to those who attended the CRA meeting on Monday and today’s pro forma session with the US Postal Service bureaucrats. Attending these things is about as much fun as a root canal, but your participation is key to our ability to influence the outcome.

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.

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

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).

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 has Bocabeautiful accomplished?

Boca-Beautiful-Accomplishments.jpg

As President of BocaBeautiful.org, I am often asked “Why do you bother?” or “What have you accomplished?” Looking around Boca as it has mushroomed in the past five years, it is easy to conclude that the battle to save the character and quality of our city has been lost. 

But to give up now is to ignore 1) the dramatic political shift that Boca’s building binge is producing, and 2) the raft of enormous development projects that are still awaiting approval. Make no mistake. The defenders of development are far from finished. There are development projects on the drawing board for downtown and midtown Boca that could result in 50% more construction between now and 2020, and a commensurate increase in traffic, parking, water, pedestrian safety and other problems. The battle for Boca is far from over. There is still time to get it right.

So what have organizations like BocaBeautiful.org accomplished with your hard-earned donations?

  • We have highlighted the problems of overdevelopment in downtown Boca Raton. Thanks in part to our efforts, this is now a hot button issue.
  • We have done this through strengthening our media and government presence in our website, with full page newspaper ads in the Sun Sentinel and Coastal Star, in articles and Facebook posts on the widely-read Boca Watch site, in press interviews, through our repeated presence and presentations at City Council and other government meetings, and by coordinating with other concerned residents on development issues such as last November’s Boca Question ballot referendum.
  • Through our efforts we have helped change the political dynamic in Boca. We have provided a channel for the residents to express their anger at what has happened here. As a result, no longer can a developer expect instant approval and zoning variances for any project. The City Council is suddenly wary of public disapproval and of what might happen in the Council elections this March.
  • We have helped delay, for three years and running, the largest development project ever proposed for downtown Boca: 200 Mizner—the Monster on Mizner. The developer is regrouping for another try, and we will be there, urging them to pay attention to residents’ concerns.
  • Above all, we have bought precious time for those who run this City to step back, take a breath, and to do the traffic and infrastructure planning necessary before any more massive construction projects are approved. We have given them a reason to say “no” to the developers who would rob our city of its distinctive style and elegance. We are providing a counter weight to years of developer dominance and developers’ money in Boca Raton politics.

With important City Council elections coming in March, now is not the time to give up the fight, throw up your hands in despair and move to Vero. Join us, and get involved in the effort to save what is left of Boca Raton that is really beautiful.

Want to make a difference?  

Make a donation to BocaBeautiful.org on our website or by mail to 500 SE Mizner Blvd. Apt A-109 Boca Raton FL 33432. We will be your voice at City Hall.

John C. Gore
President
BocaBeautiful.org

BOCABEAUTIFUL.ORG. 500 SE MIZNER BLVD. APT A-109, BOCA RATON, FL 33432. TEL: 561-517-5383. REGISTRATION #CH4841. A COPY OF THE OFFICIAL REGISTRATION AND FINANCIAL INFORMATION MAY BE OBTAINED FROM THE DIVISION OF CONSUMER SERVICES BY CALLING TOLL-FREE (800-435-7352) WITHIN THE STATE. REGISTRATION DOES NOT IMPLY ENDORSEMENT, APPROVAL, OR RECOMMENDATION BY THE STATE.

 

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

What's wrong with Boca Raton?

Boca Raton, once our oasis of calm sophistication has become  an undistinguished jungle of enormous concrete buildings. Here are the top 3 things you can do right now to help.

When my wife and I moved here in 2003, downtown Boca was a very different place. It was an oasis of calm sophistication. But look at our downtown now. Enormous city-block square concrete buildings, many of them of undistinguished architectural design (i.e. ugly), block out the sun and sky. When it comes to having a view, beggar thy neighbor, rather than do unto others, seems to be the rule. This is our “urban center” utopia, brought to you over the years by Mayors and City Councils who never met a development (or developer) they didn’t like.

So let’s say you are one of the thousands of residents who are unhappy with what you see?  What can you do about it? Well, you can start attending the meetings of the City Council and the other quasi-judiciary panels like the Community Appearance Board and the Planning and Zoning Board that rule over matters developmental in Boca. At each of these you will be given time (five minutes or two minutes) to express your concerns. You might have to wait two hours, depending on the agenda, but you will get your chance—eventually. And when you do get up to make your little contribution, why is it that the people you are talking to seem so disinterested or condescending? Why does it have to be a confrontation rather than a conversation? Why isn’t our government more resident friendly?

The good news is that some of our government leaders are listening—and you can bet they will be listening carefully as the March 2017 City Council elections draw near. Next March, there is an outside chance that the City Council, which makes all these development, zoning, traffic and parking decisions, could be completely transformed. Out with the pro-development majority, in with a resident-friendly majority. Three out of five seats are up in March, in an off-year local election that usually attracts about 8000 out of 70,000+ eligible voters. You do the math. A dedicated get-out-the-vote effort can swing the results.

