After a 9 hour marathon Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA)/City Council Workshop (CC) on two major subjects (Mizner 200 and Midtown Boca), the elected officials actually came to what may be reasonably fair and equitable results.

Mizner 200:

With some half dozen high priced attorneys, two court reporters, a gaggle of experts, senior city staff members and an overflow audience of residents, the Mizner 200 project finally, after some 3 years, made it to the ultimate decision making body in Boca Raton government.

It is not recommended that you, the reader, sit through the entire 6+ hours of legal argument and expert testimony from highly paid qualified specialists and equally qualified residents in this ‘quasi-judicial’ hearing.

A ‘quasi-judicial’ setting, in theory, has elected officials sitting as fact-finders for any future judicial review.  In this role, the elected officials are expected to set aside their political instincts and hear testimony establishing the legal standard of “substantial competent evidence”, a daunting task for sure.

From the very beginning of the hearing, the evidence on both sides was ‘substantial and competent.’  City Staff introduced their findings and ended with making a recommendation of approval for the project.  Staff’s recommendation follows the Community Appearance Board and the Planning and Zoning Board recommendations for approval over the last two months.

Following staff’s presentation was the applicant/developer of Mizner 200, ELAD.  Beginning their presentation was Attorney Robert Sweetapple who provided legal argument to set the stage and establish the record for a reviewing court.  After Attorney Sweetapple, the applicant offered further argument from Attorney Bonnie Miskel, the land use attorney on the project from its beginning and then finally an in-depth presentation from the designing architectural firm, Garcia and Stromberg.

Suffice it to say that the applicant’s evidence established that all ‘bulk’ requirements contained in the controlling ordinance 4035 have been met or exceeded in this application.  ‘Bulk’ requirements are definitive provisions specifically quantified within the ordinance.  Elements like setbacks, parking requirements, traffic impact, height, public space, materials etc. are easily ascertained.

The challenge with this ordinance is that there are some considerations within the ordinance that are not specific, not quantifiable.  It is with these interpretative provisions that the ‘Mizneresque’ arguments rest.  The elephant in the room, of course, centers on the neighboring properties concern for their ‘views and vistas’; elements that are not protected in common law but have relevance in statutory interpretation.

Townsend Place leadership and residents offered evidence in support of their opposition and four (4) paid experts from Investments Limited, the Batmasian property directly west of the Mizner 200 location, provided prepared statements in support of a denial from the CRA.

In the end, after what was an intriguing demonstration of ‘cross examination’ of some witnesses by trial attorney Sweetapple, the commissioners deliberated to arrive at their decision.  Choices included approval, denial or postponement.  In the postponement option, the commissioners debated sending the project back to the CAB level and/or the P&Z board.

After withdrawal of the motion to approve the project made by CRA member Robert Weinroth and seconded by Mayor Haynie, the CRA explored the possibility of postponement.

CRA Vice-Chairman Andrea O’Rourke steadfastly argued that the applicant and the opposition seemed close to finding common ground.  With that as a guiding light, member O’Rourke suggested that a postponement be granted for further interaction between the applicant and the neighbor properties and that this matter be brought back directly to the CRA body for additional testimony when agreement and/or impasse is reached.  This is a fair outcome; one seemed to be embraced by the opposing sides….More to come…Stay tuned…

Mid-Town Boca:

Reconvening after the marathon CRA meeting, the City Council workshop began.  Lasting around 2 hours, the most interesting of topics heard was the latest arguments for advancing the Mid-Town Boca project forward to the Planning and Zoning Board, next month, August.

The challenge here was whether City staff had been given clear direction at the goal setting session in April and, subsequently, in the June City Council meeting revisiting the clear direction question.  To this, Mayor Haynie suggested that although city staff was given direction, the interpretative difficulty suggested was because of ‘semantics’; an argument that attempted to change the recorded history.

‘Semantics’….unbelievable!!!  One need only look back at video capturing the previous hearings to see clearly that the Council’s direction was for staff to take the lead in developing the controlling ordinance.

The main issue here was captured well by Attorney Adam Beighley who points out that the developer’s proposed ordinance is based upon a county code in effect at the time of annexation (2 decades ago); a code that even the county no longer follows.

Considering that this application is one of the largest, if not the largest, rezoning ever taken up by the city of Boca Raton, establishing a “Boca Centric” ordinance is imperative.  Over the years, developers have been allowed to rewrite city code to accommodate their individual project.  At least two Development Services Directors have publically supported the need for a comprehensive rewrite of the City’s zoning code.   In the last 7 years, a planned mobility ordinance has been developed and implemented.

In a recent article here in BocaWatch, former P&Z board vice chairman, Steve Utrecht, raised serious issues regards the Mid-Town project and about concurrency standards or lack thereof, that need to be clearly defined in considering this project.

In the end, the city council seems to have come to a reasonable resting point…

City staff is now clearly directed to take the lead in developing the ordinance for presentation to the P&Z board when ready.  Whether this will happen in August is doubtful.  In order for that to happen, staff must publically advertise the meeting with the deadline for public advertising being this Friday….

We shall see if that can be done….Stay tuned…

City Budget:

As of yesterday, neither the City nor the CRA has published their 2017-2018 proposed budgets.  Budgets must have two public hearings and be adopted on or before September 30th.  How does any interested resident prepare for these hearings if the budget is unavailable at this late date?

This is unacceptable.

On July 26th the Greater Boca Raton Beach and Park district held a special public meeting to discuss their budget circumstance.  Discussed by the commissioners were the requests being made by City staff impacting the District’s budget decisions.  What that tells me is that there is draft budgets prepared within the city but not yet accessible to the public.

At the July 24th Council workshop, I requested information for budget availability.  In response the Mayor stated that the budget would be presented at the Chamber of Commerce breakfast on August 8th.   I, for one, do not go to the never ending social functions of the Chamber.  I suspect that only a miniscule fraction of the 95k Boca Raton residents attend Chamber functions.  The chamber is not an official location to get city information, especially budget information.  The Chamber is nothing more than a lobbying organization which coerces respect from elected officials in exchange for the Chambers political influence and financial support.  Unacceptable!!!

To the City Council: 

Residents are often criticized for not being prepared when taking the public microphone….the issue raised here is but one of many where necessary information is not easily available….How is the resident ever going to trust what the council and staff say if there is this information dearth regularly?  To be a ‘resident friendly’ city council, individually and collectively, releasing information sooner rather than later is imperative.

Transparency is required if trust is to follow…..

Al Zucaro, Publisher