IT’S THE T.O.D., STUPID!

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The above is a play on James Carville’s 1992 message used to remind campaign workers to help focus Bill Clinton’s reelection message.  It worked, and hopefully will now help in modified form to educate Boca residents on the City Council’s current desire to allow Brightline to cannibalize the rest of the Downtown Library’s parking lot for further private development after the installation of a garage and station.

T.O.D.  What is it?

It stands for Transit-Orientated-Development.  They build a station, and redevelop the surrounding areas, usually low-income neighborhoods that can use it, by building residential housing and retail. A great idea, right?

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Yes and no is the answer. 

In Palm Beach they built a residential tower by the courthouse on unused land, and it’s nice, although very high.  In Fort Lauderdale they haven’t, since the station is next to a Greyhound Bus station and a McDonald’s that is commonly encamped by homeless and other people that need our help. Certainly, neither area is equivalent to the proposed site here.

The problem in Boca, of course, is they are building on the grounds of downtown’s most cherished and busiest cultural institution, the library, which also happens to be part of a beautiful residential neighborhood, comprised of Library Commons and Spanish Village.  What Brightline and their partner local developers are attempting here is unprecedented, and could easily be stopped by the Council by simply trimming the train company’s all-encompassing development requests to permanently block any future development of the library grounds after the station and garage are built. Put it in the Brightline lease, by covenants, or declare the remaining library lot to be a city park.  Just make it clear: preserve the remaining library environment!

I live in Library Commons, and like many of my neighbors, I moved here with my wife and two young children because of the library.  It’s a daily ritual for us, like it is for so many.  And now, unfathomably, the dreams, inspiration, and aesthetics that only our easily accessible, safe and open library can provide for all of downtown’s children, families, elderly, and others looking to learn, gather, or simply spend a pleasant afternoon or evening, are in jeopardy.

Make no mistake about it.  Everyone, Library Commoners included, think the station and an appropriately sized garage running parallel to the station are a great idea.  Redeveloping the blocks of warehouses next to the library, which Brightline is already working to acquire, is a benefit too.  Even the second Brightline T.O.D. request, the empty land running along Boca Raton Boulevard across from the library and the tennis center, can be given to Brightline to fulfill their desire for a hotel or residential tower.  But to put four and ten story walls up over the existing library lot, leaving one lane of open driving space next to the library entrance?  To give them both a residential tower T.O.D. and a separate hotel T.O.D. while compromising a public institution?  Astounding that it’s even being considered.

Think about it.  Would leaders in Brookline, Massachusetts, where Councilwoman Andrea O’Rourke is from, allow the private takeover of their library?  Would the New York Public Library, where Mayor Scott Singer moved from, be allowed to be compromised in such foreboding fashion, even with the astronomical land values in Manhattan?  Of course not.  In those places, as well as throughout Florida and the nation, libraries, particularly downtown ones, are afforded the reverence and dignity they deserve for so many obvious reasons.  As author Eric Klinenberg put it, libraries are Palaces For The People, and should be respected and fought for by Boca’s City Council.

The Council is getting ready to introduce an ordinance to allow Brightline to put down an extra-large capacity, four-story, awkwardly designed, L-shaped garage at the back of the library lot.  It’s not parallel to the station, where there is plenty of room given parked city trucks already take up most of the spaces next to the station/community garden.  It’s not parallel to the station, where the train passengers would derive the most benefit due to proximity.  It’s not parallel to the station, where the building would shield library patrons from speeding freight train and transit noise and activity, and preserve the same open and inviting atmosphere that downtown residents currently enjoy.  And yes, it is in a place that is mere feet away and towering above palm trees and homeowners in Library Commons, who most definitely have a right to quiet and toxic car exhaust fume-free enjoyment of their property.

So why is it at the back of the library lot, anyway?

It’s the T.O.D., stupid!

That’s right, it only makes sense size-wise and placement-wise by understanding it’s designed simply  to accommodate their future T.O.D. tower on the library parking lot at a not so later date!

Brightline, and their local developer partners, and the pro-development City Council, aren’t the stupid ones here.  But they think Boca residents are.  That’s why they strategically cut back their initial grand requests, and are supposedly only asking for the station and garage now.  It’s why they have snuck discussions of the topic in the past onto Mayor’s Notes instead of full blown agenda items, and why the next stage will likely be pushed to the November 26th Council Meeting, when lots of people are gone for Thanksgiving.  But don’t be fooled.  As soon as their awkward, monster L-shaped garage is approved, the incredibly liberal so-called “option” to buy the remaining library parking area will be exercised, and a behemoth residential tower or hotel will be built according to their original vision on library grounds.  And Boca residents will once again lose.

