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Why Boca Needs an Independent Audit of our CRA

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Across Florida there is a total of 224 Community Redevelopment Agencies (CRAs), almost all associated with cities. As the name implies, they seek to improve blighted areas. As best as can be determined, unlike other cities’ CRAs, Boca Raton has never perform an independent audit of its CRA.

Attend City Council? Residents Might As Well Stay Home.

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Publisher’s comment:

At the request of some readers, the entire legislation that is the subject of this article can be viewed at the following link: https://www.flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2019/07103

Al Zucaro, Publisher

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The option of residents filing lawsuits against local government to protest and attempt to halt development is about to become a thing of the past. In the Florida Legislature session that ended this week, the legislators have advanced a bill for the Governor’s signature (HB 7103) that puts residents at risk for attorney fees if the residents file a lawsuit and are not the declared winner.

Effectively what that means is that without the threat of legal action, local government may feel more liberated to approve new residential development over the residents’ objection, and, although residents would still have the option of getting the courts involved, if they lose the court action, the resident would be libel for the winner’s attorney fees.

What a major disadvantage…

Local government has a steady stream of taxpayer dollars to defend any such legal challenge against the resident/taxpayer, and, if successful, local government can recoup attorney fees and costs expended to defend the lawsuit from the resident/taxpayer.

What is even more egregious is that if the developer chooses to get involved in a successful defense of the resident lawsuit, the resident would be at risk to pay the developers legal fees and costs as well.

If Governor DeSantis signs this legislation in its current form….residents may as well stay home and let local government approve whatever they want.

THE RESIDENT’S VOICE CONCERNING LOCAL GROWTH MANAGEMENT WILL BE LOST FOREVER!!!

CALL TO ACTION:

Contact the Mayor and Council Members as well as County Commissioner Robert Weinroth and demand they oppose this bill and encourage the Governor to refuse to sign HB 7031.

Andrea Levine O’Rourke – AORourke@ci.boca-raton.fl.us

Monica Mayotte – MMayotte@ci.boca-raton.fl.us

Scott Singer – ssinger@ci.boca-raton.fl.us

Jeremy Rodgers – jrodgers@ci.boca-raton.fl.us

Andy Thomson – athomson@myboca.us

County District 4 Commissioner Robert S. Weinroth – RWeinroth@pbcgov.org

Residents, themselves, should begin a letter writing campaign directly to the Governor demanding he not sign this legislation into law in its current form.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantishttps://www.flgov.com/email-the-governor/

Here is the May 8th Orlando Sentinel Editorial reporting on this legislation. 

You are encouraged to read it in its entirety as it has dramatic impacts on your quality of life and your ability to influence the local legislative outcomes within the scope of our elected officials.

Summer Camp Paint Party for Tourette Syndrome Month

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The public is invited to paint a summer dandelion to help send children with Tourette Syndrome to Summer Camp. The Kelsey B. Diamantis TS Scholarship Family Foundation, Inc., dba Dollars 4 Tic Scholars, a local non-profit organization that supports college students and youth with Tourette Syndrome, has scheduled its 5th Annual Summer Camp Paint Party Fundraiser on Sunday, June 9, 2019 at 1:45 pm at Boca Uptown Art, Shoppes at Village Pointe, 6018 SW 18th St., Suite C4-C5, Boca Raton, FL 33433.

The fifth annual event is held in honor of Tourette Syndrome Awareness Month which is May 15 to June 15, 2019. A percentage of the attendance fee will be donated toward attendance sponsorships for two children ages 6 to 17 to attend summer camp for children with Tourette Syndrome. “Summer Camp can help a kid with Tourettes feel included and not so alone,” said Kelsey Diamantis, Co-founder of Dollars 4 Tic Scholars, who has Tourette Syndrome. “These children look forward to going to camp every summer as a time they can gain confidence and have fun. We hope to have a large group of painters this year and are very excited about the dandelion painting as a symbol of summer.”

Kelsey Diamantis of Dollars 4 Tic ScholarsTickets are $35 in advance and $40 at the door, and include snacks, beverages, door prizes and the attendee’s original summer dandelion painting.

Pre-registration is required by visiting http://www.dollars4ticscholars.org/2019paintparty.

