Are we unwittingly headed toward another OVER-development debacle?

You bet we are….

In one of the longest City Council Workshop meetings in recent memory, on June 12th, a prolonged conversation took place regarding the timing of future progress for the massive Midtown Boca Development project.  It should be no surprise that the developer team for the project is seeking to move the re-zoning process along more rapidly – and on their terms; terms that are not in the interest of the resident but rather in the profit interest of the developer.

The developer team at issue here are familiar names to the observing public; to wit: Crocker Partners led by its managing director, Angelo Bianco, and a ‘dream team’ of hired guns consisting, in part, with Charlie Siemon and Wendy Larsen, attorneys for Grey Robinson and lobbyist for the Midtown Boca project, along with, Mark Guzzetta, Lobbyist Extraordinaire, who just recently disclosed his previously undisclosed relationship as a lobbyist for Midtown Boca, as well as a slew of other ‘hired guns’, of course, the best that money can buy….

At this City Council workshop the major bone of contention with members of City Council was the recognition that the City Council appeared to have recommended to the City Manager that city staff create the re-zoning ordinance in-house and that staff take whatever time necessary to craft standards and uses unique to the Midtown Boca geographic area.  From a ‘resident-friendly’ point of view, a city staff created ordinance is more preferable than one created by a developer’s hired gun.

Angelo Bianco, managing partner of Crocker Partners, came prepared with a slideshow presentation along with representatives from Trademark (Glades Plaza) and Cypress Real Estate (Nippers and Bowling Alley).  For more than ninety minutes the trio argued forcefully to move forward the re-zoning language prepared by their hired land use attorney and have it in front of Planning and Zoning Board for a vote at the board’s next meeting on July 20.

During the presentation, Bianco claimed that his company had been working on this for years and how the project has been mistreated by delays; perhaps laying the predicate with a not so subtle inference that a law suit might be in the making.  He further claimed that the company has conducted numerous workshops with surrounding area residents; stating also, “as open and transparent as we have been”.

Make no mistake these statements are nothing more than sales jargon.

Perhaps a more accurate reality might be:

  • The ordinance Bianco favors is very much open-ended as to uses and does not specifically identify prohibited uses that would be neighborhood unfriendly unless specifically excluded;
  • The community outreach was far from voluntary and resulted from serious community pushback. Further, the meetings were structured to inform and sell their ideas as opposed to hearing and acting on community concerns and feedback; and,
  • From the developer standpoint, ‘working on it for years’ must mean from their conception of the project. From the resident standpoint, this first appeared on the radar last December 22 when this same developer(s) attempted to get their ordinance passed while the community was largely distracted with the Boca Bowl and the holiday season.

Open and transparent….Really?

A spotlight could shine on additional misrepresentations, but that would belabor the point.  Besides, there is more to the story.

During the city staff portion of the presentation, Deputy City Manager George Brown did a slide presentation and stated that the direction given to staff during the May ‘17 Goal Setting was the following:

May 2017 Goal Setting Discussion on Midtown:

Institute planning progress to establish vision and conceptual plan

Community and Developer Input

Conceptual Plan for overall approach and general design

Clearly a direction from City Council that city staff would lead the process in a collaborative visioning of Midtown.

Not so fast!

In spite of the City Council dialogue at the Council Workshop supporting city staff handling the process, it appears the developers, in what could only be some sort of ‘backroom’ discussion, and may have now gotten exactly what they wanted.

Sometime between the June 12th public hearing and week’s end, a determination has been made by the top city administration that there was no ‘specific’ direction given to have city staff take the lead.  This change in posture has now been conveyed to members of the City Council and is the process city staff is to follow.

Are you kidding me?  Does it require a Town Crier in City Square to announce the City Council’s intentions?

The visual and audio evidence is clear.

There is no doubt that staff had been given clear direction from the City Council to take the lead and prepare, for review, a regulatory ordinance defining the best interests of the city and its residents.

Below is a link for you, the reader, to view and formulate your own opinion.

As it stands now, the starting point for a controlling ordinance in Midtown Boca will be led by the developer’s land use attorney(s) and targeted for rapid presentation at the Planning and Zoning Board on July 20th.

We have seen this movie before!

These same ‘backroom’ tactics have been used for decades facilitated with the cooperation of a ‘developer friendly’ city council and administration.

Is that what the residents want?  Of course it is not…so what to do….

First recognize that just 3 months ago the residents elected two City Council members, Andrea O’Rourke and Scott Singer, who ran on a ‘resident friendly’ platform with the Midtown Boca item being front and center in that election cycle.

Contact them!

Let them know that they represent the resident and not the developer and that the resident is best served by city staff developing the regulatory structure for what is in the best interest of the city and its residents not the dictates of the developer.

Next, recognize that in the upcoming election cycle, March ‘18, two currently seated elected officials are up for re-election; to wit: Jeremy Rodgers and Robert Weinroth.

A demonstration of ‘developer friendly’ versus ‘resident friendly’ is not something they will want to be called out on.

Your message should not be subtle…it should be loud and clear!

Mr. Candidate….ACT in the best interest of the resident or be prepared to answer to the electorate next spring….Period!

Let them know that they represent you and that the developer huddling with the city administration is not what you want…you want the city staff to draft and present a regulatory ordinance that will protect the interests of the existing neighborhoods and the longtime residents….

Your interests must prevail, not the profit interests of the developer….

Finally, not to be Pollyanna here, but, a city administration, by and of itself, would not take such a ‘resident unfriendly’ position…

The administration’s change of position would have needed to be facilitated with at least the perception of political cover….so…where might that political cover be coming from?

Well there is only one elected official left to consider….

That remaining elected official is and has been a developer’s vote forever; that elected official no longer has the interests of one or two Boca Raton neighborhoods as a prime concern; that elected official has set sights on higher office and needs the political donor class to financially support those ambitions; and, finally, that elected official is tied at the hip with the political influencer(s) of the Midtown Boca project….that elected official is Susan Haynie

You are the judge….But remember….

‘Your vote is your voice, let your voice be heard’ in the upcoming March ‘18 elections for City Council and then the November ‘18 election for County Commission….

Al Zucaro, Publisher

P.S.:   If you have the desire, you can view the night’s proceedings here:

The Midtown portion occupies approximately the last two hours of the video.

A further breakdown is as follows:

  • At approximately 2:54:40 to 3:16:45 mark, Crocker’s managing director, Angel Bianco, makes his opening arguments;
  • At approximately 3:20:40 to 3:41:30 mark, Councilwoman O’Rourke outlines her concerns and questions;
  • At approximately 3:41:30 to 3:48:30 mark, Councilman Scott Singer voices his issues and concerns;
  • At approximately 3:48:45 mark, Deputy City Manager and staff clearly make the case for their recommendations on what is needed and how to proceed. It is clear these recommendations were following the directions given by the City Council at the goal setting session in May ’17.
  • From approximately the 3:47 to the end, there is ample discussion as to the direction set by the city council.

Whatever the ‘backroom’ interaction after the June 12th public meeting to the end of this past week has been, it is deceitful to suggest that the City Council had not provided clear direction for what was to take place next.

Again, you be the judge….

There is an old adage that applies here…

’Fool me once shame on you…fool me twice shame on me’.  Residents should not be fooled!