IN BOCA IT’S HARD TO UNDERSTAND

I recently had the pleasure of visiting my mother in her new home in Naples, Florida. It was great to visit with my 94-year-old mom who appears to be in great shape and enjoying her new digs.  On the drive home I couldn’t help but notice a fairly large sign which said “PUBLIC HEARING”.  It was definitely fashioned in a manner to get your attention and could be seen from a distance much greater than 100 feet.

That got me to thinking about a wonderful thing that my wife did for residents of the City of Boca Raton.  Several years ago she did a presentation at City Council chambers which showed other cities methods of announcing a public hearing.  The presentation illustrated how other cities go the extra mile to make citizens aware of items that come before the local governing body.  At that time, the city of Boca simply posted 8.5 x 11 pieces of paper to a wooden stake.  This served as the formal “PUBLIC HEARING” notice along with the mandatory placement of a relatively small display ad in local newspapers.  Quite frankly, the city of Boca’s signage was a joke compared to other municipalities.  It appeared Boca’s efforts were intended to discourage citizen involvement as opposed to fostering an engaged and involved citizenry.

I’m proud to say that the efforts of that presentation were not in vain.  If you’ve ever noticed those bright lime green signs that measure approximately two feet by four feet that announce a “PUBLIC HEARING”, it is a direct result of that presentation.  The signs give the public an opportunity to be alerted and then react through public hearings as to their feelings of subject items as they seek approval in front of the Community Redevelopment Agency and the Planning and Zoning Board.  After all, it is our right!

However, there still is a shortcoming in the signage requirements when it comes to our Downtown Development District (DDRI) and it needs to be addressed.  While current provisions require a public hearing sign on individual properties when requesting changes, there is no PUBLIC HEARING signage requirements when changes are brought forward that impact all properties in the DDRI through a single action – even though a public hearing does occur.  How does one participate in items of import when they are not aware that a hearing is coming forward?  Certainly public hearings that impact an entire district are equally important, if not more important than a single property.  In a day and age where print communications are less and less of the public’s information source, display ads buried in the back pages of a newspaper don’t serve the same useful purpose they once did.

Right now there is a proposed ordinance (City of Boca Raton Ordinance 5289) working its way through city boards and chambers that has already had one public hearing.  The ordinance will impact every parcel of land in the DDRI that is less than 2.0 acres and allow these properties to build to overall heights of as much as 160 feet.  Current Ordinances restrict that height to 100’ for these smaller parcels of land.  This could be a seismic shift in future downtown development, and yet no signage was required to inform citizens of the “PUBLIC HEARING”.

I hope others will join me in requesting, no demanding, that adequate “PUBLIC HEARING” signage be provided in key locations throughout the downtown when public hearings are scheduled that affect multiple properties.  Public hearing signage should also be required at the main entrance to City Hall.