Dollars 4 Tic Scholars may be reached at 561-487-9526,
or online at http://www.dollars4ticscholars.org, on Facebook at “Dollars4TicScholars”, or by email at info@dollars4ticscholars.org.

Whatever Happened To Delray?

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Once sleepy beach town, Delray is about to undergo its second major transformation in decades.  The first came about in spectacular fashion, when city government decided they wanted a vibrant commercial and retail scene along Atlantic Avenue.  They certainly got what they wished for.  And the congestion and parking problems that go with it.  Dozens of trendy shops and popular restaurants and bars now line the thoroughfare, which varies from four lanes, to two lanes, to no lanes when trucks are making deliveries or people are trying to park.  Drive the length of downtown Atlantic on a weekend or at holiday times and you can experience both driving and being parked at the same time.  And the buzz– aka noise– is noticeable.  Delray is definitely a happenin’ place.  But is it a happy place?

Now comes Stage II as the big developers move in.  Three downtown hotels will soon open, with over 400 rooms.  There is a 150,000 square foot Delray Market development that promises to deliver “Florida’s largest food court.”  There is the recently opened Ipic movie theater, restaurant and corporate office complex.  Plans have been approved for a badly needed new underground garage for Atlantic Crossing.  A massive redevelopment of the former Office Depot HQ*  site just south of Atlantic on Congress promises no less than 1000 new apartments with retail and office space to match.  And last but not least, there is the proposed redevelopment at Atlantic and Swinton that is currently tied up in the courts.  The transformation of Delray continues.

Delray’s City Fathers have clearly decided that their 30-year old plan for Atlantic Avenue has been a success.  They have also decided that more is better.  What they have not decided is how to cope with the additional density, traffic and parking problems that this new iteration of Delray will bring.  It is a classic case of build it now, and worry about the infrastructure problems later.  It can take an hour to traverse the length of Atlantic Avenue on a Saturday night.  When all the new construction is in place it could take an hour to travel the length of Atlantic Avenue on a Monday afternoon.  A day at the beach or an afternoon or night out in Delray used to be fun; now it can be a hassle.

Delray’s evolution offers important lessons for Boca Raton.  As we look past the current wave of approved development projects (Tower 155, Via Mizner II and III, the Alina, Camino Square)— all of which will dramatically impact our Downtown and exacerbate traffic and parking problems, what kind of a community do we want Boca to be?  What’s the long-range, city-wide PLAN for Boca?  A split personality city with gated mini-mansions to the west, high rise condos and destination retail outlets to the east, a muddle in the middle, and a university village to the north?  An assortment of city centers (downtown, midtown, uptown) like Houston or LA?  Or just a haphazard mess?  We should be thinking and talking about all of this now, before our future is sealed by stand-alone development approvals.  Before it is too late to influence the outcome.

We should look at Delray as a cautionary tale, and learn from it.  Be careful what you wish for.  And have a plan to deal with all of the consequences of that wish.

The Alina: From Monster to Monarch on Mizner

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After over three (3) years of contentious, often heated, public discourse, the redevelopment of what was once known as the ‘Mizner on the Green’, a two hundred forty six (246) unit condominium development, has now received approval to redevelop the property with a three hundred eighty-four (384) unit, nine story condominium.( see the rendering provided). This re-development project complete with its structured parking will move forward in two phases, one currently out of the ground and the other designed and pre-approved for future development without further public discourse.

The picture is worth 1000 words…

If you have driven along Mizner Boulevard in the last few weeks you would have been greeted on the east side of the roadway with a fenced in area displaying The Alina marketing materials describing “Boca Raton Luxury Condos“. What you would also have seen is a skyline crowded with cranes actively operating behind the display servicing dozens of cement trucks pouring the foundation of this highly anticipated addition to Boca Raton’s downtown landscape.

A controversial project from its start, community opposition mounted.

Opposition led by the residents of Townsend Place, its eastern neighbor, and, Investments Limited’s Royal Palm Place directly across Mizner Boulevard from The Alina. The opposition generally centered around the development’s design; its setbacks; and mostly, its impact on sightlines and vistas of these neighboring interests.

Heated debate took place at various levels in the approval process.

The applicant redesigned the project several times to meet and overcome the objections of its opponents. After much public negotiation, the process resulted in a formula that Boca Raton’s elected officials eventually could approve; a resulting plan allowing the landowner to now proceed with vested rights for its business surety.

