How Soon We Forget Why We Have Codes

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This past Thursday night’s ZBOA (Zoning Board of Adjustment) meeting was one of the better meetings held by the City in years because we learned a lot about City Staff.  Why?  It proved that City Staff does not know the rules.  Variances are granted to property owners only if they can prove hardship.  That is City code.  But, the City’s staff planner was ignorant of this.  Why are City employees uneducated and not properly trained on what it is they are supposed to enforce?  It comes down to bad management.

The applicant bought the land at 2500 N Ocean Blvd. several years ago knowing that under code a lot must be a minimum of 100 feet wide.  This lot is 88.5 wide so to build his 10,000 Sq Ft, 4 story residence on the ocean required a variance for width.  On top of that, code requires a residence must be 25 feet from the property line facing the street, just like your and my home.  Here again, the applicant wanted a variance allowing for 14.5 feet from A1A. The worst part is City Staff supported their application.  The applicant can build a smaller, maybe 4,000 sq ft. residence on the property but that isn’t good enough.  No, they want 10,000 feet and City Staff says, that’s OK.  And, City management, George Brown, in this case, says it’s OK.  Is this really a hardship?  And, think about where they want to build  – in the sea grape along the ocean side of A1A.  Mr. Brown was not protecting our or the City’s interests, he was giving away exceptions to the code.

One ZBOA member stated we should allow variances that help the property owner.  Really?  The City is not in the business of supporting the profitability and return on investment of property owners. Why is this guy on the ZBOA?

The best part was the heads up response of member Hendrik DeMello who voiced the rule stating “variances may not be granted if a hardship is not shown” and a 6,000 sq ft difference in a residence’s size does not qualify for a hardship.  Mr. DeMello won the day for the citizens of Boca Raton and showed that Staff has not a clue with respect to following code.

Kudos to Zoning Board of Adjustments for making the “right decision” in a 5-1 vote to not allow the variance in additional size be granted.

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Nancy and James Hendrey arrived in Boca Raton 32 years ago as IBMers. From Hawaii to Dallas to Atlanta and Boca, for them, IBM meant "I've Been Moved". In 1988 they chose to leave IBM management and take an employee "buyout" and start their own business. Twenty-five years later they chose to retire and stay in place. "With our previous experience as teachers, sales professionals, product developers, advertising managers, small business owners and real estate developers, we both have unspent energy, especially when it comes to protecting the city we love."

4 COMMENTS

  1. Great article Mr. Hendrey.

    If there is an appeal to the City Council. I would certainly expect the Council to follow the recommendation of the Zoning Board. After all these are the experts that the council is suppose to rely on. If there is no hardship then it would be unthinkable for this project to get built.

    It is curious though why someone would spend almost 1 million dollars on a property that was unbuildable. Unless of course someone gave them the impression they could get the project pushed through.

    I guess we will soon see if the council is working to protect its residents or it is working for a connected developer.

  2. Here are the criteria required to judge an application by ZBOA, just for reference:

    The board shall have the power, subject to review by the city council pursuant to section 28-131(8), to grant variances from the requirements of this chapter, provided that it specifically finds that:

    (a) Special and unique conditions exist which are peculiar to the petitioner’s case and which are not generally applicable to the property located in the zoning district.

    (b) The special and unique conditions are not directly attributable to the actions of the petitioner.

    (c) The literal interpretation of this chapter, as applied to the petitioner, would deprive the petitioner of rights commonly enjoyed by the owners of other property in the zoning district.

    (d) The variance granted is the minimum variance necessary for the petitioner to make reasonable use of the property.

    (e) Granting the variance is not detrimental to the public welfare, or injurious to property or improvements in the zoning district or neighborhood involved.

    (f) Granting the variance is not contrary to the objectives of the comprehensive plan of the city.

  3. Mr. Hendrey,

    I am pleased to hear that you supported the decision of the ZBOA. It was a lengthy and emotional hearing, and in the end the board members voted their consciences after carefully considering the evidence and arguments.

    What inspired me to write was your questions:
    “One ZBOA member stated we should allow variances that help the property owner. Really? The City is not in the business of supporting the profitability and return on investment of property owners. Why is this guy on the ZBOA?”

    I was concerned that you were confused by that Board Member’s statement, why he said it, and why he was there.

    Firstly, he was on the ZBOA because he is a well-informed and dedicated citizen, appointed by the City Council, who volunteers his time. He has done so for more than a decade.

    He said that we want to help property owners because he was appropriately concerned with balancing the interests of the community with the constitutional rights of the property owner. Also, he understands that he serves at the pleasure of the City Council who, being elected by the citizens of Boca Raton, also have an interest in both of those items being considered in a balanced and fair manner.

    He also knew that failing to properly consider the competing concerns of both the Petitioner and the Respondents could result in unnecessary litigation expense for the City.

    You are correct in your assertion that Boca Raton is not in the “business of supporting the profitability and return on investment of property owners”. But ,that is true mostly because Boca Raton is not in business at all; it is a municipality. They are in the “business” of serving the welfare of the community, including the rights of individual property owners, while simultaneously managing growth.

    In answer to your questions, I offer that the Board member demonstrated his competence and qualification for the position by properly considering the matter “in sympathy with the proposition that municipal development should be accomplished in furtherance of the protection of the public health, safety and welfare of the community and the comprehensive plan of the city.” as required by Article III Section 28-128 of our Municipal Code.

    I am proud to serve with him.

    Spencer B. Siegel

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