A TRIP THROUGH BUILDING HEIGHTS’ MEMORY LAND

I am sure all of us remember the days of our youth when each year, perhaps on our birthday, we were made to stand against a door jam and have a pencil mark measure the year over year height difference in a most graphic of ways…..Sadly, and much to my chagrin, that vivid truth does not transfer in building height restriction and the ordinances manipulated, I mean, interpreted to establish a simply truth….

HOW HIGH IS HIGH ENOUGH…..

100 FEET, NO…140 FEET, NO…160 FEET, NO AND NOW, THE UNTHINKABLE….352 FEET, NO, NO, NO

In order to try to arrive at an answer devoid of spin and manipulation, one needs to travel down memory lane….beginning almost 2 ½ decades ago.

In March, 1998, the Boca Raton Downtown Development of Regional Impact (DDRI) was created.  This is a milestone for today’s building height debate.  Back then, in simpler terms, the DDRI crafted a background for growth and expansion in the downtown.

Design Guidelines (sound familiar) were adopted in October, 1992 with, I am sure, much the same acrimony that today’s version of design guidelines are faced with.

In May, 1993, the first version of Ordinance 4035 was adopted by a citywide referendum (at least the citizens got to vote on this), and, became the controlling development order for Downtown Boca Raton …..and, building heights were limited to 100 feet….

Fast forward now to November, 2008, Ordinance 4035 is amended by Ordinance 5052 and companion Ordinance 5051 to raise building heights to 140 feet with 160 feet maximum.

However, here is where the manipulated confusion begins….These ordinances also introduced the concept of “Interim Design Guidelines” through legislative action of the City Council, not referendum of the citizens.  However, these guidelines were not officially adopted and codified by the city.  They were simply attached to Ordinance 5052.

These building height limits were intended to apply to only certain areas of the downtown, not including Palmetto Park Road East, where the 100 feet height limit remained in effect.  Furthermore, these regulations require offsets by lower heights within each project, resulting in an average height of the project no greater than 100 feet.

Fast forward again to February, 2012….Ordinance 4035 is fast tracked to the City Council for amendment, resulting in Ordinance 5203, which extends the Interim Design Guidelines to an additional sub-area of the Downtown, East Palmetto Park Road, for the specific purpose of accommodating the Archstone development project. 

Without going too far afield, it should be remembered that in March, 2012, 1,111 citizens signed a petition to have the City Council repeal Ordinance 5203 or put the matter up for a City-wide referendum. The City Council and Archstone not only fought the citizens in court to invalidate the petition but actively went to Tallahassee to get legislation passed that now prevents the citizens from ever having a referendum vote on downtown development projects….but I digress…

At least one item remains in need of clarification….the discussions surrounding Ordinances 5051 and 5052 resulted in a Council consensus that these higher building types be designated “Landmark Buildings”.   “Landmark Buildings” were to be centered in the heart of the downtown, specifically on Palmetto Park Road and US 1 with great limitation on their number.  These consensus opinions were violated by the language of the Ordinances themselves and subsequent legislative actions and approvals of the then City Council. 

“The Mark” violates the stated intention of the City Council, as it does not face either US 1 or Palmetto Park Rd.  Via Mizner also violates their stated intention, as it quite distant from Palmetto Park Road and US 1. 

At this time, there still is no definition or guidelines for a “Landmark Building” designation.  With numerous projects already in the pipeline and more to follow, developers will continue to push for higher and higher buildings and for their proposed projects to be recognized as Landmarks or Iconic in some way.  This is not sound urban planning and steps need to be taken to prevent this free-for-all by the developers.

Simply put, the maximization of profit is based almost entirely on the cost of the dirt.  The higher the building, the cheaper the dirt….Developers cannot be blamed for wanting to maximize profit.  It is the job of the now, new city council to rein this in on behalf of the citizens. 

To this end, BocaWatch urges all concerned citizens to pick up the phone or send an email to our elected leaders insisting that 1) the building height in the downtown remain unequivocally 100 feet; 2) guidelines be put in place defining the “Landmark Building” concept with limitations demonstrably set as to location and look; and that 3) Ordinances 5051 and 5052 be amended to reflect the City Council consensus at the time of the public hearings that these ordinances, together with the attached Interim Design Guidelines would only apply to Landmark Buildings and not to all development projects in the downtown 2 acres or more in size.