Backroom Dealing at Work Again in Boca Raton!

15

Are we unwittingly headed toward another OVER-development debacle?

You bet we are….

In one of the longest City Council Workshop meetings in recent memory, on June 12th, a prolonged conversation took place regarding the timing of future progress for the massive Midtown Boca Development project.  It should be no surprise that the developer team for the project is seeking to move the re-zoning process along more rapidly – and on their terms; terms that are not in the interest of the resident but rather in the profit interest of the developer.

The developer team at issue here are familiar names to the observing public; to wit: Crocker Partners led by its managing director, Angelo Bianco, and a ‘dream team’ of hired guns consisting, in part, with Charlie Siemon and Wendy Larsen, attorneys for Grey Robinson and lobbyist for the Midtown Boca project, along with, Mark Guzzetta, Lobbyist Extraordinaire, who just recently disclosed his previously undisclosed relationship as a lobbyist for Midtown Boca, as well as a slew of other ‘hired guns’, of course, the best that money can buy….

At this City Council workshop the major bone of contention with members of City Council was the recognition that the City Council appeared to have recommended to the City Manager that city staff create the re-zoning ordinance in-house and that staff take whatever time necessary to craft standards and uses unique to the Midtown Boca geographic area.  From a ‘resident-friendly’ point of view, a city staff created ordinance is more preferable than one created by a developer’s hired gun.

Angelo Bianco, managing partner of Crocker Partners, came prepared with a slideshow presentation along with representatives from Trademark (Glades Plaza) and Cypress Real Estate (Nippers and Bowling Alley).  For more than ninety minutes the trio argued forcefully to move forward the re-zoning language prepared by their hired land use attorney and have it in front of Planning and Zoning Board for a vote at the board’s next meeting on July 20.

During the presentation, Bianco claimed that his company had been working on this for years and how the project has been mistreated by delays; perhaps laying the predicate with a not so subtle inference that a law suit might be in the making.  He further claimed that the company has conducted numerous workshops with surrounding area residents; stating also, “as open and transparent as we have been”.

Make no mistake these statements are nothing more than sales jargon.

Perhaps a more accurate reality might be:

  • The ordinance Bianco favors is very much open-ended as to uses and does not specifically identify prohibited uses that would be neighborhood unfriendly unless specifically excluded;
  • The community outreach was far from voluntary and resulted from serious community pushback. Further, the meetings were structured to inform and sell their ideas as opposed to hearing and acting on community concerns and feedback; and,
  • From the developer standpoint, ‘working on it for years’ must mean from their conception of the project. From the resident standpoint, this first appeared on the radar last December 22 when this same developer(s) attempted to get their ordinance passed while the community was largely distracted with the Boca Bowl and the holiday season.

Open and transparent….Really?

A spotlight could shine on additional misrepresentations, but that would belabor the point.  Besides, there is more to the story.

During the city staff portion of the presentation, Deputy City Manager George Brown did a slide presentation and stated that the direction given to staff during the May ‘17 Goal Setting was the following:

May 2017 Goal Setting Discussion on Midtown:

Institute planning progress to establish vision and conceptual plan

Community and Developer Input

Conceptual Plan for overall approach and general design

Clearly a direction from City Council that city staff would lead the process in a collaborative visioning of Midtown.

Not so fast!

In spite of the City Council dialogue at the Council Workshop supporting city staff handling the process, it appears the developers, in what could only be some sort of ‘backroom’ discussion, and may have now gotten exactly what they wanted.

Sometime between the June 12th public hearing and week’s end, a determination has been made by the top city administration that there was no ‘specific’ direction given to have city staff take the lead.  This change in posture has now been conveyed to members of the City Council and is the process city staff is to follow.

Are you kidding me?  Does it require a Town Crier in City Square to announce the City Council’s intentions?

The visual and audio evidence is clear.

There is no doubt that staff had been given clear direction from the City Council to take the lead and prepare, for review, a regulatory ordinance defining the best interests of the city and its residents.

