Almost three (3) years ago I published an article in the Boca Tribune declaring Boca Raton the “Education Capital of Palm Beach County” (see attached).

It was true then and is abundantly true now.   The recent flurry of property development activity to provide for this phenomenon suggests that our community may be on the brink of being late to capture these advances.

What has happened?

Last year, Florida Atlantic University and the City of Boca Raton began discussions to address the University’s need for additional student housing. Discussions revolved around on-campus housing, off-campus housing and/or a combination of both. Concerns for city services; traffic impacts and timing were in the mix. Results, however, have been sparse; while the need continues to grow. Some projects, both on and off campus, have moved forward allowing now for a documented history to better predict impacts and unintended consequences with this current and future growth.

That’s a good thing….

Recently, at the September 21st City Council workshop two items were brought forward for Council direction.

One item considered whether to retain Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council to facilitate a visioning summit for the 20th Street Corridor. The second item was a request by Gray Robinson, representing the property owner of 2600 NW 5th Ave., (formerly the “Elysium” site), an 8 acre property in the vicinity of the 20th St. Corridor.

This request was for the Council to accept an amendment to the City’s comprehensive plan creating a new land use designation; to wit: University Housing.

For those interested in hearing the discussion for these items go to the following:

http://bocaraton.granicus.com/GeneratedAgendaViewer.php?view_id=1149

The result for the Treasure Coast item is that the Council directed the City Manager to move forward with the proposal, a proposal costing $25,000 and within the Manger’s authorization to approve.

Information provided by Chrissy Biagiotti, Communications and Marketing Manager, establishes that the city is now in the process of developing a scope of professional services agreement, with delivery of the visioning session anticipated for December 2015.

BocaWatch agrees in principle with this result; to wit: it is priced right, will provide for community participation, and moves forward a major item facing our City in its present and foreseeable future needs.

One caveat, Councilman Singer, in his ‘Coffee and Conversation’ event last week, indicated that the visioning session may lead to future expenditures. Treasure Coast is a competent organization for this current proposal. However, retaining them for the visioning process should not be a basis for a future services contract without the need for competitive bidding or an analysis of in-house staffing capabilities.

Item two, the Comprehensive Plan Amendment, met with a different result. The Council did not allow for the request to move forward. Concerns for ‘unintended consequences’ seemed to rule the day.   The majority of the Council indicted that they did not have enough information to move forward comfortably. The applicant pressed the issue arguing that even a small few month delay would impact the timing of bringing these units on line; an argument that did not carry the day.

Reasonable people can disagree reasonably.

BocaWatch believes that the Council erred on the side of caution by not allowing the amendment to move forward. Comprehensive Plan Amendments take time, lots of time. The arguments for student housing is compelling. The Treasure Coast visioning session can include the comp plan amendment and if the amendment proves to be inconsistent with what’s in the best interest of the City, it can be halted.

BocaWatch’s support for this plan amendment may be surprising to many of you. However, there are many safeguards in the process. With one caveat, BocaWatch believes that moving the amendment forward is in the best interest of the city. The prevailing fact is that being brought forward very early in the process residents will have ample to time to participate and influence outcomes.

This is exactly what we, the residents, have been requesting. This is a good thing.

The one caveat is in the way this Comprehensive Plan Amendment is drafted. The language seems to be a veiled effort to avoid a spot zoning challenge; to wit: the 2600 NW 5th Ave site is the only site currently eligible in the vicinity of the University to meet the language’s outlined criteria.

These two agenda items effectively reflect what the future holds.

Our city and the university have a large stake in the outcomes and timing is an important factor. Other items are already in the pipeline to meet the present void of thousands of units in student housing.

Just last week, at the P & Z Board, a master plan was approved for the development of a concept labeled “University Village”; a plan for development of the 80 acre land parcel bordered by I-95, Spanish River Blvd., and NW 5th Ave. and Yamato Road to the North.

The Sun Sentinel reported on this item last Saturday. The renderings are picturesque and the need seems compelling. Opposition is expected but at this time moderate. However, a basic truth is that there is a need for student housing and the market is reacting to that need. For the most part, this is a good thing….modulation can be achieved especially when there is an early point of entry for residents to participate.

In declaring Boca Raton the ‘Education Capital of Palm Beach County’, evidence existed then and now to support the proposition that education is the basis for a large percentage of real estate transactions in the greater Boca Raton area. Economic development is also closely tied to education.

Student housing is essential. This is evidenced in other parts of the State. Sunday’s Palm Beach Post reports that “Universities hope to lure students with luxury dorms”. The article informs that the University of South Florida, in Tampa, is planning a $134 million mixed use university housing village. Other higher education communities are also in the mix. The University of North Florida and Florida Polytechnic University have student housing in their scope. The Tampa Tribune has opined that many of the high end dorms are developed by private interests allowing for the private sector to take the risk while offering universities and the communities in which they reside the opportunity to advance.

As stated earlier, time is of the essence….