Last week’s Planning and Zoning meeting resulted in a surprising 4 -3 vote of a resolution considering an amendment for the Individual Development Approval of the CRA to advance the Via Mizner Hotel and Residences project, Phases 2 and 3 located at 700 – 998 South Federal Highway.

 

Surprising, because it is generally accepted in the community that this 140+20 foot high profile project consisting of a 164 room Mandarin Oriental hotel and 104 condominium residential units managed by the hotel would simply just sail through Boca Raton’s developer driven approval process.

 

But alas, despite an abysmal presentation by city staff in defending the best interests of Boca Raton and its residents; despite the description of a Mandarin Oriental Hotel being the best thing since slice bread; and despite arguments from the biased 4 developer friendly P & Z member majority, the project barely survived a recommendation vote to the CRA for approval.

 

While it is reasonable to accept the proposition that a Mandarin Oriental brand would be a net positive for Boca Raton, it is not reasonable to accept that proposition potentially at the expense of the health, safety and welfare of the city at large. Legitimate and serious questions were raised by the three dissenting members of the board. These questions centered on the parking and stacking design of the project as well as no valet at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. It would seem that the nature of these questions should have been raised by staff prior to presentation to the board and not raised at the board itself.

 

The P & Z director, Ty Harris, in defense of staff’s recommendation of approval, stated on more than one occasion during the presentation, that staff is restrained in its approval process to review a project as presented and not as it might be. That said, one wonders if it may be possible for a project to come along that may technically meet a lenient interpretation of code but not practically meet the needs of the location; said project would proceed with staff offering no insight into a more effective and safer application. Ridiculous….

 

At one point, again concerning the parking issues, it was suggested that if the health, safety and welfare items raised by the dissenting members were to come to pass, code enforcement would be in a position to correct the deficiency. That is an absurd proposition especially if a design flaw prevents such correction and the building is built and operational.

 

The staff representative called to testify about the safety and welfare impacts on traffic and possible stacking concerns was unintelligible. He never actually answered the question asked about how the project’s operations would prevent backlog and stacking in the right lane of Federal Highway going north especially when events are being held in the ballroom; coupled with the normal activities of 17,200+ square feet of retail, 10,000 square feet of restaurant, 5,000 square feet of customer service area and the normal parking of the 104 residential units all of which use a shared driveway and apparently without the benefit of a valet parking service; MASSIVE. This staff member’s presentation was embarrassing and should be thoroughly reviewed. See short You Tube.

 

So why is all this important….

In order for the project to move forward as designed, it will require two technical deviations related to a reduction of its driveway turning radius and a reduction in garage drive aisle width. Both these deviations are directly related to the issues raised by the minority board members. Both these deviations also are directly related to the project’s attempt to achieve maximum density allowed on the site. Both these deviations would not be necessary if the developer attempted to be more community friendly by meeting the ‘spirit’ of the IDG and not the minimum ‘letter’ of the IDG.

 

Having said that, there is also staff’s tone-deafness and perhaps the deafness of the elected officials to the continuing arguments about the use of the IDG; a use that may be found contrary to the best interests of Boca Raton raised within the debate at the CRA’s recent hearing with Urban Design Associates (UDA) on November 9th.

 

The recently uncovered glaring deficiencies of both staff and the UDA consultant calls into question the proposition extended by the project’s legal representative; that proposition being that UDA has approved the design and has concluded that the project “meets qualitative and quantitated” standards of the IDG.

Convenient but hardly convincing….

 

Another item raised by one member of the dissenting minority was the matter of ‘open space’. Again here, the staff representative was inarticulate about how the 40.1% figure was calculated. She failed to answer the question to the satisfaction of the board member but the project architect did explain how the figure was calculated. The explanation again clearly established that the bare bones necessity was met by the project, nothing more, nothing less; a demonstration again of the corporate mentality to maximize profit versus a community friendly developer with a less intrusive mentality. See short You Tube

 

So what to do….

BocaWatch encourages the CRA members to review the P & Z video and hear the concerns voiced by the dissenting members. P & Z could have and should have sent the project back to the applicant for revision.   The notion that the project should be allowed to be built with these identified deficiencies is pure folly. There are alternative approaches that can be implemented and these should be investigated.   There is no set of conditions that will address the articulated stacking and parking problems raised and unanswered once the project is built.

 

Moreover, as requested by the open letter from the resident group, Boca Beautiful, the CRA should delay any forward movement with IDG projects until the public discussion of continuing approvals under the current IDG is determined to be or not to be in the best interest of Boca Raton.

BocaWatch will keep you posted on when this item is brought in front of the CRA but in the meantime, it is encouraged that you make your concerns known to our elected officials; these same elected officials that are arguably our last defense against a continuing overdevelopment phase in the history of our city.

 

Planning and Zoning Board Vote – For: William Fairman, Arnold Sevell, Rick Coffin, Glenn Gromann  Against: Kerry Koen, Janice Rustin, Larry Cellon.

 

This project will be coming before your City Council.  If the size, density, lack of hotel valet or other deviations concern you, now’s the time to contact you city officials. Contact info

 

Link to P&Z meeting-click on video for Planning & Zoning Nov 19, 2015