Is This Any Way to Run a City?

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Businessman bound up in red tape, mid section, close-up

Being ardently pro-development and anti-business at the same time may seem like a paradox, but there is ample evidence in Boca to support this seeming self- contradiction.

If you want evidence of pro-development bias, just look around. For years our City Council made multiple concessions to please developers. It all started with the battle over the massive Archstone property on Palmetto Park Road, a three-block long, ten-story high monster that has morphed into Palmetto Promenade.  That was followed by quick approval of the Mark “experiment” which, despite its obvious failure, led to approval of other high-rise properties in our overcrowded downtown:  Tower 155, Via Mizner I, II, and III, Boca City Walk, and Mizner 200.  All of these were approved by Boca’s City Council without consideration of the infrastructure necessary—roads, parking, schools—to handle the accompanying increase in population.  “Build baby, build” has been the mantra of Boca’s elected officials.  If you want to propose a major development project, you have friends at City Hall.

But ever wonder why these new concrete behemoths are still looking for commercial tenants?  Perhaps it’s because Boca’s ruling elite are not so generous when it comes to their treatment of small businesses.  Consider the following three examples:

Proper Ice Cream on East Palmetto wanted to open a 971-square foot ice cream store in a small two-story office building across the street from the mammoth Palmetto Promenade.  City Staff required the building owner to go through a full-blown Individual Development Approval Amendment process—the same time and expense for the City and the applicant-owner as for a large downtown building.  The initial application was made to the City in October 2016 and the IDA Amendment was granted by the City Council sitting as the Community Redevelopment Agency on January 8, 2018.

Shoppers at Publix on Camino Road and Federal were admiring the chain’s efforts to beautify and remodel one of its flagship stores, when work abruptly came to a halt.  Apparently they were moving shelves without getting the necessary permits from Boca’s shelf-moving code enforcers.  So there’s a day glow orange “Stop Work Order” unceremoniously pasted to their front door while management tries to sort things out with the City and shoppers wander around trying to find where they moved the Cheerios.  If this can happen to Publix, it can happen to anyone.

Then there is the tragi-comic saga of Luff’s Fish House, one of Boca’s newest and more promising restaurant ventures owned by the family that operates Trattoria Romana.  In late November, the owner painted the Luff House a tasteful green sea foam color.  The sea foam green appeared on the original 1920s bungalow and was approved by Boca’s Community Appearance Board.  But not apparently by Boca’s more powerful Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA).   VIOLATION!  The subsequent dance at City Hall and before the City’s Special Magistrate cost the owner $ thousands in filing and legal fees.  He repainted the building white over the New Year’s holiday weekend in order to avoid $1000/day fines for non-compliance, but has yet to receive more than a temporary certificate of operation while he waits months for CRA approval so he can paint the building the sea foam color he wants.  He has a bad taste in his mouth, and it’s not from food.

I’m sure readers of this article can cite numerous instances where their business plans have been handicapped or thwarted by Boca’s building bureaucracy.  Just ask your local butcher, baker or ice cream maker.  How ironic that our City bends over backwards to build all these buildings but then makes occupancy such a chore.   Is this any way to run a city?  Time to start sweating the big stuff, like traffic and school overcrowding.  Time for a change in behavior at City Hall.

 

John C. Gore
President
BocaBeautiful.org

 

 

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John, President of BocaBeautiful.org is a 13-year Boca resident and lives in Downtown Boca. He is also Chairman and CEO of Political Solutions International LLC, a consulting firm which advises a wide range of clients on government relations organization, competence, issue management and strategy. Prior to his chairing Political Solutions International, Mr. Gore served from 1996-2002 as Group Vice President, Government and Public Affairs, for the British Petroleum Company in London. In that capacity Mr. Gore was responsible for BP’s government and public affairs activities in over 70 countries. He is a 1970 graduate of Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service and attended Georgetown University Law School. He is married to the former Antonia Stepovich of Fairbanks, Alaska. His outside interests include golf, creative writing, and the arts.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Great points Mr Gore. The Ice Cream shop was brought up as an example of streamlining where small businesses shouldn’t need to go through the same process major businesses do. Publix, that is news to me, but sounds like another candidate for streamlining. Luff House, there is more to the story. My recollection from city staff, so may not be 100%, but basically: The original CAB approval was not for the Sea Foam Green (which I happen to like a lot), it was for coral. They went to CAB well after they painted, and there were bigger issues than the color, the roof was different as well. I think it’s close to being worked out. There’s two contending points, and they are both important.

    First, we do have to enforce what gets approved out of CAB and CRA, or else you end up with more projects like the Mark, etc, that were presented one way but built/painted another.
    Second, you are right, we need to work where we can to have our staff accommodate the mom and pop businesses in town. Good progress here over the last 3 years, but we’re not all the way there yet.

  2. A great article and refreshing to agree with Mr. Gore. First there are numerous other examples of unnecessary delay. The resident friendly and corroborative effort with the neighborhoods on a project I voted for on P&Z–Ocean Palm was delayed months for a small revision. But its not just small business good low intensity developments like 475 Royal Palm with a 2′ roof overhang go into temporary abyss even though the last 20 developments some massive were approved under the same conditions. I learned recently that they planned on moving HQ from Deerfield bit that was delayed 6 months.Ocean Palm missed the selling season because of 16-18 month cycle for IDA approvals–took almost as much time as Ice Cream store. A stealth cell tower that everyone was agreeable with in the woods at Broken Sound golf club took two years to approve and not built yet. “Can you hear me now”–lots of dropped calls in the meantime. In 2012 yes 2012 I made an hour long streamline presentation to CRA which among other things provided the City Manager with administrative authority to approve small projects like the Ice Cream store and Luffs.

  3. Mr. Gore, I too agree with your comments. At the CAB level, I see a large disconnect in communication between the City Management Office, the CRA, and the various Advisory Boards. My guess is they just don’t have enough staff to get appropriate approvals ironed out within a greater expeditious time line. Hopefully this will be one issue on the City Councils priority agenda list…

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