Below is a link for you, the reader, to view and formulate your own opinion.

As it stands now, the starting point for a controlling ordinance in Midtown Boca will be led by the developer’s land use attorney(s) and targeted for rapid presentation at the Planning and Zoning Board on July 20th.

We have seen this movie before!

These same ‘backroom’ tactics have been used for decades facilitated with the cooperation of a ‘developer friendly’ city council and administration.

Is that what the residents want?  Of course it is not…so what to do….

First recognize that just 3 months ago the residents elected two City Council members, Andrea O’Rourke and Scott Singer, who ran on a ‘resident friendly’ platform with the Midtown Boca item being front and center in that election cycle.

Contact them!

Let them know that they represent the resident and not the developer and that the resident is best served by city staff developing the regulatory structure for what is in the best interest of the city and its residents not the dictates of the developer.

Next, recognize that in the upcoming election cycle, March ‘18, two currently seated elected officials are up for re-election; to wit: Jeremy Rodgers and Robert Weinroth.

A demonstration of ‘developer friendly’ versus ‘resident friendly’ is not something they will want to be called out on.

Your message should not be subtle…it should be loud and clear!

Mr. Candidate….ACT in the best interest of the resident or be prepared to answer to the electorate next spring….Period!

Let them know that they represent you and that the developer huddling with the city administration is not what you want…you want the city staff to draft and present a regulatory ordinance that will protect the interests of the existing neighborhoods and the longtime residents….

Your interests must prevail, not the profit interests of the developer….

Finally, not to be Pollyanna here, but, a city administration, by and of itself, would not take such a ‘resident unfriendly’ position…

The administration’s change of position would have needed to be facilitated with at least the perception of political cover….so…where might that political cover be coming from?

Well there is only one elected official left to consider….

That remaining elected official is and has been a developer’s vote forever; that elected official no longer has the interests of one or two Boca Raton neighborhoods as a prime concern; that elected official has set sights on higher office and needs the political donor class to financially support those ambitions; and, finally, that elected official is tied at the hip with the political influencer(s) of the Midtown Boca project….that elected official is Susan Haynie

You are the judge….But remember….

‘Your vote is your voice, let your voice be heard’ in the upcoming March ‘18 elections for City Council and then the November ‘18 election for County Commission….

Al Zucaro, Publisher

P.S.:   If you have the desire, you can view the night’s proceedings here:  http://bocaraton.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=2&clip_id=1387

The Midtown portion occupies approximately the last two hours of the video.

A further breakdown is as follows:

  • At approximately 2:54:40 to 3:16:45 mark, Crocker’s managing director, Angel Bianco, makes his opening arguments;
  • At approximately 3:20:40 to 3:41:30 mark, Councilwoman O’Rourke outlines her concerns and questions;
  • At approximately 3:41:30 to 3:48:30 mark, Councilman Scott Singer voices his issues and concerns;
  • At approximately 3:48:45 mark, Deputy City Manager and staff clearly make the case for their recommendations on what is needed and how to proceed. It is clear these recommendations were following the directions given by the City Council at the goal setting session in May ’17.
  • From approximately the 3:47 to the end, there is ample discussion as to the direction set by the city council.

Whatever the ‘backroom’ interaction after the June 12th public meeting to the end of this past week has been, it is deceitful to suggest that the City Council had not provided clear direction for what was to take place next.

Again, you be the judge….

There is an old adage that applies here…

’Fool me once shame on you…fool me twice shame on me’.  Residents should not be fooled!

