Well! What a heck of a start to the new year….

Month one, January, 2016, has come in roaring like an angry lion….The stock market is turbulent ; the winter chill requires a woolen coat to walk the dogs; and, the proverbial ‘blame game’ accuses the residents of jeopardizing progress here in Boca Raton.

This last item, the ‘blame game’, has crystalized both within City Hall and in the developer/landowner community. The suggestion that it is somehow the residents who have misinterpreted and broken the law as proscribed under Ordinance 4035; it is somehow the residents that have encroached on the ‘public realm’ with buildings constructed with little regard for ‘open space’; it is somehow the residents who are responsible for the concrete canyon feel that has become Boca Raton’s new look….

In this first month, the spotlight on Ordinance 4035 is so bright that the CRA has issued a “planning in progress” notice to the developer/land owner that all projects built under the 2003 interpretative memo are subject to review and that no building permits will be issued unless and until the impacts of the illegal interpretative memo are fully realized and a solution in place.(see video)

The intended and unintended consequences of this CRA action are yet to be fully realized but one thing is for sure, the incestuous relationship between City Hall and the land owner/developer is over. The residents have awoken…

One need only see the Boca Beautiful group’s full page Sun Sentinel ads outlining the residents’ point of view; one need only review the ever-increasing law suits being filed by resident groups challenging City Council/CRA actions; one need only receive the mass mailings being sent by resident groups to inform constituents affected by these cozy relationships; and finally, one need only know that BocaWatch’s weekly blasts will continue to cover these and other storylines as they progress and grow…..

EARLY STAGE WARNINGS….

On Tuesday, January 19, this writer attended the Planning Advisory Review meeting in City Hall. The Planning Advisory Review is the first opportunity for the public to gain information about projects being submitted for approval and, eventually, building permits; a critical moment for residents to become aware of items that will affect quality of life months, maybe, years down the road.

Of import that day was the early submittal of a project labeled MIZNER 200….a building project located at 210 – 398 SE Mizner Blvd…Residents may recall that this is the site where the land owner/developer proposed 30 and 40 story buildings, an idea that never actually saw the light of day…. This same landowner/developer is now proposing to demolish the 246 unit ‘Mizner on the Green’ residential development and construct a nine (9) story 388 unit replacement. (See the Coastal Star )

Representing the administration at this early review process was Jim Bell, senior Planner; the land owner/developer was represented by attorney Bonnie Miskel, no stranger to the planning and zoning rules of Boca Raton.

The issues addressed were:

  • The need for a transfer of development rights (disputed by Ms., Miskel);
  • The ‘Open Space’ requirement under Ordinance 4035 ( Ms. Miskel stated that the project will comply per the ordinance and not the interpretative memo);
  • A ‘pedestrian’ oriented frontage ( you may remember that the City Manager, Leif Ahnell, seem to have difficulty in defining the phrase ‘pedestrian’);
  • Identifying the actual height that the project would request (Ms. Miskel did not have the exact number. Mr. Bell cautioned her to know this exact number stating “…to satisfy those crazy people downtown”….a statement reflective of the anti-resident attitude pervasive within City Hall);
  • Parking and trip generation data to be reviewed; and
  • Consult with FPL to demolish the existing structure in phases.

City Attorney’s comments….

In response to questions from some CRA members, the city attorney has proffered two remarks worth repeating….(see video).

She states that the land owner/developer cannot rely on “wrong law” as a defense to non-compliance and that only the ‘open space’ provision of 4035 is in question and under review. BocaWatch agrees with her that ‘wrong law’ cannot be relied upon. However, BocaWatch disagrees with the proposition that only the ‘open space’ provision is under review.

A close read of Ordinance 4035 suggests that other items should be reviewed as well; items such as the landscaping requirements and design requirements such as building look and materials. Ordinance 4035 rejects completely glass and steel buildings….(see John Gore’s article…”The Ordinance That Nobody Seems to Have Read.” If glass and steel buildings are not allowed under 4035, then MIZNER 200 should be rejected and sent back to the architect, whose responsibility it is to know the building code and design accordingly. No equivocation….

Recourse or Retaliation….

BocaWatch has been informed that of all the land owner/developer applications in the pipeline, the five (5) IDG development submission from Investment Limited for their property at Royal Palm has been rejected and sent back to the applicant. Reasons for this are not completely known to this writer but one cannot help but wonder why?

This multi building project, in an early stage look-see, is a project submitted that does not build to the property line but rather has significant setbacks for landscaping and open space; that complies with height requirements under the IDG; that does not build to maximize profit; that contributes to the parking situation of the downtown; and that, if it had been the first project submitted under the Interim Design Guidelines, would have met with little if any opposition from the residents. (See elevations attached).

Screen Shot 2016-02-01 at 11.37.24 AM

This project is being built by a ‘resident friendly’ land owner/developer who lives in this town and is willing to build a project that we all can be proud of….This is a good project that is now caught up in the turmoil brought about by other land owner/developers who are not ‘resident friendly’ and who operate on a profit maximization and then sell theory….What a shame….

In Conclusion….

Of the many challenging phone calls and meetings this week, one actually offered a ray of hope by suggesting that the administration is moving forward with review of the building projects on a last in, first out basis….this is good…this will minimize the impacts and delays on the land owner/developer with projects already in the pipeline.

Land owners/developers have development rights. These should be honored at all costs. Profit is a good thing, however, with all rights come obligations and community good will. These obligations include among other things the responsibility to comply with the law as written. The administration is designed to be the fact finder and watchdog; the Council/ CRA are the gatekeepers for good, sustainable development that comports with law, and, land owners and residents are the benefactors of this wholesome interaction. …..

If executed as designed….a win, win, win situation….

Al Zucaro Esq., Publisher