In this process, all parties came to a negotiated resting point so that the landowner’s final design effectively addressed the immediate concerns of its neighbors while going well beyond those concerns and contributing greatly to the public realm; contributing to the experiences of all the residents and downtown visitors.

The contributions to the public realm made by this landowner/developer include but are not limited to the following:

  1. Dedication of an easement for public recreation and open space purposes along the Mizner Boulevard frontage and over the pocket park are along the southern property line adjacent to the Townsend Place property line;
  2. Installation of additional landscaping along and within the northern property boundary of Townsend Place; and,
  3. Installation of additional landscaping along Mizner Boulevard adjacent to the Mizner on the Green apartments to remain during Phase 1 of the project;

The overall project exceeds the requirements of Ordinance 4035 standards with the following:

  1. Open Space: 40.57% provided, 40% required – 77.78% of required open space is open to the sky, 65% open to the sky required;
  2. Setbacks: Front: 21’ 5” minimum provided – 6’ minimum required
    Rear: 8’ to 10’ minimum provided – 0’ required
    North: 22’ 10” minimum provided – 0’ required
    South: 18’ 5” minimum provided – 0’ required
  3. Landscaping in the Vehicular Use Area: 21.7% provided – 15% required
  4. Percentage of Glass: Ordinance 4035 allows a maximum of 40% of the perimeter building materials to be composed of glass – 36.54% provided

Not to get lost in the details, perhaps a better way to visualize the public realm merits of this development is for the reader to view Jack McWalter’s August 14, 2017 video titled “Billion Dollar Monster on Mizner”. Also, the really interested reader might use the BocaWatch search feature to review the dozen or so articles that were published over the years leading up to today’s situation.

Residents have clearly won great concessions from this developer specifically and the overall development community generally. There is now a growing number of examples where developers and land owners, as here, are making significant contribution to the public’s experience; the public realm.

Fair and earnest negotiations between landowner/developers and the City Council, a Council with a can-do open-minded approach, will resolve every development impasse and counter the ever-growing number of lawsuits where such negotiations have broken down.
Time is money…money to the landowner; money to the city; and, money to the resident taxpayer….none of these interest groups are interested in the waste of money or, for that matter, of time.

Al Zucaro,
Publisher of BocaWatch

Ocean Strand Poll: Save Boca’s Green Space?

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Ocean Strand is relatively large parcel of land the Greater Boca Raton Beach and Parks District owns and maintains on the west side of AIA between Gumbo Limbo and Spanish River Park. It’s off limits to the public and there are no plans on the table for how that will change any time soon.

Out of The Rough and Into The Sand Trap at Boca National

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Round 2 in the match between the City and the District over Boca National was played on Tuesday, April 23 at the District’s new HQ clubhouse at Boca Swim & Racquet on St. Andrews Boulevard.

Update From The Legislature with Mike Caruso

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The Florida House Budget for 2019-2020

The House passed its recommended budget for Fiscal Year 2019-2020. The $89.9 billion budget plan amounts to $4,194.25 per capita – slightly less than the spending level in 2018-2019. The budget continues the House’s conservative approach of responsibly funding our state’s critical needs, including significant investments in hurricane response and preparedness, education, and the environment. The House Budget also provides tax relief by covering the cost of property value growth in the K-12 funding formula and preventing property tax increases. Finally, the budget responsibly plans for the future by placing over $3.3 billion in reserves to prepare for any unforeseen future economic uncertainty.

The House budget covers important elements that will positively affect all Floridians while also securing long-term budget surpluses for the future. Over the next few weeks, the House and Senate will work towards passing a final budget, and I will keep you updated as we move through this process. Even though we spend a lot of time working on good public policy, passing a budget is the only bill the legislature is required to pass each year.

Firefighters

On Monday, Firefighters from throughout Florida came for the unveiling and dedication ceremony of the Firefighter Memorial Monument at the Capitol. I’m grateful for the visit from my Boca Raton, Delray Beach, and Palm Beach County Firefighter friends!

Children’s Home Society & Lauren’s Kids

I also had meetings with Children’s Home Society, among many others. Finally, I participated in the walk with Lauren’s Kids, which was held in the Capitol. Volunteers walked for 42 hours on a treadmill to represent 42 million survivors of child sexual abuse.

