Local Politics, as Always the Determining Factor in Over-Development

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Publisher’s Comment:

On Sunday, May 21, 2017, the Sun Sentinel published that “Boca’s building boom includes more than 700 condos, apartments.” The article outlines the numerous building projects currently under construction or at an advanced stage in the development process. Mizner 200, Tower 155, Mandarin Oriental, Residences at Mandarin Oriental and Camino Square are specifically highlighted. The article states that thirty (30) years ago the city set an eight (8) million

square foot development goal. In March, during the City election, Mayor Haynie stated that capacity was at 83% and with the addition of Mizner 200 and Camino Square, the goal will reach 100% capacity. Assuming this to be accurate, it has been generally believed that development would then stop.

NOT TRUE….

Development will continue only with future projects no longer governed by city ordinance; ordinance 4035 which allows for the bypassing of individually required traffic studies. Hence, developers will still be able to submit new projects making the 8 million sq. foot limit illusory; a partial truth, a false hope BocaWatch has cautioned against for some time.

Al Zucaro

All Politics are local and local politics may cause the Mizner 200 development in Boca Raton’s downtown from receiving a CRA/City Council approval….and worse, cause a litigation the taxpayers will have to underwrite!

This week’s score card for the Mizner 200 project, a project dubbed the ‘Monster on Mizner’, was a resounding 2 for 2 in affirmative votes. Both the Community Appearance Board (5 – 2) and the Planning and Zoning Board (5 – 1) recommended approval of the project, thus, sending it forward to the CRA/City Council for a determining vote sometime in July.

Facing down much energized resident opposition, the Community Appearance Board, on the project’s fourth (4th) try, heard evidence supporting approval of the project. The evidence presented established that this developer, unlike others over the last few years, is asking for no variances or technical deviations. Because of this, the developer argues that they are entitled to build this project as presented; an assertion seemingly now adopted and confirmed by the totality of evidence.

With over two (2) years in the approval phase, four (4) submitted redesigns, two (2) outside consultant reviews, and zero (0) city staff objections, Mizner 200 is perched to become a downtown reality; a reality supporting over a half billion dollars in increased property values; a reality limited by city code to 100 feet in height while requesting 100 feet in height; a reality that requires 672 parking spaces while providing 672 parking spaces; a reality that requires 40% open space while providing 40.1% open space; a reality that meets and exceeds all setback requirements under the City’s ordinance; and a reality where the increase in daily car trips on Mizner Blvd will not overtax the roadway’s current capacity nor decrease the roadway’s ‘level of service’. In short, the developer argues that the evidence presented establishes this project meets and/or exceeds all objective measurements imposed by city code; the objective measurements in place to insure the rights and privileges of this land owner as well as those of all other adjacent property owners.

Opponents of the Mizner 200 subjectively argued that the project is out of character for the location; that the project’s mass and density is too big for neighborhood compatibility; that traffic impacts and solutions are not ‘safe’ for the pedestrian experience, that the design is inconsiderate of the neighboring property’s vistas and views and that the project is not ‘Mizneresque’ enough to meet the demands of Ordinance 4035. The law in Florida is well established that a ‘view’ is not a legal entitlement particularly when the subject property is surrounded by properties within a Community Redevelopment Area; an area formed specifically to promote redevelopment.

Both CAB and P&Z found these objections less than compelling; most objections being from well-meaning neighbors with personal interests to protect. The developer argues that the project’s design and compatibility is not really the issue. What may be at issue is whether any development allowed under the City’s code would satisfy the objections of these neighbors and political foes; a criterion that, if true, suggests this property may never meet approval for redevelopment.

The CRA/City Council, in its quasi-judicial role, will be the final arbitrator. Here, the CRA/City Council is the fact finder for a reviewing court in the event that an appeal is filed; an eventuality that is sure to follow in the event of denial. The CRA/City Council must consider whether a denial based upon the totality of evidence would survive reversal in a court of competent jurisdiction.

As to the assertion that ‘all politics are local’….

Much of the ‘evidence’ presented is political in nature. The purported ‘substantial competent evidence’ presented in support of a denial was mainly provided by a representative from Investments Limited, the owner of Royal Palm Plaza, directly west of the Mizner 200 on Mizner Blvd, a property owner with immediate development interests; development interests that will further exasperate residents’ concerns about overdevelopment.

Again, with politics being local, local politics is at play….