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Alfred Zucaro has resided in Palm Beach County since 1982 and has been a resident of Boca Raton since 2008. A graduate of Fordham University, he holds a Magna Cum Laude degree in Economics. Mr. Zucaro attended Nova University receiving a Juris Doctorate Law Degree in 1986. He is a member in good standing with the Florida Bar, practicing in the area of Immigration Law for the majority of his career. Currently he is manager/member of Palm Beach Investment and Finance LLC, a USCIS approved regional center identifying foreign investment leading to permanent resident status. Mr. Zucaro served as a City Commissioner in West Palm Beach from 1995 to 2002 and as the President of the City Commission in 2000/2001. He has also been a member of and/or served on the Economic Council, the Business Development Board, the Film and Television Commission, the Tourist Development Council, the Workforce Alliance and the Palm Beach International Film Festival. Of particular interest is his founding of the World Trade Center Palm Beach, an organization that focuses on international economic development. Married to Yvonne Boice, they are avid world travelers having visited 6 continents and dozens of countries since their 2008 nuptials.

15 COMMENTS

  1. GET READY BOCA RESIDENTS!!!

    They are back – Charlie Seiman, Wendy Larson, Angelo Bianco and Mark Guzzetta. It’s summer so time to jam a huge project through the system.

    Listen up Boca. The development predators have returned at your expense with more “Build Baby Build”. They want to write and formulate their own rules so they can stick it to us again. Don’t let them.

    Boca needs and deserves well thought out development – of course. But, all development should be done in concert with residents and thus made part of a COMMUNITY effort. If the City Council and City Management allow this effort to go forward without complete transparency and without constraints as agreed to by residents it will prove who is running our City Hall and City Council.
    You must let your elected officials know your opinion.
    This is a huge project. The Council must be open, to a fault, on the side of residents; be fair to developer applicants but firm in insuring a project will meet or exceed the needs of residents over time. That is not too much to ask. The ‘Robber Barons’ came to the people in December and want to push Midtown Boca through City Hall during the Summer. It’s an old, tried and true way to hoodwink the unsuspecting – YOU.

    I think Susan Haynie, Jeremy Rodgers and Robert Weinroth are sweating over how much these ‘campaign donors’ will help them when they run for office again. We know the Mayor is going to bail for a County Commission slot next November. Will these elected officials do the right thing for residents? We elected them not the developers. So, do they cave again and line the pockets of developers who are in a hurry?
    There is a process and every developer should come to the table with a plan they have worked out with residents like One Ocean Palm has achieved – a win, win – BEFORE THEY BRING IT TO THE CITY. If developers don’t work with the public with full disclosure and input, send them packing until they get it done. That is the mandate from residents. Residents have a say in what they want for their neighborhoods.
    If members of the Council let this slip – well, they do so at their own peril. Remember, It’s government by and for the people, all people and not just a few developers.

  2. James,you are right on. But this Midtown project is much worse than I thought. I took the time to read the 94 pages of changes to existing ordinances to justify putting 4000 transients around glades and military. I also read the Planned Mobility and Transit Oriented district regs and ,in my opinion , these changes to city orgs will destroy this city with huge future problems. Crime, traffic jams, crush our school system, no parking.on and on. Devil is in the details. I found 29 major issues in the ordinances that crocker guy wants . I view this whole rezoning as an insidious effort to destroy our way of life. A sleazy district with bars and massage parlors. I grew up in a high rise 14 story complex but we had over 1000 sq ft and here the apartments could be as small as 500 sq ft. Why are we even considering putting 2500 units off military? why why. What is wrong with 600 units minimum at least 1000 sq ft. We may be creating a low income ghetto. Why the risk. Where is the plus side. Area needs development why not 600 nice spacious apartments spread out. If this rezoning passes we need to replace this city council and Planning and Rezoning board asap. We need to organize and get involved.

