An Open Letter(warning) to the City Council: 

Is Planned Mobility a Function of Lobbying Influences and Political Cronyism?

I have a confession to make. This is the first letter I have ever sent to any councilperson. I served on City Boards for 25 years. I generally agree with the direction our council is taking us, and when I disagree I have maintained public silence lest I be perceived as a partisan instead of a jurist in a Quasi-judicial post. I generally agree with the direction the City is taking and I do not wish to add to the sometimes divisive political rhetoric in this city.  Now, however, I find myself for the first time writing to the council because this issue is too important to maintain silence any longer. 

In open meetings and in workshops I have often, at times, vigorously challenged the direction  of Planned Mobility (PM) on several grounds including the lack of adequate Individual Development Plan safeguards, lack of a comprehensive review process,  and the lack of  objective standards and metrics by which we can analyze the impact of the developments being considered on traffic. The City recently decided to lessen the only objective standard in the PM ordinance, the “points matrix” not because it was ineffective but because it was too difficult  for a developer to attain enough points to meet the standard. Now, at the current time,there is not any genuine objective measuring standard left in the PM ordinance and we are about to entertain the approval of Midtown, which is in reality the largest “rezoning” in the City’s history without having put in place adequate and proper safeguards, standards and metrics. In short, this letter is an attempt to inject my considered opinion on the subject. This letter will also demonstrate why the Midtown project is different than the APOC Northwest corridor projects which were approved. I will conclude by urging you to consider that voting to approve Midtown on any basis is reckless and that not enacting Boca’s own traffic and school concurrency standards is both politically and legally reckless.

The first point I wish to make is that Midtown is a development of such intensity and density that there will certainly be increased traffic, and increased demand on schools and municipal services. In contrast to the proposed Midtown project, the PM projects in the Northwest corridor were placed upon vacant land. In Midtown the developer is proposing we allow him to keep the existing developments and add thousands of residential units to an existing project WITHOUT deleting any of the existing development. The existing development was built to its maximum capacity when built some 30 years ago. Existing density and intensity will be greatly increased as will traffic and demand on other governmental services. Thus, there will not be less traffic travelling to Midtown. Instead, there will be an additional traffic impact over and above existing conditions. Laying another tier of development on top of existing development is like adding another layer of cake to an existing cake. It’s not less cake or calories, it’s more cake and more calories.

This “wedding cake” layering adds an entirely new level of traffic and impact upon this city and to say it will not have negative impact is disingenuous at best and dangerously naïve at worst. The developer will argue that there will be less traffic because of the proximity of the residential units to employment centers, but that proximity argument presumes that none of the residents will ever take any trips in their cars. Adding residential units causes traffic because nearly every occupant will have at least one car. The existing customers of the shopping center will not stop coming there. The shopping center will not generate less traffic than it currently generates. Instead it will generate same amount of shopping traffic as it currently generates and the 2500 new residential units will generate additional and new traffic.  

Are we actually going to add thousands of apartment units to an area which for years has been quantitatively considered the most heavily over-trafficked in Palm Beach County? Every objective metric has rated these roads and intersections to be failing. Under long-standing concurrency standards they are rated “f” and that means that no new development that increases traffic or impact on schools could have been approved there. The nearby intersections on Glades Road are deemed to be the most failed intersections in Palm Beach County.  At one time, while Crocker Center (that is what Boca Center was called then) was seeking its initial development approval there was near universal rejection of the notion that residences would be considered there. There continued to be opposition by residents to apartment development anywhere on the Military Trail corridor. I do not think that the people of Boca Raton have changed their thinking that much. 

For those that follow politics and government it is of particular interest that Roads will no longer be reviewed by state concurrency standards but through county standards instead, a fact which seems to have been obscured in the debate over PM. Having PM introduced at the very same time as the statewide traffic concurrency system was being legislated out of the state’s Comprehensive Growth Management Laws leaves this entire process open to a charge of lobbying influence and political cronyism that this City should rise above. When everyone on both P and Z and council voted for PM, I am certain they were under the assumption that there would be areas where PM projects could not be built because they would not pass concurrency review. I doubt whether the repeal of state concurrency review has been brought to their or your, the residents) attention. I know the repeal of statewide concurrency review was never brought to the attention of P and Z, who always assumed that we had in place checks and balances established by state law in 1972.  (see for example modifications to Chapter 163.3180 and 163.3182 for those that are inclined towards legal research)  No one seemed to know of this repeal of statewide concurrency standards (except perhaps the applicants and their representatives and myself who privately asked the Development Services Director what this repeal would mean,(unfortunately he did not remain employed long after my visit).  My point is the process itself seems to have been geared towards an outcome. The voting boards attention was deflected away from the unknown factors such as the disappearance of concurrency review. Voting members of both P and Z and City Council should have been given information that might have had an effect upon their votes. 

Which leads me to conclude with this point. Certainly, prior to the final vote approving PM, our city staff had to know of this repeal of statewide concurrency standards. Certainly, the repeal was not brought to the P an Z Board’s attention. Was that intentional? If so, then there is a deeper issue behind this that leaves me pondering our grave future. If not intentional, then this “mistake” infected the approval process. People voting on this assumed the growth management laws were still intact and would still be the shield against development beyond our road’s,  school’s, and municipal services’ ability to process.

