As the City of Boca Raton moves toward the development of a new “downtown” area on Military Trail, south of Glades Road, residents in the surrounding area have begun voicing their concerns.  Those concerns forced the developer’s representative to postpone his presentation in front of the Planning and Zoning Board.  That presentation is an attempt to create new zoning laws which will ultimately add density and building heights that are not allowed under current law.

In spite of the postponement, residents were allowed five minutes each to comment on the rezoning.  With the exception of one individual, all of the residents that spoke voiced concerns about excess traffic, walkability, building density and impact on quality of life.  In attendance were residents of Via Verde, Paradise Palms, Fairfield and Boca Bath and Tennis.

After all individual comments were heard, the developer representative took to the podium in an effort to assuage the resident’s concerns by explaining that what was being brought forward was not the development project itself but the rezoning effort.  He further announced that as the actual development projects come forward, residents will have additional opportunity to work with the developer to address concerns.

The lone resident voice that spoke in favor of the rezoning identified himself as a developer that resides in the Fairfield community in the affected area.  He too attempted to calm the storm when he indicated that the developer was simply following up on the various guidelines that were established seven years ago when Planned Mobility Districts (PMD) were created in a number of areas including Midtown.

Residents Should Focus on Getting The Type of Zoning They Desire

If you give a closer examination of the facts regarding the Fairfield residents’ statement, you discover that he failed to disclose that developer representatives have appeared before both the Planning and Zoning Board and City Council to seek approval for modifications to the original PMD ordinance.  The changes have occurred in a manner that benefit the developer with no benefit to the residents and altered what was originally promised.

In past issues, BocaWatch has covered this topic.  Please view the following links:

http://bocawatch.org/beware-the-trojan-horse/

http://bocawatch.org/pmd-planned-mobi…disappearing-act/

For his part, the developer representative attorney Michael Marshall, was disingenuous to minimize the significance of the rezoning.  Once granted, the new zoning will be the gateway to high density development that will exacerbate traffic issues in the area to the extreme.  Overnight, the value of the subject property will increase significantly.

The important point to know is that any and all projects that subsequently come forward and request variances or technical deviations will have to be contested, essentially on a building-by-building basis.  Legal entanglements are frustrating and costly.  That would not be good planning by either party.  That is why the rezoning is the most important item to get right for everyone.

The Massive Rezoning Should Have Included Residents in The Process

The scope and magnitude of this project is huge.  This is the type of action that calls for community involvement as part of the planning process before coming to city boards for approval.  Originally, the developer attempted to receive approval on a busy holiday season evening and came armed with letters of approval from surrounding community HOA boards.  But to its credit, Planning and Zoning Board antennas were raised when all the letters appeared to be exactly the same except for signatures.  That fact was partly responsible for moving the process to the January date.

This allowed citizens to become aware of what was at stake and enter their protest.  Some saying that they never agreed to an approval.

A Word to The Wise

In Boca Raton, the residents have seen this movie before.  As long as there is a willing and complicit City Council that will pass high density development, the inclination for developers and their attorneys will be to get things passed quickly and deal with any objections after the fact.

For the residents that have concerns about this issue, please know that your major objective is in front of you right now.  It is highly unlikely that City Council will take any action until after the March 14 election.  They will not want to own this decision prior to the vote.  Planning and Zoning will no doubt review prior to the election. Stay tuned in.  With that in mind, It may be wise to consider the following:

  1. Start with your own HOA and communicate with your neighbor HOA’s to form an alliance for the sole purpose of being part of the process by conducting a charrette that brings together the developer/landowner and residents.  Landowners have rights.  Taxpayers also have rights.
  2. Within your alliance discuss what features you want and don’t want as part of this inevitable redevelopment: Building height; walkability; Military Trail solutions for pedestrians; guaranteed connectivity and local transportation solutions to be in place early in the process on a specified timeline that you mutually agree to, or all construction halts; And more as determined by your group.
  3. Make sure to email your elected officials or board members and make them aware of your intent and goals.
  4. Focus on the items that will improve your quality of life. We only go around once.
  5. As individual projects come forward, be mindful of developer attempts to create variances and technical deviations that go against what was agreed to. Those attempts will continue as long as there is a building to be built.  The cumulative effect of chipping away at what was agreed on is what causes the problems you would otherwise think have been cured.  This tactic is the norm in Boca Raton development approvals.
  6. Don’t buy into the notion of future promises that may never materialize (e.g. train station). A Guarantee is better than a promise.
  7. Take any additional, and reasonable measures you feel are necessary. Consider a Land-Use Attorney or other professionals in the field.
  8. Stay with it, in spite of the inevitable challenges and frustrations.

The Bright Side

We are fortunate.  We are early enough in the process to demand a rewrite of the proposed zoning ordinance and insist residents be part of that process.  Also, the massive Midtown redevelopment has the potential to be a welcome addition to our beautiful and growing city if done right.  That will only happen with citizens making the right demands for the right reasons.  The downtown area of Boca Raton has already learned that lesson a little late.  Don’t let it happen here.

The Brighter Side

As I mentioned, an election will occur on March 14th.  That is the citizen’s opportunity to elect ‘Resident Friendly’ candidates and begin steering the future course of Boca Raton in a reasonable, and well thought out direction.  The new council will have the greatest impact on Midtown development.