We end 2017 with mixed feelings. Our efforts to slow the pace of mindless development in Boca have met with some success. Development approvals have slowed appreciably, but there are still plenty of projects in the pipeline. We have a (slightly) more resident-friendly City council who are realizing that their actions have 1) real consequences for those who live and work in Boca Raton and 2) real political consequences for them. Developers are on notice that the days of automatic approval of just about anything are over. Things are looking up, and I’m not talking about the height of our buildings.
Make no mistake: the urbanization of our once quiet residential village by the sea is well underway. Just look around, or try and drive around Boca. The mammoth development projects approved by our City Council in the past eight years have altered our lifestyles as much as our skyline. And if developers have their way, there is much more to come—uptown, downtown, and midtown.
Those who care about Boca’s future clearly need a better game plan for 2018. The key word here is “plan.” We need to ensure that additional development in our city is conditioned on adequate infrastructure being in place: roads, parking, schools, hospitals, water treatment, and emergency services.
You don’t need a degree in urban planning or a million dollar traffic study to know that our roads are overcrowded. Or that our parking facilities are overcrowded. Or that our schools are overcrowded, and that our hospitals are next. All that additional concrete means that our streets and garages flood more frequently. We have built and built, and more and more people are coming. It won’t be long until our emergency services will struggle to cope with Boca’s population boom. We’ll need more police, more firefighters, more fire stations– just like right now we need more teachers and classrooms.
We can see what is coming and we need to do something about it NOW. We need to funnel all the anger that’s building in our community and channel that frustration into a positive force. For openers, here are three objectives we might all agree on for 2018:
- Demand that our City Council adopt a city-wide comprehensive urban plan before approving any more major development projects. Some, like our Mayor or Councilman Weinroth will tell you that Boca already has a development plan. But it was written 30 years ago when downtown Boca was supposed to be an office rather than a residential hub. It is useless. Then there are the “traffic studies” whose chief purpose seems to be to assure us that all is well. That’s because they are done in August when nobody is here, and without considering factors such as bridge openings or train traffic. The proof that Boca needs comprehensive infrastructure planning now is here for all to see: in the streets, in our parking facilities, and in our classrooms.
- Find a more creative way to make developers part of the solution to our City’s problems. At the very least, the Council should demand proof that developers have made a good faith effort to reach accommodation with their neighbors. Even better would be to demand proof that any given project would actually enhance the quality of life here in Boca. At a minimum, the process should be more consultative and less confrontational. We need less lawyers and more common sense.
- Elect a more resident-friendly City Council and demand a more resident-friendly City administration. People who inhabit our City Hall need to understand that they work for all of the citizens of Boca Raton. People who are unhappy with what has happened to our City over the past eight years are not the enemy. We have an important municipal election coming up in 2018 with two seats on the City Council in play, and that will likely be followed by a Mayor’s race, as our current Mayor has decided to run for Palm Beach County Commissioner. Big changes at City Hall could mean important policy changes as far as development is concerned. Changes for the better.
So there are three challenges for your consideration as we approach the beginning of an exciting New Year in beautiful Boca Raton– an important election year. As 2017 draws to a close, all of us at BocaBeautiful.org wish you the happiest of holidays, and we look forward to working hard for you and for a more beautiful Boca in 2018.
John C. Gore
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