BocaWatch’s Continuing Journey Down Memory Lane

     In response to the article “Dubai in Boca”, our research committee began to look at the status of any enabling ordinances in place today establishing building heights and density in the downtown.  This article explores the height issues that have been uncovered.  A future article will explore the density issues contained in current legislation of the City Council/CRA.

     To bring clarity to this analysis, one needs to review the contents of two existing ordinances; to wit: Ordinance 4035 and Ordinance 5052.  Ordinance 4035, amongst other things, clearly establishes the geographic boundaries of our downtown and sets the height limitation at 100 feet.  There is no ambiguity or confusion with these items in this ordinance.  Ordinance 5052, passed in 2008, does not change the parameters of 4035 but establishes the possibility of additional height, if certain conditions are met and attaches, without adoption, the Interim Design Guidelines. 

    The Interim Design Guidelines (IDG) are the result of a study by Urban Design Associates the City commissioned some years ago. The IDG put in place an experiment for increases in building height in the downtown.  The published materials from this study clearly state that the experiment with the Interim Design Guidelines was a test case authorizing additional building height for the “RAM” project, currently known as the “Mark”, located south of Palmetto Park Road east of Federal. The language contained in the IDG anticipates that the results would be examined at a future time once the project is complete.  That public review has never been conducted and, without doubt, the time is now.

Why now…..

Over the past few years, additional projects have been granted the privilege of the 140 foot height (plus up to 20 extra feet for ornamentals) contained in the Interim Design Guidelines.  Remember, these guidelines have never been formally adopted by action of the CRA or the City Council nor have the dictates of Ordinance 4035 been modified to allow developers to submit projects, assuming as a matter of right, the 140/160 foot height suggestion of the Interim Design Guidelines….but that is exactly what is happening….

No basis in law or fact to support this assumption

    The suggested 140/160 foot maximum height, which is applicable only to parts of the building and only under certain conditions, has caused ambiguity and confusion regarding the rules for height in the downtown.  The CRA/City Council has added to this ambiguity and confusion by approving two additional projects at these higher levels. A third project is now making its way through the process with a fourth at initial submittal stages. By approving extra projects under the IDG, while it is tested, the CRA/City Council have encouraged these ambiguous outcomes.  Land Owners/Developers naturally want to maximize profits.  Additional building height lessen the cost of the dirt for their projects, a good result for them, but perhaps a not so good result for concerned citizens.

So….What’s next….

To answer this, one starts by recognizing that growth and development are good things.  What is not good is unprincipled and unpredictable growth, the situation that exists now.  To remedy this, the City Council/CRA must address the inherent conflicts. 

     Reconciling the demands of Ordinance 4035 with Ordinance 5052 is the starting point for this reconciliation.  Another step is to conduct a public hearing to examine the results of the ‘RAM’ project (which looks much taller and bulkier than previous projects under Ordinance 4035). The City needs to gather public input on the desirability of an increase in building height from 100 feet to 140/160 feet (under the IDG rules) and other aspects of the IDG such as setbacks, step backs, “Architectural Opportunity Zones” (AOZs) and open spaces.  Finally, once the public hearing examining the results of the “RAM” project is completed and the IDG and Ordinance 5052 are revised or repealed as needed to reflect Citizens’ reactions to the Mark/Ram experiment, land owners and developers would have clear direction for what development would be allowed on their land. Further development should not be allowed under guidelines that are ‘Interim’.  

One final point…..                                                                  

The City’s Master Plan divides the downtown streets into 4 categories, types A, B, C and D while the Interim Design Guidelines divide these same streets into 3 categories, types A, B, and C.  Both documents establish different types of developments on different types of streets.   Neither Ordinance 4035 nor Ordinance 5052 indicates that development should be different for the different street types.  Differentiation of development by street type needs to be made part of these ordinances.

CALL TO ACTION….

 (1) Encourage the City Council/CRA to halt any further development approvals under Ordinance 5052 until public hearings are held allowing the citizens a chance to express their views on the Mark/RAM project test case, and until this ordinance is corrected as needed or repealed, and

    (2) Encourage the City Council/CRA to halt any further approvals under the Interim Design Guidelines until a definitive finding, perhaps through a City Council/CRA initiated ballot question for the March, 2015 elections testing the public’s will to increase the 100 feet height limit to that of 140/160 feet as described in the Interim Design Guidelines…..