  3. I had hoped that Midtown would not degenerate to this. There is nothing wrong with letting George Brown & Brandon Schaad make this a better Ordinance and for developers to engage an open dialogue with the Via Verde attorneys and residents. I have known Mr. Brown for well over a decade, he is a problem solver, we are lucky to have him. Yes there should be restrictions on uses, no outdoor venues or restaurants with blaring music (with exception of perhaps special events at Boca Center) , no marijuana dispensaries, no adult anything, no drug rehab centers disguised as medical, no vape shops, gas stations or drug paraphernalia shops, etc., etc. No more fast food and litter problem. I live here. I don’t buy the conspiracy theory nor Jack’s ghetto motif, but the developers need to listen to the residents in exactly the way the Boca Palm development has progressed, while I know elections are coming it is also unfair to single out Mr. Weinroth and Mr. Rodgers as part of some Citywide cabal. I do find it interesting that there has been limited dialogue with certain developers who DON’T have hired consultants (Related Group) namely on the City Hall project. Further, I don’t see any Midtown PPP arising to benefit the taxpayers like I do Downtown……Notwithstanding the same, I do believe that Crocker, Cypress & Trademark will do the right thing.

  4. As someone who fought the Palm Beach county commissioners for 10 years, I can say that residents do not have a real voice unless a commissioner says you do. I don’t know if Boca Raton is same but I think it is. You can’t stop development. Developers are free to propose anything that will bring them money and the government entity has to consider it whether it fits into their master development plan or not. And, it doesn’t matter what the residents think. It doesn’t matter if their property values are lowered by the proposed development. That is reality. Don’t forget, they have the meetings when the residents are at work; they don’t have them at a time that would make it easier for resident participation. Just like the Brightline train which we don’t need but has been shoved down our throats, developers will build whatever brings them money. And, thanks to state legislators, the developers are no longer fully responsible for infrastructure improvements only their fair share. If you want to see the future of Boca Raton, just take a drive down Federal Hwy to downtown Ft. Lauderdale – that is your future. Increased density, that is the future.

    • Mr. Outram: At this time there is no answer to your inquiry. What I oppose is a tainted process. The residents have brought to their elected officials concerns. Some residents have retained legal counsel to represent their interest. Elected officials have now given direction to city staff on two occasions; to wit: the Goal Setting session in May and the Workshop last week. For the administration to unilaterally override what is the clear direction of the city council on behalf of the residents is wholly unacceptable….That is what I oppose. As for the project, when a regulatory ordinance is approved by the City Council and the developer(s) put forth real plans, I will be able to opine with a ‘I support’ or I do not support’the plan. Until then, everything you are being told by the developer is pure fiction; mere generalities offered for public consumption. Al Zucaro

    • Arthur, let me answer your question to Al a different way. He is a lawyer and says stuff differently than guys like me that are just old retired washed up sailors. 40,30 and even 20 years ago I had friends that sailed out of Bahia Mar on A1A. 40 years ago it took me maybe 40 minutes from boca, 30 years ago 50 minutes, now 90 minutes and I don’t go anymore. These guys owned condos and their value has dropped 30 to 50 %. Total gridlock. To go to Deerfield Beach 15 minutes now down Hillsboro 45 minutes on a nice afternoon. Get the picture. We are worried what with over development the value and quality of life in boca will suffer. All of us want nice resident friendly sustainable development . We want to be careful and not over do it.

  5. The mouth of the rat has gotten so big its now a whale.
    I’ll see you guys at a standstill on Military Trail from 4:30 – 5:30, lol.

  6. I attended both the City Strategic Planning session and the recent Workshop on Midtown. In both meetings it was evident that there was a clear NEW course of direction for Midtown and that the City staff was to take the reins on the Midtown ordnance. George Brown indicated in the workshop that the PMD for Midtown differs from the North west development and needs to have different parameters and the City Staff would be working in that regard. I and others commended the city for its decision in this matter. Now it looks as though the rug has been pulled out from under the residents again.

    Below are some additional points I sent into the City Council members, Staff and the P&Z group shortly after the workshop on the 12th. I heard nothing contrary to my final statement that would lead me to believe anything had changed.

    First, why are they looking for an allocation for Town Center mall for 650 residential unit? Why is the Mall even being considered in the aggregate for this ordinance? The Mall is already developed and is a commercial enterprise CG. Do we want to make it easy for landowners to shutdown retail operations in favor of residential?