Investments Limited is actively preparing a submittal to the CRA/City Council for the first of a series of high rise for-rent buildings in what will eventually be the complete redevelopment of Royal Palm Plaza. Investments Limited, predominantly, has concerns for their view corridors and vistas.

Investments Limited’s redevelopment will further compound the imbalance in the downtown of for-sale versus for-rent offerings. Mizner 200 being a 384 unit for-sale multi-million dollar offering for seasonal residents and, arguably, having fewer impacts then hundreds more for-rent apartments with a year-round, higher impact resident in an already over-congested downtown.

BocaWatch has previously published articles on alternative design proposals for Mizner 200 (see links below). Included in those articles are graphics suggesting that Mizner 200 should be three separate buildings. That said, the developer argues that their submittal does, in fact, employ the suggested three building separation. The architectural submittals presented at the CAB and the P&Z shows that the developer does provide three distinct towers with varying setbacks.

In their design evolution, the developer argues that it has addressed the neighbor’s concerns with over-generous setbacks and landscaping considerations. The developer argues that it has reduced the project’s density by dozens of units in consideration of the neighboring concerns. The developer further argues that it has created a pedestrian experience with a lush landscaping canopy second to none in the downtown corridor; an assertion that is hard to refute in light of other recently approved projects like The Mark, Tower 155, Via Mizner and the Hyatt.

The final hurdle is the CRA/City Council. Here is where local politics may reach an apex.

The Mizner 200 developer has not been a political participant, is not a local insider or political power player; this developer has not retained the usual suspects, i.e. the dreaded lobbyists that seem to always have inside track to the group think of the CRA/City Council members. This developer has not participated in the political process or the political aspirations of our elected officials who are always looking for their next political position and campaign contributions. Unlike other developer interests, this developer has not made political contributions to CRA/City Council members; the developer does not actively interact in business with any of the local elected officials; and, the developer did not allow political signage to adorn his property in the recent local Boca Raton municipal election.

If this process were simply the CRA/City Council sitting as a political body, there is little doubt this project would again be recycled for further iterations and changes in a never ending attempt to satisfy the insatiable interests of other politically active land owner/developers. Hard decisions require leadership, making the right ‘hard’ decision requires strong leadership!

In this process, there is a reviewing body for recourse to the ‘local’ politics; litigation at the Circuit Court. This developer, unlike many others, has the financial capacity and the will to file suit against the city and anyone else that may be interfering with their private property development rights.

The dangerous thing about litigation for elected officials is the ‘discovery’ process; the process where litigants get to take depositions under oath of opponents and witnesses. Here is where the proverbial ‘skeletons’ are uncovered and available for all to see. The CRA/City Council, representing the residents citywide, has the obligations to set aside their future political aspiration and protect the taxpayer from what will be an expensive lawsuit. The CRA/City Council must objectively review the evidence and take a correct decision by being the fact-finder and following the law.

Owing to the abysmal track record of legal advice by the City Attorney’s office, the CRA/City Council should take heart. Of course, there may be another calculous in play here….Call me conspiratorial but…If the elected officials act politically in this matter by voting denial, the elected officials would garner their ‘no chit’ with campaign donors and then could blame the courts for overturning the denial, allowing the project to go forward.

Again as my 7th grade teacher would often say…”A word to the wise is sufficient.”

 

White paper submitted on Elad-Mizner 200,  April 19th, 2016

Mizner 200 revisited – the Developer has been listening  May 3rd, 2016

White Paper III – Mizner 200   October 24th 2016

 

Previous articleBocaWatch satire: Monster on Mizner, the Sequel – Redevelopment of Royal Palm Plaza!
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Alfred Zucaro has resided in Palm Beach County since 1982 and has been a resident of Boca Raton since 2008. A graduate of Fordham University, he holds a Magna Cum Laude degree in Economics. Mr. Zucaro attended Nova University receiving a Juris Doctorate Law Degree in 1986. He is a member in good standing with the Florida Bar, practicing in the area of Immigration Law for the majority of his career. Currently he is manager/member of Palm Beach Investment and Finance LLC, a USCIS approved regional center identifying foreign investment leading to permanent resident status. Mr. Zucaro served as a City Commissioner in West Palm Beach from 1995 to 2002 and as the President of the City Commission in 2000/2001. He has also been a member of and/or served on the Economic Council, the Business Development Board, the Film and Television Commission, the Tourist Development Council, the Workforce Alliance and the Palm Beach International Film Festival. Of particular interest is his founding of the World Trade Center Palm Beach, an organization that focuses on international economic development. Married to Yvonne Boice, they are avid world travelers having visited 6 continents and dozens of countries since their 2008 nuptials.