The proposed language for right of first refusal option.

What can library lovers do?

A lot.

We can stand up to the Council, for one.  Force them to ask Brightline tough questions in public, and get real answers, and make them come back with different designs that don’t depend on and accommodate further building on the library campus, and properly incorporate the environmental impacts the extra traffic drawn to the station will have on the library and Spanish Village as a whole.  Force them to negotiate for us, and not for the benefit of developers, and to exercise Boca’s extensive leverage as one of the most heavily concentrated areas of affluence in Florida, precisely what Brightline needs to boost ridership as both a marquee destination and a service to the many Boca Ratonians who can afford to ride an expensive train to cruise ship terminals, airports, Orlando, and other costly vacation destinations.  We are precisely their target demographic, and the City Council needs to stand up to Brightline in regards to one simple, common sense area: only a station and garage on library grounds!

It won’t be easy though.  The City Council seems beholden to Brightline’s and their partner developers’ interests.  They seem afraid.  I have personally been told by Council members that “it’s premature” to publicly press the train company on the library T.O.D., that it would be “grandstanding” to ask them about it from the dais, and that Boca essentially doesn’t have strong leverage in this negotiation! They simply won’t discuss in detail plans for the future library parking lot T.O.D., let alone kill it at the onset.  In fact, Mayor Scott Singer also refuses to commit to allowing the Library Commons Homeowners Association a specific extended period of time before the City Council, one akin to the time allotted to Brightline on multiple prior occasions, to present general concerns and alternate design suggestions.  It’s not fair, and sad, and once again, up to the residents to stand up for themselves against over-development in our beloved and formerly arts and education loving city.

In closing, a common sense plan.  Send this article, and the one recently written by Randy Schultz in Boca Raton Magazine on the T.O.D. issue, to everyone you know who loves libraries.  Pack the City Commission meetings on November 13th and 26th, and speak your mind.  Write letters, make calls, ask for meetings with Council members.  And lastly, consider paying the $300.00 filing fee to run for City Council yourself.  Andy Thomson, Andrea O’Rourke, and Scott Singer are all up for election, and in a large turn-out Presidential Preference Primary, this is Boca residents’ best chance in years to not only save our precious library campus from private developers, but to finally temper the inexorable pro-development march of the City Council that’s turning our once quaint city into Fort Lauderdale or Miami.

12 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you for writing this.

    It appears the elected officials care more about the virgin company then the people who live in Boca, pay taxes in Boca and vote in Boca.

    Flip the garage to the other side of the parking lot ( if there must be a garage).. and let us have our garden and library spaces. Let library commons have air to breath, vegetation that grows from sunlight and safety for all library goers.

    Do the right thing!!!

  2. If you build it, they will come. If they come, they need transportation to their next destination so there will be a steady stream of Ubers, taxis, buses, whatever, in your neighborhoods which is awful. You will have more vehicle pollution and congestion which takes away from the beauty of the area and makes it more dangerous for you to enjoy it which is why you moved there in the first place.

    It’s a beautiful library and garden that will be ruined by greed, Boca greed. Boca is out of control with the construction on Federal Hwy. Where is going to end? What is the vision for Boca? I personally like the old vision of Boca.

    I’m not a fan of the Brightline. We don’t need to encourage more people to come here, just try to get a restaurant reservation in season. Once Brightline gets more stations, they will run more trains which will impact all of us. Greed will ruin Boca. It will happen because Brightline is not acting in the best interest of Boca; they are acting in the best interest of their bottom line. The City Council should be the firewall but it seems not in this case.

  3. STOP ALL THIS BUILDING !!!
    Boca is not NY or any other northeast city, over crowded, high taxes, traffic problems, parking, etc…..This is NOT what we want.
    Stop all this building, stop these non residence people, greedy people, builders, ruining our beautiful city,,,, what happened to our city rules & laws that nothing could be higher then our land mark the Boca Hotel, etc

    Boca Raton used to be beautiful, parks, open spaces, no traffic pollution, safe for families, etc…..
    The more greed you are permitting the more building it is becoming a over crowded cement city !!!
    This brings more crime, un safe for residents Etc. Etc.

  4. The city desperately needs this Brightline station. The most used station on the Tri-Rail system is the lone Boca stop on Yamato Rd. People in Boca need better transportation options to move between south FL cities. I-95 has become impossible. This proposed station will help business and leisure commuters. Businesses in downtown Boca continue to suffer after years of waiving parking requirements for developers. Mizner park in in a death spiral and this station could bring it back to life. As for the Library, the city has two and they are underused, catering to small group of people. The use of the Libraries will only diminish over time. It’s time for Boca to move forward and address the needs of it’s population and assist downtown businesses.

