Midtown Boca – Call to Action August 29th and August 30th …Get informed

Please plan to attend a Public Kick-off meeting for the general public concerned about the Midtown Boca project, scheduled for 6:00 P.M., August 29th at the Spanish River Library.  Additional details are contained in this article.

Make no mistake…Midtown is a big deal.  It’s a big deal in many ways.  It’s big geographically, covering a zoning district more than 250 acres.  It’s big economically, reaching into the billions of dollars.  It will have a big impact on the surrounding areas’ quality of life issues including; traffic, schools, businesses, etc.  And now, another big aspect of Midtown is coming into view; to wit: the much-discussed Tri-Rail Station proposal, south of Glades Road.

This proposed train station is simply a justification for permitting 2500 new residences in the immediate vicinity of the station’s location.  The theory is that the new residents will use the station to commute to and from work and that the tri-rail station will decrease roadway automobile trips in lieu of a public transport option.  Can’t help but remember the old cliché…lies, damn lies and statistics….

 Almost all of the new residences are to be located on the west side of Military Trail across from where the proposed station is to be constructed.  Military Trail is a county road and thus the County will have some say in whatever is the developer’s plan.  Motorists tend to drive fast on this prominent North-South artery and it is easily imagined a situation where a distracted driver crashes into a commuting pedestrian trying to cross this busy roadway.  Where is the plan for anticipating this???

I have been reviewing comments made to BocaWatch over the last few months with regards to the Midtown project and will be drafting a series of articles pointing out that the ‘planning’ element of ‘planning and zoning’ seems missing in the public discussion; an element that appears overlooked by our appointed and elected officials and the city staff hired to assist in the representation of residents.

Midtown Boca deliberations, thus far, are focused almost entirely on ‘zoning’.  There is a simple explanation for this:  When developers are driving the bus on a development of this magnitude, the single most important economic benefit for them is obtaining a zoning outcome that BEST MEETS THEIR WANTS AND NEEDS.  The real planning, in their strategy, can come later and at the public’s expense.

So where are the planning discussions?  Why is it that the residents have to be the most outspoken voice on this proposed project’s deficiencies?  Where are the appointed and elected officials?  Why are they silent?

BocaWatch announced the upcoming August 29th and 30thSouth Florida Regional Transportation Authority (SFRTA) meetings at the Spanish River Library.  BocaWatch is concern that these public meetings will simply be another orchestrated attempt at justification for a project that is clearly objectionable and not in the interest of the surrounding residential communities…

BocaWatch encourages all to attend…and be heard…

Questions to ask on the ‘planning’ element or lack thereof might include amongst other things:

  1. How are people to get from the west side of Military to the east side of Military where the station is   suggested to be located?  A bridge?  An underpass?  Who pays for this?
  2. Where would crosswalks be located?   Traffic control devices?  Medians?  Who pays for them?
  3. What about off-site roadway improvements?  Right-hand turn lanes? Trolley routes? Curb cuts and Bus Shelters? Who pays for these?
  4. Will impact fees collected by the County be returned to the City to offset the public funds required to defray incurred taxpayer costs?

Let’s remember one thing….The developer needs and wants a Tri-Rail station….the City has NO obligation to provide the developer with anything at this time.  The developer has the obligation to ‘plan’ this project and submit it for approval.  So, do it!  Where is the Mid-Town Boca Master Plan?

In reality, at this time, there is a very high stakes negotiation….In essence, approvals and entitlements will increase the developers’ value multi-fold.  One can imagine this being a BILLION DOLLAR GIFT to the developer(s).  So, to demand a 10% to 20% factor for public improvements is not unreasonable…the challenge is that City Council members are not negotiating in the best interests of the residents, in fact, they are not negotiating at all. The Council is almost neutered here relinquishing the negotiating role to city staff and city staff does not seem to be asking the hard ‘planning’ questions or demanding financial commitment(s) from the developer to implement the plan.  Is it no wonder that staff and the council are seen as ‘developer friendly’?  That has been the ‘Boca’ way for decades now….

