Kudos should be given to Councilman Scott Singer for inviting citizen participation in a one-of-a-kind Town Hall meeting on a Saturday morning.  The meeting was held at the City of Boca Raton Community Center and the overflow crowd had plenty to discuss.  Originally scheduled from 9:30AM to 11:00AM, the meeting went beyond 11:30 with folks wanting still more.

The meeting was congenial with a high participation rate from various citizens.  The Councilman did a terrific job in monitoring the proceedings.  He encouraged those in attendance to reach out to him via email or phone and stated that “while we may not always agree, I will always respond.”  A number of people nodded in agreement since they had already experienced Mr. Singer’s quick response.

Since development has been a hot button issue in the last two elections, it came as no surprise that development issues were the topics du jour.

The main topics include:

Wildflower Property – A Park or Restaurant? Overwhelmingly, those in attendance felt a park was better suited for the property.  It was pointed out that this was the original intent for the purchase by the City.  A suggestion to create an “Active Urban Green Space” with small-scale concessions was well received.   Resident Jim Wood presented documented surveys from citizens that support a Park. A planning & Zoning hearing re: rezoning of the north end of property is scheduled for April 9th, 2015.

770 E. Palmetto Park Road (Chabad) – Numerous issues raised for this problematical property in our beach area.  The citizens were very outspoken about their concerns:  Traffic through the neighborhood, parking, traffic congestion on Palmetto Park Road, violation of code as to usage, safety and more.  In order to get a sense of the scale of this project on this relatively small parcel of land it was suggested that everyone view the promotional video created by the Chabad.  You may access the video by reading the article written by Kevin Meaney under “Hot Topics” and click on the link for the Chabad video, or see link below.  This issue will come before City Council on April 14, 2015.  Citizens should take advantage of the opportunity to express their opinion.

Traffic/Fifth and Palmetto Park Road.  Traffic all over this city has increased significantly and Mr. Singer acknowledges that more population is headed our way which will further exacerbate the problem.  The Fifth and Palmetto situation ties into not only existing traffic problems but Wildflower, 770 E. Palmetto, The former Archstone property and other future build-out of the downtown.  It was recommended that the medians be eliminated at intersections to create left turn lanes.

The loss of a cohesive plan and vision for our City.  It was stated that the City has seemed to have lost its sense of vision for both the short term and long term plan.  It was suggested that a  vision or comprehensive plan be stated and then followed.  This was met with some skepticism since a prior “Downtown Master Plan” created in 2007 was not followed in the spirit intended.

Concern over giveaways to developers via Technical Deviations, Variances and modification to City Code.  It was mentioned several times the frustration that residents experience when developers receive special treatment from city officials, which creates greater density and related traffic issues.  It was asked that the city no longer grant these exceptions.

Evaluation of The Mark.  Citizens are not happy with The Mark.  This is the first completed project that follows the Interim Design Guidelines (IDG) and Pattern Book.  It is felt that this is not an attractive building and not what should be representative of future building in our city.  Mr. Singer stated that the project needs to be considered in the framework of the overall site, which includes the forthcoming Hyatt Place on Palmetto and Federal Highway.  A special Workshop with City Council is tentatively scheduled for April 29, 2015 for this evaluation. Citizens should be prepared to come forward and give input on their concerns.

Our hired consultant, Urban Design Associates (UDA). Is this a case of the fox guarding the hen house?  UDA is the primary creator of the original Downtown Master Plan.  They are also responsible for putting their “blessing” on the Interim Design Guidelines and Pattern Book.  They will be partly responsible for the evaluation of The Mark.  Even though the citizens pay the bill for this consultant, they have interacted with City Staff and the development community exclusively ever since the creation of the Downtown Master Plan. It was suggested, by many, that an “independent” source be responsible for the evaluation.

Perhaps, one of the most poignant comments came from Mr. Al Zucaro who stated – and I paraphrase, “Citizens are at a loss if these public debates are based solely on facts.  Experts are expert in manipulating facts.  If development decisions are decided on technical issues, the citizens lose.  If these decisions are decided on sentiment, the residents can win.  You, as our representative, must hear the sentiment and give it a voice”

Alas, so little time and so much to discuss.  Mr. Singer did a yeoman’s job of handling this event.  A special thank you is in order to all who attended, particularly those who offered their comments.

Let’s do this again.  Soon!

Click on link below to see the plans for 770 E Palmetto Park Rd-Chabad video: 

Chabd South Floida – My Israel