    I know that Sears may want to move out, but do we just throw in the towel and turn that over to residential high rise rentals? Why not have them pursue something new in retail, like for instance, Outdoor World? We have nothing like that for miles and I think something like OW would be a good fit for our area. I”m sure there are other retail options that would also be interested in that space.

    I will guarantee you, if 650 units are allocated to the Mall acreage, Sears will end up as a high rise rental or condo complex, because there is more PROFIT in that than leasing or selling the existing space to a suitable retailer. An appropriate retailer could bolster the desirability and foot traffic in the mall, rather than create a domino effect of store closings..

    Second, regarding TOD, the operative word here is TRANSIT as in “mass transit”. TriRail is not that, it is simply a tri-county shuttle service with limited hours of operation and no east-west arteries. As I said in my presentation, only those that have capability for jobs in close proximity to that line will be candidates for these rentals and Boca school enrollment is likely going to be a very strong factor.

    Frankly, although TOD sounds progressive, we are not sure of the actual feasibility of a new Kiss and Ride station there. But if built, should it not bring commerce and jobs into Boca rather than only people? If the people that work in the Midtown area decide to live in these rentals, then who will be riding the Tri-Rail? Seems like we are developing something that serves jobs in other municipalities, not our own.

    By loading this area up with residential, we make no additional room for professional office space that could bring more jobs to our city. So additional POI needs to be in the plan to live up to the mixed use designation.The nice thing about the additional POI is it supports the local businesses during the day and the workers shuttle out in the evening making the retail and recreational aspects available to local residents. This is truly a more balanced mixed use environment.

    Third: Traffic study: I noticed there were car counting strips on the roadway at Midtown a few weeks back April time frame. I’m guessing this was to affect the traffic study? My concern is the seasonal traffic. Its is a very different scenario during November, December , and January time frame. In fact it was difficult to even get out of my development many days during that time. I’m wondering if the study took seasonal impact into consideration?

    Along those lines did the study also consider the current residential construction on Military and Congress that is not fully occupied yet and any other approved yet not completed development?

    Lastly: We believe George Brown is absolutely correct in stating this PMD needs to have different considerations. We also applaud the Council members for standing tall in the face of the developers objections regarding the slowed process. As Ms. O’Rourke stated, this is more than just a zoning change, this is a major city planing initiative. It should not be rushed or taken lightly.

    We are encouraged that City Staff is taking the reins on this ordinance. We sincerely hope it will lead to a more balanced and acceptable project that is based on a long term vision rather than profit and current trends.

    The above was sent to the city on 6/13/2017

  7. OK Glenn, maybe ghetto was a bad description. How about high rise tenements. Apologize. I drove thru the whole area and took pictures and video to capture a feel of what was available for development and I figure maybe 50 acres tops. I than tried to overlay the land owned by the 3 developers and came pretty close. I than factor out the 150 acres for the mall as you know not a player now. I than sent to 2 city planners on west coast along with ordinances from Northwest PMD’s and 3 new ordinances that showed up last week. If one Planned Mobility District this area using nw PMD’s regs would support 400 1000 sq ft units. Maximum height 85 ft. spread thru out area. They felt the 3 ordinances crocker supported were unacceptable changes . Stepbacks versus setbacks stuff. To much to discuss. When you substract 650,Mall, from 2500 you get 1850 that crocker wants in 50 acres. Absurd. Angelo said he wants 1300 even without station which is a joke. Second city planner came back with 300 units at 1000 sq ft. FAR’s were not discussed but assumed to be same as in nw district. I think Bianco is making a serious mistake by refusing to show even a conceptual drawing of what he plans. Ok he needs to know how many units in 50 acres. How about we tell him 3 numbers 300,400,and 500 units. He draws up plans based on those numbers. This idea came from friends on west coast. Than look at concurrency regs and traffic stuff and comp plan and present to city residents. A nice village with trees, mix use walk ways,bars and restaurants on and on.
    If done right this will become the new cultural center, think atlantic ave in delray, for boca . Downtown is a disaster with over development.and done as far as something to be proud of. No future. What do you think out there. Comments all you so called experts.

