Back on January 19, 2017 Randy Schultz failed to act like a journalist and proved that he is just another blogger.  He called BocaWatch “CONSPIRACY THEORISTS” and used the word “COMPLAINING” when BocaWatch, a non- profit website set up to fight for the resident’s voice, pointed out that Midtown Corridor, a 300 acre project, was purposely scheduled during Christmas in order to sneak it by concerned residents during the Holiday season; a manipulative scheduling tactic used often with controversial matters….Remember Archstone?

Let’s go a step further.  Randy Schultz’s serious journalistic career withered when he took a job with as a self proclaimed “blogger” and started calling the non-profit BocaWatch site “conspiracy theorists” for “complaining” when it wanted to shed light on projects that materially change our community using “Dark Money in Boca”.

Why is this an issue? Because Randy does not seem to do his homework anymore, and is ignoring the real stories and details that Boca Watch gets. So Boca Watch is a problem for him because of our engaged audience that expects better than what he provides.

Why is this important? Because the biggest development plan in years is at our doorstep, and we need to get it right.  Since Randy is not, we will, as we continue to present issues for the people of Boca Raton and support the landowners and developers to go forward when the residents’ reasonable concerns have been taken into account.

So on to the big deal on everyone’s mind, Midtown Boca. The Midtown corridor encompasses around 300 acres and is defined as an area that stretches from the Sears store that all of us know is likely to close in the near future all the way to I-95 along Glades Road, and back by the Blue Martini around by the Old Don Carter’s Bowling Alley.  Oddly enough when my Boca High Class of 1986 had youth government day, we suggested annexation of this area to get the real estate tax money from the county to fund our city even though we knew the bowling area and the gym next door stayed open to 5 a.m.   In 1986 this was way out in West Boca, how things have changed.

So today the property owners who have worked very hard and put a lot of money into this area over the years would like to redevelop the area again.  Please understand that as a youth growing up in Boca I have a great deal of respect for Mr. Crocker who developed Crocker center.  This respect is born out of the fact that the area in Boca Raton was a brown field foreclosed housing development that went under in 1982 and was left abandoned for a very long time.  Crocker stepped in and fixed the neighborhood at great financial risk.

Today’s property owners  are Crocker Partners, Cypress Realty, Glades Plaza, Simon Property Group, Sears and the Residential Developments. The residential property owners that are immediately next-door have a few simple understandable issues.  These property owners are Boca Bath & Tennis, Fairfield & Paradise Palms, and Via Verde.  Their issues are simply traffic, noise complaints, property values, and respect.  These issues can truly be addressed.

Oddly enough, and without recognizing the commonality of issues, rumor is that developer interests called on an overpriced lobbyist type whose history is tattered with a home foreclosure, liens and judgements, to deliver the city council using political tactics of a bygone era.  But, upon seeing the commonality of the issues this is entirely unnecessary and, if the developer interests did do this, they should tell this lobbyist to go home and play golf, his services are not needed.

We do not need a gatekeeper on this, we need community. I believe that can happen if the developer heard the voices of the voters at the last election.

The two groups, developer and resident, who usually are so opposed to one another’s existence, actually do share many common concerns.  One example is they both would like to stop the party and turn off the music at 2 a.m.  Why? Simple. Without this residential neighborhood ambiance how will the landowners turned developers once again sell their proposed new residential units?

So, the solution is basic. Boca Raton must pass zoning regulations which eliminate the old county zoning that left this timeline in place and hope that the affected business owners can simply be good neighbors and understand.  If not, then Boca Raton must enact the code and deal with the consequences that follow; to wit: enforcement of the valid code sections and the waiting game that will ensue.  Certainly, the city can make sure that this area is a safe residential zone from 2 a.m. until 5 a.m. by insuring that the business’ patrons are responsible as they leave the establishment via automobiles.

In addition, both the residents and the landowners realize the long term value of a Tri-Rail station.  In the world of finance, they say a “high tide raises all boats”.  Crocker Partners will opt into that train station because the change in use will increase the value of the property.  I for one, am happy to see them do well.

The other issue that all parties agree upon is a problem of traffic.  The quote that best exemplifies this, but might not be very accurate due to it’s source, can be found in a blogger’s blog on January 19, 2017 which reports that a land owner/developer’s attorney is credited as having said that nothing could happen before agreement on a shuttle system that would move people from these new homes to their workplaces.  The shuttle also could serve the Tri-Rail station that is planned for just north of Boca Center.

So, with communication and commonality of purpose, we can solve many of the issues that divide our community.  However, now community leaders, both private and public, must deal with two other issues to avoid any unintended consequences left over from regulations that were not developed by the fine, smart people who reside within Boca Raton’s City Hall and Palm Beach County’s School Board.

First, the Zoning regulations must be written in conformity with the city of Boca Raton so that this area is brought in line with the rest of the city and we are no longer piecing together the old county code from the 90’s and some amendments between then and today.  One code will set this project straight and give these communities a place to move forward including a closing time of 2 a.m.; the correct residential guidelines that will make these units marketable.

Furthermore, a comprehensive code recognizing Boca Raton’s character change from a suburban model restricting development to 20 units per acre to a more urban model with appropriate densities is necessary to appreciate value for all interested parties, residential and commercial, allowing for traffic recapture, and reducing ancillary trips on our roads, meaning less traffic on a go forward basis.

The next and last item, however, is much harder to deal with and may upset the entire south end of Palm Beach County.  The effect of the Midtown development on Spanish River Community High School is a challenge and I hope our elected leaders are  ready to deal with this head on.

Spanish River High School is rated to handle 2,259 students.  Currently the school has an enrollment of 2382 with an official capacity of 104%.  The current projected enrollment figures which are very accurate find that 2409 students will be enrolled in Fall 2020 which results in overcrowding of the school at a 107% capacity figure.  With the addition of the Midtown corridor we will see an estimated 250 student in the 2500 additional residential units as these locations are perfect for families seeking excellent high schools for their children migrating north from Broward County.  This will result in an enrollment of 2659; an enrollment level that is not anticipated by Palm Beach County’s School District at over 110%.

Approximately four years ago I sat on the Boundaries Committee for Palm Beach County Schools.  I am not bringing this last issue to light in order to scare anyone or be an alarmist.  I bring it forward to simply draw everyone’s attention to another issue that must be addressed and highlight this as an unintended consequence of this Midtown development.

Midtown is a good project, but it is a good project that needs to be completed the proper way.

We defined the issues as zoning and school boundaries.  In order to solve these, Boca Raton must create a new comprehensive zoning code for this area and make certain that Palm Beach County School Board understands that Spanish River services the city of Boca Raton’s western half and that those communities must not be divided and that our entire community is united in that belief.

The zoning code should not be enacted to hurt anyone, but rather to solve the simple problems so that we can bring the area into alignment and cause the neighbors to come into the fold.  These neighbors respect one another and do not act like uncivilized monsters that call each other names and play loud music until 5 a.m.  Luckily, there is time to get this right.

Today, the landowners have income producing properties and are not now sitting on brown fields.  The neighbors are alert and paying attention and the elected officials are eager to find solution that is a win-win for all concerned.  The formula for a successful outcome is in place!

The time is now….

So, let’s continue to come together as a community and do this right with a goal of working together to float all boats and fix all issues at once.

The time is right…the benefits are clear and the entire community is at the table!