After years of seeing numerous City of Boca Raton development ordinances created, or strongly influenced by the very land use attorneys that represent the developer and land owner, something changed for the better…. The Development Services staff for the city, at the behest of City Council, crafted a development ordinance for ‘Midtown’.
What a difference! The Ordinance actually had the hallmarks of putting the resident interests, and, quite frankly, the city’s interests, in front of the developer/landowner interests. Kudos to Development Services Director Brandon Schaad and his staff for a job well done. Mr. Schaad joined the city as recently as December, 2016 and his impact is being felt in a big way. Additional kudos to the Planning and Zoning Board that made further amendments to the plan to benefit the city and its residents.
With no surprise to those that follow the goings-on at City Hall, attorneys representing Midtown developers threatened legal action on constitutional grounds. With no shame, the attorney presented the P&Z board members with their own list of amendments just minutes before the hearing, giving the board no time to review and requested that the board deny the staff recommendation and approve their submission. To the P&Z board’s credit, the members were taken aback by this unabashed tactic and rejected it hands down. Also rejected was the entire notion of 2500 units; of a Transit Oriented District without the transit element in place; of development before infrastructure improvements are in place for traffic, roadway improvements, sewer and water improvements and, most important school concurrency matters.
Weeks ago, BocaWatch instigated a movement to reduce the 2500 unit request to a more manageable number of 650 units without a Tri-Rail station in place. The Board went even further. The board is recommending to the City Council approval of a total of 600 units without the Tri-Rail element. The Board also made it clear that their recommendation is that all infrastructure improvements must be in place before any building commences. The Board clearly adopted many of the elements built into the City Development Services Department’s ordinance.
As to the Tri-Rail station eventuality, even if approved the station is a distant reality expected for some time in the year 2022. Yet the developers want approval for 2500 units even before there is a decision on location. The Board left open the option that when the Tri-Rail station is in service, further development could be approved. Kudos is extended to the P&Z Board for rejecting the developer driven ordinance and their over-development request.
Has the City Learned Valuable Lessons?
You would have to be a Rip Van Winkle just waking up from a long sleep to not know that the two biggest issues facing Boca’s quality of life are OVER-development and traffic. These are the consequences of having developer/landowner interest supersede that of the residents. Before we collectively pop the cork on the champagne bottle on behalf of Boca’s quality of life, let’s make sure that this recent development is a trend, not a one-off instance. Development Services needs to be the lead on providing the rules, not special interest groups.
What is of immediate importance is that the P&Z Board is merely a recommendation. The Midtown project is scheduled to be in front of the City Council on November 14th where the developers will undoubtedly try to get the Council to override the P&Z Board recommendation. To that end, the developers at the P&Z meeting had a young attorney lecture the board on the constitutionality of the City’s ordinance and threaten the Board by raising the specter that the developer will initiate suit against the City. The Board appeared insulted by this threat; Board member Kerry Koen remarked that a threat like that is “why we have city attorneys.”
So in summary, the P&Z Board has recommended 3 related ordinances to the City Council with conditions limiting density to 600 units and a minimum of 700 sq. ft. per unit; with no reduction in parking requirements; and, with street and school infrastructure improvements in advance of building permits being issued.
Let’s savor this ‘resident friendly’ victory for a short period of time. It is not beyond possibility that the City Council will reject the P&Z Board recommendations. That is clearly possible. However, what the P&Z Board has done is put this issue directly in front of the City Council for them to have to take a decision and defend that decision to the residents; if the Council accepts the recommendations then all is well. If they reject and approve the developer’s requests then any councilmember voting in favor of that should be voted out of office at the very first opportunity. Councilmen Rodgers and Weinroth need to be contacted as they are the first up for reelection in March ’18. Councilman Singer wants to be your next mayor…Well this action will define his posture as ‘resident friendly ‘or not….the choice is his to make….
Politics is the driving force….Money usually buys politics but in the Midtown circumstance, in today’s political environment, residents have the upper hand…
Remember your vote is your voice; make your voice heard loud and clear in March 2018… VOTE!!!
Also, let’s remember that the City of Boca has had a number of Development Services Directors in recent years. Let’s hope that Mr. Schaad success and employment is long lasting on behalf of the city and its residents.