    • I doubt very much that the Boca residents are crying for a transit station. Mizner Park is not dying, that’s a bit of a stretch. Not sure why there are people who intend to have Boca become a bustling city…. Boca a South Florida city by the ocean, a beach town. The residents who live here, are here because of the charm of the city, and the excellent schools. We depend on the City Council to work for the what the residents of Boca want. When I hear younger people state that they grew up in Boca and now they have to leave Boca to go to work, I laugh. I grew up in E. Rockaway, L.I. and travelled to NYC to work. I didn’t want to work in the town I grew up in. I wanted to branch out and have new experiences, meet different people. I wanted the little town of East Rockaway to keep it’s small town feel and it’s charm and so did my parents.

      • You make my point. You grew up on Rockaway, L.I. and commuted to NYC to work. By train! That’s exactly what we need here in Boca. Transportation that moves people between work and home.

    • Perfectly stated Taylor Lang.

      We need a Brightline Stop in Boca!

      What happens if a Library patron wants to actually visit another City such as MIAMI to see a Ballet or The Kravitz Center in West Palm and cannot use a car ??

      What about NOT using your car and decrease pollution…..

      Such a negative reaction to any and all change from Boca Watch !

  5. What kind of a negotiation is this where the City gets $1 per YEAR for the ground lease of the station and garage?? Are they trying to negotiate to get to $2? What a joke. They just give away our public lands and don’t care that it’s the last parcel left!! NOBODY WANTS MORE RESIDENTIAL BLDGS BEHIND THE LIBRARY!!!! They pretend this TOD is nothing but an “option” for later but it’s so clearly a corrupt intent to sell off and pillage public holdings!! The public already turned their stupid Facebook lobbying page against them. We see through the BS!!

    Brightline is already buying up all the other properties because the workers are all being laid off. I’m sick and tired of all the corruption. Who is getting paid to push this deal through at the expense of taxpayers? What are we getting except the opportunity to pay tons of money for a Non-express commuter train?

    How can this train boost downtown business BECAUSE THERE ARE NO PLANS OR FUNDS FOR A PEDESTRIAN BRIDGE to get to the businesses!! Mizner Park is getting all new businesses for YOUNGER people which is going to help b/c a lot or stuff in there was OLD, OVERPRICED and BORING, they didn’t die a retail death because of lack of traffic since plenty of stores are thriving there for years!

    Why aren’t we having community meetings to design & plan this? I am so disappointed at Boca officials which normally try to be judicious are just expediting this before anyone even knows the details.

    We need to elect better next time.

    • To Rachel,
      Thank you for your comment. I agree….the operative word you use is ‘disappointed’. We the residents have every reason to be disappointed. The current council ran on the promise of controlling growth.
      In reality, this is perhaps the most developer friendly council ever. Approving the Brightline expansion as currently proposed is an invitation for unfettered development. Approving the sale of Boca Muni Golf Course is another example of unfettered growth and increased congestion along Glades Road west of I-95. The Alina development and Tower 155 in the downtown will contribute negatively to the CRA area downtown without providing any improvements for parking and traffic.
      Besides stopping the residential component of the Midtown development, this council has approved every development project brought to them for a vote. By not approving the residential component of Midtown, this council has caused the 2nd Tri-Rail station to be canceled; has caused the lose of hundreds of million of dollars to be invested in the Midtown infrastructure; and has caused the home owners along Military Trail from Palmetto Park to Yamato to lose opportunity in property value growth from the now canceled plan for redevelopment of the area.
      Great job City Council!!! Al Zucaro, Publisher

  6. Attachment  walkway-trainstation.jpg

    Folks at Mizner and Library Commons should be shrieking maniacally “where’s our world-class skateboard friendly pedestrian bridge!!!!” most of all. People who live down there shouldn’t be treated as trash by our elected officials. They shouldn’t have to “walk around” down to 2nd or up to Glades to cross. Our representatives should be doing everything they can to get us this pedestrian bridge instead of smiling for photo ops. No smiles are deserved until we’ve got every city official officially committed to the bridge, a fancy world class bridge other municipalities will be jealous of. #NoBridgeNoSmiles

  7. I find it hard to believe that this is even a debate. I moved here years ago for the small town feel. Love that library & the feel of a book in my hands! The neighborhood garden is lovely!
    Nix the train, walkway & station bringing traffic, noise, undesirables & then crime!
    There is no infrastructure or room for a train or anything else in that area.
    If you love NY so much why live here?

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