There is a developing, hot button issue at City Hall that is worth paying attention to. A now infamous memo, supposedly crafted by city staff in 2003 was intended to be interpretive of the term “open space” contained in the ruling development law for the City’s downtown. The law in question is Ordinance 4035. The contention from many is that the original language of 4035 is quite clear when it comes to “Open Space”. What follows is straight from the Ordinance and you can decide for yourself:

“Open space” means an area which is open from the land to the sky predominantly designed for and paved with bricks, pavers or other similar material for pedestrian use, or an area where no structures, or buildings other than landscape features, fountains, benches, arcades and objects of art are located.

Each parcel proposed for development shall maintain the following percentages of the parcel as open space and no structures or buildings other than landscape features, fountains, benches, arcades and objects of art shall be located within the open space area:

15%, if the building is less than thirty five (35) feet in height; and for each foot of height above thirty-five (35) feet, up to seventy-five (75) feet, 15% open space plus 1% for every 1.6 feet of height above thirty-five (35) feet; and

40%, if the building is greater than seventy-five (75) feet.

At least sixty-five percent (65%) of the required open space shall be open and uncovered from the ground to the sky. Up to thirty-five percent (35%) may be arcades, colonnades, areas under exposed balconies, areas under exposed stairwells, areas under canopies and areas under pedestrian bridges.

 

The City is now addressing these concerns which may impact as many as 73 projects already built and/or approved in Downtown.  Staff has been assigned to research why this memo was originally written, and how projects may have been affected. This may provide answers as to why we are seeing so much concrete as opposed to ‘open space’ surrounding new projects in our Downtown.

 

It’s interesting that the recent letter from the City of Boca Raton on their website does not explain or educate the public on any of the above facts.  It simply corrects several citizens who mistakingly used the term ‘public space’ for ‘open space’.

 Recent explanation on the City of Boca Raton Website

January 22, 2016

Open Space in Downtown Development Projects – UPDATE

Clarification of Open Space vs. Public Space

As a result of the conversations regarding open space in several recent downtown development projects, the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) Commissioners directed City staff to review open space requirements, and make recommendations to ensure that open space in downtown development is more visible to the public (and enhance the “public realm”).

As a result, City staff is reviewing the history and methodology that has been used to calculate open space in downtown development projects. This information, as well as recommendations regarding open space in future development projects in the downtown, will be presented to the CRA in an upcoming meeting.

Although the research regarding open space in the downtown is still ongoing, it is important to provide some clarification of the term “open space”. During recent discussions at the CRA meeting, the term “public space” was used somewhat interchangeably with open space, but they are really two distinct and different concepts.

While open space is a concept addressing the size and location of a building in relation to the property it is built upon, it does not generally include a legal right of the public to enter or occupy the open space. For example, in a single family home in a residential zoning district, the front yard and backyard are required open space, yet they are clearly not public spaces. Likewise, a pool deck in a condominium complex may also be open space, but also clearly not public space. The same concept applies to development projects in the downtown; the required open space is not required to be public space. A property owner may invite the public to enter the open space on the property, whether to shop, eat, or to engage in other activities, but the public is not legally entitled to enter and remain on the property without the owner’s permission. Open space required by the City’s zoning regulations, in downtown and all other parts of the City, is not required to be public space.

Conversely, when land is dedicated to public use (such as a sidewalk, right-of-way, park, plaza, or other open space), the use of the land is open to the public, and not dependent on a private property owner.

The City will continue to provide updates as the discussion on this matter moves forward.

 

Let’s stay focused…What’s important is the true intention of ‘open space’ as it is written and voted for…not how it has been interpreted for the past twelve years. Let’s not fight. Let’s not cover up with semantics. Let’s just fix it.

 

If you are interested or have an opinion, it is important to always communicate with your Community Leaders.  Here’s their contact info