Ethics Reform

The House passed HB 1 – Ethics Reform, increasing transparency and accountability of elected officials in our state. This bill strengthens conflicts of interest law so government employees and elected officials do not use their positions for private gain. Provisions in the bill include requiring disclosure and reporting offers of conflicting employment, prohibiting state and local officers or employees from soliciting a job from a business or entity that the officer or employee’s agency has regulatory power over, and revising executive branch lobbying registration requirements. HB 1 now heads to the Senate for their consideration.

Healthcare Reform

We also passed a number of healthcare reform bills that increase access to affordable quality healthcare for all Floridians. HB 935 – Price Transparency in Contracts prohibits a health insurer or HMO from limiting the ability of any provider to discuss pricing information with a patient. Health care providers will be allowed to share all information on the costs of care and the availability of more affordable care options. Clear, accurate information about the costs and quality of health care is necessary for consumers to select health care services that provide good value. HB 821- Health Care Practitioners allows advanced practice registered nurses and physician assistants to practice without physician supervision, if they meet certain criteria. The bill responsibly allows nurses and physician assistants to practice to the greatest and safest extent of their training, which will increase access to care.

Property Tax Exemptions

One of the bills that I sponsored also passed the House last week. HB 1295 – Property Tax Exemptions Used by Hospitals requires hospitals to demonstrate they provide a level of charity that equals or exceeds their property tax liability in order to qualify for an existing property tax exemption. The bill ensures hospitals do not abuse the tax exemption available to charitable organizations. These healthcare bills will now go to the Senate for consideration.

Additionally, the House advanced legislation that expands career education opportunities and reforms the state’s criminal justice system. I look forward to continuing our work to advance legislation that moves Florida forward.

Read the previous update from Representative Mike Caruso.

For Our Future Generations: Gumbo Limbo Revamp for Boca

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The water shone like a molten mirror and below the serene surface was a fish. Small, barely a dart of silver, yet fast. Glimmering in the early morning sun, the fish darted into the reeds before a small girl yelled out she could see it. The girl’s hair was deep hues of fierce crimson against her pale face. Her smile grew as much as spring flowers could open. Gumbo Limbo Nature Center volunteer John Jarvis said, “Kids and families like it and kids like the Harry Potter names for the turtles. Any upgrades we’re getting soon is really for a better future for the community.”

Camino Square: An Epilogue of Hypocrisy

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On April 8, 2019 the Camino Square project was approved by a 3-2 vote after YEARS in process before the City and after 5+ hours of mostly irrelevant testimony. Saved from itself and more litigation, City officials and project opponents had one last opportunity to expose themselves. And they did. While staff gets a pass because they are TOLD what to do, what to INVENT and what to SAY, for fear of losing their job, elected officials do not have that luxury.

Leadership is…….?

High marks should be given to CRA Commissioners Rogers and Thomson for being expertly prepared to address the merits of this matter. Leadership means never having to apologize for a disciplined measured vote. Commissioner Scott Singer cast a positive vote; but with a contorted apologetic tone. He owed no one an apology for making the RIGHT decision. No one will question his vote when this project is built.

And how about that Jack McWalter fellow? As a “Bocawatcher” of yore, he certainly cannot be attacked as one sided or biased. Developers may not agree with him 80% of the time but no one can call him predisposed?

Watching Hypocrisy and Bias in Action—Add a Splash of Conspiracy!

Which leads us to the negative votes of CRA Chair Andrea O’Rourke and Vice Chair Monica Mayotte.

Clearly, their minds were made up long before the hearing started. Their predisposed questions and objections were transparent. The ONLY issue which remained after the January 7, 2019 CRA hearing was traffic—and nothing but traffic. That was the sole reason the decision was postponed; not to INVENT new rules and issues that did not (and do not) exist; and, were NEVER brought up before, like O&E conversions.

Think Traffic—remember—traffic. What comes to mind: Solutions!

Amazing as it sounds the developer came back with—you guessed it–traffic solutions. Imagine that! They did what they said they would do and addressed the traffic situation to the tune of nearly $2MM in proposed off/on site road improvements and a commitment to continue finding solution to the bike lane issue.