  8. This is meant to be advise to the city. I showed the video to a corporate attorney friend of Bianco’s threats to the city where he claims “unfair” treatment of the city to Crocker and other 2 developers. He said other developers suffered ” large economic losses over a 5 year period”, he said “unfair” several times. This attorney friend said that situation is called “the one breath rule”. You don’t take another breath unless legal is involved. Under the law he has given notice that he intends to file suit and the city must protect itself. The city attorney and manager needs to have all past meetings over last 5 years with these contractors documented and assuming audio was taken in all cases especially with city planners. There should be no more meetings unless attorneys for the city are present and audio,at least, be available. His advise was cease contact with outside contractors until legal feels they can adequately defend the city to future damages which could amount to several million if they can prove that they were unfairly treated. My attorney friend said the city should cease all contact maybe for good unless the city feels they can be trusted but he doubts it. He also feels that whoever threatened the city Bianco,crocker,,his employer, should remove him from any responsible position in his corporation. Tom Crocker has been a pillar in this community for 50 years and to have an employee threaten his own city that he helped build is appalling.

  9. After further discussions with my west coast corporate attorney friends I was asked if these contractors that threatened the city had any meetings with volunteer boards as in Boca Planning and Zoning board. Obviously, I don’t know but if they did as in individuals their conversations should be documented also since they are legally representing the city. I was asked if these so called contractors taped any conversations . I don’t know. Same questions apply to any member of the city council also. He said that is the usual practice in California to secretly tape these secret meetings so they can use in future law suits. His advise to P&Z members is to have attorneys representations from this point on. Obviously same for city council members. I thought this was illegal but apparently when billion dollar decisions are being made anything goes. I was told it is not blackmail but used to support their lawsuits of being treated unfairly. I was told they could claim $20 million in damages.

  10. The development of Town Houses on the corner of Military Trail and Spanish River Blvd is a disgrace. Shame on you at the council for allowing this high density, traffic congesting, money making racket. This all at the expense of the residents of Boca. Who voted for this?

  11. A quick question – would the 2500 apartments at approximately 500 sq ft each qualify as ‘Affordable Housing’ by the State?

    If so other concerns come into play and were highlighted in the recent NPR/Frontline investigation:
    “In 1986, Congress developed a strategy to entice private businesses to build better affordable housing. That incentive came in the form of a tax credit. Since then, an $8 billion industry has evolved to help the government house the poor.

    Here’s how that tax credit works: Every year, the IRS distributes a pool of tax credits to state and local housing agencies. Those agencies pass them on to developers. The developers then sell the credits to banks and investors for cash. Often, to find investors, developers will use middlemen called syndicators.

    The banks and investors get to take tax deductions, while the developers now have cash to build the apartments. Taxpayers essentially pay for the construction, it’s a frightfully expensive way to provide low-income housing and it’s got layers of profit built into it”

    To read the whole article follow the link –
    http://www.npr.org/2017/05/09/527046451/affordable-housing-program-costs-more-shelters-less

  12. Katie, you bring up a great issue. Is Midtown being built with funds from the LIHTC federally sponsored program. LIHTC stands for Low Income Housing Tax Credit program. It is basically section 8 subsidized housing for the poor. I read much of it and I think these 3 developers might be using this program to fund these 2500 units. I am doing some research on these developers to find out if they ever have done so in the past. This is really big in Texas so we will see. The residents need to know who is coming into Boca as part of this 4000 group of people crammed into a 40 acre plot of land off military. Boca needs to know what social issues they will facing in the future. In above notes I estimated that this area could hold 600 units but got new analysis and tops 400. This comes from expert city planners from California. I personally think closer to 300. This project needs a lot of investigator work and hopefully will it all be done by end of year. .

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