In the meantime, here are three common sense suggestions for those in City Hall who really want to reconnect with the voters who put them there:

  1. Try solving some existing problems before you create any new ones. You don’t need statistics to know that downtown Boca has been transformed. Just look around, or try and drive around. We need creative solutions to our traffic problems and parking problems. Solutions that go beyond “walking is good for you” or “just stand by the curb until a Chamber of Commerce jitney comes by.” We need solutions that involve cars and what to do about them. Most importantly, do not approve any more massive construction projects in the square mile downtown until you have had time to assess the impact of what you have already approved. No more new buildings until the ones under construction are fully occupied and functioning.
  2. Take some simple steps to make citizen participation in Boca’s government proceedings easier and more productive. Putting it bluntly, the meeting notification process stinks.  Either you send out incomprehensible blue written notices to the locals announcing life-altering massive projects, or you put up yellow signs with one-inch type that are useless to anyone who doesn’t make a special trip to read them, or you put something on line at the last possible moment. Surprise! As for the agendas of these important meetings, only the insiders seem to know in advance. There should be greater advance public notice of meetings and earlier publication of agenda items.
  3. The format of City Council meetings could also be vastly improved. The current “public comment” period of 5 minutes for each speaker is archaic and inefficient. Petitioners such as big developers are given ample time for slick Power Point presentations. Organized citizens groups such as BocaBeautiful.org or Boca Watch should be given the same opportunity. It would save the Council from having to hear 8-10 people say the same thing, with varying degrees of clarity or passion. Or how about when people get mad enough that 100 show up, each demanding their five minutes of angst? That’s over 8 hours of public comment. Our City Council meetings should not be an endurance test.  They should be a constructive discourse. 

If we don’t work together in a more cooperative and constructive manner, we will never solve the problems that Boca now faces.

Three years ago, when I made my first appearance before the City Council as President of BocaBeautiful.org, I warned that Boca’s building binge was out of control, that there was insufficient thought given to the effects that all this new construction would have on traffic, parking and infrastructure, and that the anger among Boca’s citizenry was real and growing.  Where are we today? There are still enormous downtown building projects awaiting government approval. Traffic and parking are worse than ever. And public anger continues to grow.

It is not too late for our City Council to do something about it. To solve problems before creating new ones. To make citizen input easier and more welcome. We need to say “enough is enough” before there is nothing left of the Boca we knew and loved.   

John C. Gore
President
BocaBeautiful.org

An OPEN Discussion about “OPEN space” in ord. 4035

The revelation at a December 7, 2015 CRA meeting that for twelve years developers have been planning and constructing buildings in probable violation of the 40% open space requirements under the law, was more of a shock than a surprise.  A shock because of the blatant nature of the abuse; but not a surprise, because we have grown accustomed to seeing developers game the system to their economic advantage.

So we have questions that we think the CRA should urgently address:

   BOCA RATON, VIA MIZNER, THE FIRST OF THREE MAMMOTH NEW BUILDINGS IN DOWNTOWN BOCA.NOVEMBER 15, 2015.


BOCA RATON, VIA MIZNER, THE FIRST OF THREE MAMMOTH NEW BUILDINGS IN DOWNTOWN BOCA.NOVEMBER 15, 2015.

First, was the crafting and use of the 7/28/03 Administrative Memorandum a case of incompetence, corruption, or both?

The language in the Ordinance requiring 40% open space is clear. It was included as part of a compromise which was approved by referendum in 1992. Developers admit that they helped craft the Ordinance. Did they also help city staff craft the Administrative Memorandum which according to the City Attorney “is inconsistent with the language of 4035,” which is a nice way of saying “violates the law”. Who wrote the memo and why? Was the modification to the open space guidelines in 4035 ever subject to Council discussion or debate? Why did no one notice the “inconsistency” until now?  How did this happen?

Second, how many buildings constructed under 4035 guidelines are in violation of those guidelines? The Mark? The Hyatt? Palmetto Promenade?  Via Mizner Phase I? How many pending development applications are also in violation of those guidelines?   

Presumably, the City has a way of finding out. Or is nobody paying attention? Is there no oversight? No enforcement?  We’re not just talking about the color of paint here.

Third, what are you going to do to correct the situation? 

You have a number of options, and you don’t need a developer-packed “workshop” to figure it out. You could take the historic pro-developer route and rewrite the 4035 Ordinance to provide amnesty to all illegal buildings and legal cover for projects going forward. Messrs. Gromann and Siemon will no doubt have lots of other ideas how 4035 can be “improved,” once opened to amendment. In other words, you can just sigh and say “never mind” and pretend this never happened.

Or you could enforce the law. You could grant amnesty to completed buildings under 4035—even though legally you don’t have to—but require that all yet-to-be-built projects strictly comport to the language in 4035. As your City Attorney pointedly remarked in your December 7th meeting “no one is ever allowed to rely on an error of law.” If a project is authorized under 4035 it must comply with the provisions of 4035. This is a legal matter, not a question of policy.

Most importantly, this oversight (or scandal) should not be an opportunity for the development lobby to try and get included in the Ordinance what they were unable to achieve when the original 4035 compromise was drafted, or what they tried to accomplish illegally through the now-exposed Administrative Memo of 7/28/03 and subsequent modifications.

This whole affair is an embarrassment to the City of Boca Raton. It is very likely to result in lengthy and expensive litigation, no matter what you decide to do. Having dropped the ball, it would be heartening to see you pick it up and run in a direction that pleases the residents who elected you. March 2017 is just over a year away.