Residents’ input is important…both for the commentaries and articles that BocaWatch will be presenting and, for the immediacy of the upcoming August 29thand 30th meetings; meetings that will include members of Boca Raton’s  elected body(s) responsible for this decision.   Boca Raton will have three important voices present; to with: our County Commissioner, Steve Abrams, our Mayor, Susan Haynie and City Councilmember, Robert Weinroth.  All three will be participating voices with the latter two representing Boca Raton on Palm Beach County’s Metropolitan Planning Organization.  These voices should be loud, clear and unequivocal…Two of these three, Haynie and Weinroth, are votes on the City Council, the political body that will eventually make a final decision on what if anything is approved for the Midtown Boca development.

MAKE NO MISTAKE…IT IS NOW OR NEVER TO GET THIS RIGHT!  LET YOUR VOICE BE HEARD!

August 29th and 30th is the residents’ first opportunity to see whether Mayor Haynie, who is expected to be running for the County Commission in November 2018, and Councilman Weinroth, who is already  running for re-election to the City Council in March, 2018, are ‘resident’ or ‘developer’ friendly.  If developer friendly, one would have to wonder from whom the third vote on the City Council might come.  Councilmember Singer? Rodgers? O’Rourke?  Be sure to ask them this in upcoming City Council meetings….

For now, the message that all Boca Raton’s elected representative voices should be delivering is:

No tri-rail station without definitive plans for ‘resident friendly’ elements and a total commitment from the developers to provide these off-site improvements at their expense and not at the expense of the Boca Raton taxpayer….

County Commissioner Abrams also needs to assure Boca Raton residents that the impact fees collected from these developers for the Midtown Boca project are returned to the city of Boca Raton to defray incurred public costs.  Perhaps these impacts fees can be set aside and used by the City Council to engage with the School District on ‘planning’ for how children residing within these 2500 new units will be educated since all Boca Raton schools are currently filled to capacity and no ‘planning’ for new Boca Raton schools seems to be in the public discussion at this time.

Boca Raton’s City Manager, only Friday, posted these upcoming meeting dates (thanks to Councilwoman O’Rourke’s insistence) for Boca Raton residents on the City’s website.  BocaWatch published the meeting notice last week and encourages all to spread the word.

Attached is the letter received by the Mayor dated August 4, 2017 outlining the SFRTA meeting’s objectives.  Notification has only been provided to residents and land owners within a radius of 300 feet, a distance conveniently excluding  the residential communities along the Military Trail corridor that are directly impacted and that have voiced serious concern for this project’s impacts on congestion, density, safety, and quality of life….What is going on?  By design, are residents being excluded?  Unacceptable!

Of particular interest, take notice of the last sentence in the second paragraph within the letter….

“A new station at this location is consistent with the City of Boca Raton’s Multi-Modal Transportation District.” 

 How very interesting since the process is ongoing for the Midtown Boca project to benefit from being a multi modal transportation district; a district yet to be justified, a justification needed to support Midtown Boca’s  request to place 2500 new residential units within an approximate 50+ acre parcel of land near the proposed Tri-Rail station location.  Sort of the cart before the horse don’t you think!!!!

BocaWatch’s purpose here is to inform the public of these important meetings; to have interested voices come and be heard; to gather the thoughts from concerned neighborhood voices, and to demand that appointed and elected officials begin to put the ‘planning’ function back into the public discourse for the Midtown Boca project.

PLEASE RESPOND TO THIS CALL TO ACTION…IT TRULY IS NOW OR NEVER!!!

BocaWatch will continue to publish written and video commentaries on this subject matter leading up to the August meetings and beyond to future Planning and Zoning Board meetings; Community Appearance Board meetings and, ultimately, to the City Council meetings where final approvals will be sought.

Stay tuned….and support the MIDTOWN BOCA 650 ‘resident friendly’ movement.

Al Zucaro