The developer fixed a roadway congestion condition that the City, itself, created in 2015. The developer was not required to do this; the project was vested for traffic concurrency in the DDRI. And who cares if they get an impact fee credit on part of that? That’s money that would go to build roads in other places in the county. Some commentators have suggested a contorted blame to past CRA members for not making the road improvements in the past. Irrelevant. The developer presented real traffic solutions and a real level of service increase at the Camino/Dixie intersection—if, of course, you believe the traffic studies submitted. City staff certainly did; Palm Beach County did; the County staff did!!!

What to do—Become a Traffic Expert–Overnight

So what is a CRA member to do when the facts, standards and rules don’t support the desired outcome?

Well, simply make new rules that do; invent different standards, move the proverbial goal post, and then present comments as if an expert making sure to throw out talking points for the opposing audience to partake in a manufactured echo chamber. Also, question the motives of the developer’s traffic engineer as if he were lying or part of some grand conspiracy. If the true desire is to solve a traffic problem, why not solve it? Because, that was not the desire—the desire was to kill the project any way possible.

Traffic studies are done in a specific and disciplined way as per established rules.

Fact: Grade level train crossings are not counted or considered in County or City required traffic studies because they are deemed minimal impact events. That is the science and engineering behind traffic studies. CRA Commissioners should know better than to argue with the prescribed science; independent research with unidentified software does not a traffic expert make.

  • Commissioners are not witnesses subject to cross-examination;
  • Commissioners are fact finders reviewing the ‘substantial competent evidence’ presented and contained in the official record.
  • Commissioner comments are not ‘substantial competent evidence.’

To have a decision made based on such comments would be another silly “Concierge” type statement creating reversible error.

Another commentator stated that O’Rourke and Mayotte voted in the negative and should be commended for keeping their campaign promises to oppose development. Two reasons undermine this posture; to wit: 1) As fact finders, politics need to be set aside; and, 2) this project had traffic concurrency within the DDRI. Of course a blanket “no” vote on a project–with no basis other than it was based on a campaign promise would be invalid ‘per se’.

Here is the bottom line:

It would not have mattered WHAT the applicant did or did not do with respect to traffic. Both Mayotte and O’Rourke were clearly opposed to ANY development, PERIOD! They were predisposed. They are clearly enlisting the City Attorney and staff (through the City Manager) to invent arguments for them; to wit: implementing the unspoken policy of limiting development through litigation.

This is exactly how our elected officials have dug the hole the City is now in with the Midtown debacle. With all the current litigation challenging the elected officials’ decisions and actions, such an unspoken policy is all going to come crashing down very soon.
Good governance requires action and the landowners are intent to resolve it. Hypocrisy—Boca Style!!!

What else to add to the Mix?—Why the dishonest media to be exact.

It should be noted that WPTV showed up to cover this “controversial” Camino Square project. ” Controversial” being the online headline. But what was controversial? The media were possibly biased by the project’s opponents and fed a (false) narrative.

Is a project that was vetted for years; that meets the requirements of Ordinance #4035; that has NO technical deviations or variances; that will likely triple tax revenues and will clearly fix a blighted property “controversial”?

Is a project that is VESTED for traffic concurrency where the applicant is making $2MM in road improvements they don’t have to do “controversial”?

Do 17 people who come out to speak in a City of 95,000+ make a project controversial?

Howling at the moon has changed the posture and practice of developers in Boca Raton. Local elections over the last 5 years have changed attitudes. Victory certainly can be claimed by the residents. Landowners have clearly altered their expectations and appear ready to, as in Camino Square, contribute greatly to the public realm.

Growth is inevitable…Growth that contributes to the public good is what the residents now can expect.

No longer can the developer disregard the residents’ sentiment; no longer can the developer build solely to maximize profit.

This attitude change has been hard fought but is fragile.

Now that the residents’ have the attention of the developer community, it is time to sit at the proverbial table and engage in FAIR and EARNEST discussions that result in the betterment of the resident experience. It should be noted that if Camino Square had not been approved the resulting litigation would likely have ended in favor of the developer and WOULD NOT have required the agreed roadway improvements. How would that help anyone?

Negotiating with the developer for the betterment of the public good is the ‘resident responsible’ thing to do.

This is the definition of Good Governance.

Al Zucaro
Publisher of BocaWatch

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