 Therefore, I request that one of you introduce Boca’s own concurrency review standards.  I am certain our City Attorney can direct your Attention to the dictates of chapter 163 of the Florida Statutes which states that statewide traffic and school concurrency standards are no longer in effect and FS Section 163.3182 which goes on to state that  unless a local government adopts its own concurrency standards then none can be considered. Are we left to the standards of review of Palm Beach County? Are we not better than Lantana, Lake Worth, et. al.?   We should never be considering thousands of new units to be built onto failing roads and not adopt levels of service standards to replace the recently repealed state standards. This would be reckless and would be serving developer’s interests rather than the people’s. Which naturally leads me to suspect how, in the course of this entire debate, that our City Boards and City Council were operating under the reasonable assumption that long-standing concurrency laws were still in effect. This raises a whole host of questions about what has transpired and why which I will not address in this letter but will leave up to you to ponder.

Thank you for your time and please accept my sincere appreciation for your kind and prompt attention to this most serious matter.

STEVEN UTRECHT, Former Vice Chairperson Planning and Zoning 

_______________________________________________________________________

PUBLISHER’S COMMENT:

 BocaWatch, through a public records request, has uncovered that subsequent to receiving this letter from former P&Z Board member Steve Utrecht, City Council member Andrea Levine O’Rourke requested that the City Administration place this item on the July 24th City Workshop agenda for discussion and for exploring concurrency standards specific to the city of Boca Raton.  Also uncovered is that Deputy City Manager George Brown and Development Services Director Brandon Schaad both responded to Council member O’Rourke’s communication.  Below see the text of their responses.

Moreover, in response to a BocaWatch inquiry as to the Deputy City Manager’s statement that Boca Raton does, in fact, still have concurrency standards, Mr. Utrecht states that his research has not uncovered any provision in the city code supportive of the statements.  Mr. Utrecht also reaffirmed his comment that in all 7 years since Planned Mobility has been in place, little, if any, mention of these concurrency considerations have been brought to the attention of either the P&Z Board or the residents in a City Council workshop.  Transparency be damned!  Residents, especially residents in the Midtown Boca area, have a right to be fully informed of the impacts that this high density project will have on their communities and quality of life.  The developer has failed to provide specifics to the community on this massive project.  Planned Mobility was conceived and adopted under the premise that it would reduce traffic but with what is now being uncovered, it may be viewed as a hidden means for the developer/land owner to exceed the concurrency standards on roadways, schools and municipal services put in place to protect us, the resident, against another project with extreme overdevelopment potential.  Here again residents….Caveat Emptor, Buyer Beware….

Stay tuned to BocaWatch…More to come over the next few weeks leading up to the July 24th workshop.  Also, follow the BocaWatch commentaries by Jack McWalter on this Midtown Boca development project.

Al Zucaro

____________________________________________________________________

Response From George Brown, Deputy City Manager

Sent: Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Andrea, please see Brando’s brief summary below.  The bottom line is that we still do have concurrency standards in the City of Boca Raton and we are applying them.  In relation to Midtown, one of the most important considerations is, in fact, concurrency.  As has been noted in the staff reports on the ordinance as it has been presented thus far, the proposed regulations must demonstrate concurrency.  Because the Midtown lands are getting new zoning regulations, the action (if taken) must be consistent with the comprehensive plan. “Consistent” means the action must meet consistency, compatibility, and concurrency requirements of the City’s Comp plan, and the proposed rezoning and text amendment that allow for a PMD with additional overall development and residential units must satisfy traffic concurrency requirements.

Staff will be prepared to discuss concurrency at the July workshop in conjunction with the Midtown matter.  Please give me a call if you have additional questions.

George

__________________________________________________________________

Response From Brandon Schaad

Sent:  Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Since 2011, traffic, parks and school concurrency have no longer been REQUIRED by the state of local governments.  Local governments can still maintain such standards if they choose to, and most have, particularly for traffic.  Including Boca, and including Palm Beach County.  The state never did concurrency reviews, and the actual standards were always up to the local government for roads they were responsible for.  So nothing has really changed, except that we could get rid of those concurrency standards if we chose to.

____________________________________________________________________

TO THE READER:

BocaWatch found only the below LINK mentioned on the city’s website with regards to ‘concurrency’.  BocaWatch suggests that this reference is not the equivalent of a city code or ordinance.  Although it may be a ‘standard’, it can be implemented and/or changed without council action.  If that is a correct interpretation, there is a ‘big’ difference from the binding elements of an adopted ordinance.

To see what is on the city’s website, click this link: https://www.myboca.us/891/Transportation-Planning

___________________________________________________________________

RESPONSE FROM THE AUTHOR STEVE UTRECHT:

Before I wrote the e-mail I looked for and found the same thing BocaWatch found and I came to the same conclusion–the statement in the city’s webpage is not an ordinance it is a statement of purpose contained in a website, not a code provision. I read chapter 163 Florida statutes to require a legal standard be adopted by cities or they have no standard to apply.I find this puzzling and all I asked for is a citation to the City code. To say we have always had a standard is fine, but for the City to respond and say they have a standard, but not provide any means to verify and read the standard? A citation would suffice.  I will also comment that reading our municipal code is frustrating and like untangling a knotted shoelace. It is a patchwork quilt of years of resolutions adopted by various councils over many years and is in dire need of a rewrite, a comprehensive rewrite. In researching this I think it is possible that we have codified our traffic concurrency standards but where? I suggest they provide a citation to the code. I am much obliged.
Steve Utrecht