14 COMMENTS

  1. I’ve been a loyal reader of BocaWatch from the beginning. For the longest time, BW gave us, the residents of EAST BOCA, a voice. Al fought overdevelopment. He spoke out against traffic congestion killing our quality of life. BocaWatch fought to protect the Boca we love. And that’s why we, the citizens of Boca, came to love BocaWatch.

    But something has changed recently. Now BocaWatch has a bunch of crazy articles about voter fraud and climate change nonsense – and now BOCAWATCH SUPPORTS THE MONSTER ON MIZNER!

    ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!?

    Has anyone else seen this shift?

    • Jean, BocaWatch is a community platform where resident issues are published. Now, five years since inception, BocaWatch continues to present such issues for debate. Voter fraud and climate change are concerns brought to BocaWatch by residents. Providing them platform is consistent with our purpose. I trust you agree that diverse interests are what make up ‘community’. As for the ‘Monster on Mizner’, today’s article is a caution. Mizner 200 has been recommended for approval by CAB and P&Z. These recommendations now proceed to the CRA/City Council. BocaWatch, from its beginning, has had to fight a ‘no-growther’ label. BocaWatch’s position is that if a project meets code, approval is required. These reviewing boards have determined that Mizner 200 meets code. Today’s article warns that if there is evidence of non-compliance, the time is now for interested parties to bring that evidence forward. I value your loyalty and your readership and trust that you will see the merits of what you term a ‘shift’ in our editorial content. Al Zucaro

  2. Not exactly sure why you are so against development? Help me on this one. It helps us all with lowering property taxes, it creates interest in all our properties when it comes to resale, it gives local residents an active and desired community.

    So what is your issue?

    I can tell you that I lived on the water in Delray, right next to Atlantic Blvd and it was amazing. The local community was just awesome. Boca Raton has no real downtown. I would say kill more parks — we have enough thank you — and more retail and lively community.

    Must admit, I don’t get it.

    • Pete, I think you should maybe go back to Delray, Seriously. Boca will NEVER be like Delray. Delray emerged as a city focused on recreation. Boca is only fixated on high rise residential and rentals. We’re all dressed up with nowhere to go

      Boca is becoming a joke and I’m so tired of people trying to make any comparison to Delray. Do you see any high rise buildings along Atlantic in Delray? They created something there that is well balanced. In our downtown, we are already too far down the road to fix this now. Yes, we will have a HUGE tax base and the best facilities, firetrucks, police cruisers and parks but not much else. What little recreation that does exist will require you to fight massive crowds to participate.

      We do have maybe one shot at a Delray kind of scenario at the Town Center and Midtown location. That could be a great recreational spot. But I fear it will also succumb to the very contagious Bocaitis disease of massive housing developments.

  3. BocaWatch’s position is that if a project meets code, approval is required – that is the problem with city and county government. Developers are free to propose anything, no matter what the quality of life or traffic will be if the project is built, and if it meets code, it is allowed to proceed. That is the very problem with government. Let’s not think about how this project integrates into the existing structures and its impact to existing structures, no, the important thing is that a zoning department, who is totally in bed with developers, has recommended the approval of the project. Also, realize that PBC will not do anything to improve traffic flow after the project is built because they no longer get enough money from the developer, thanks to the state legislators.

    I realize that you Boca folks don’t really care about anything that happens outside of Boca but I suggest you lift your head and look around at what is happening in Palm Beach county. On Sunday, I drove to Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge in Boynton Beach to do a little photography. Well, I was certainly shocked at the development currently ongoing on 441 and I saw the yellow PBC signs everywhere. Palm Beach county commissioners are selling the county to the largest bidder. And, it’s the same thing, if a developer puts forth a design and it’s approved by Zoning, the commissioners approve it and it doesn’t matter what the effect will be. They are selling the AG Reserve from us. If you don’t think that is a travesty, I suggest you do a little googling on what it is and how important it is.

    Just as you are powerless to stop Boca from doing whatever it wants to crush the downtown area with unwanted and unneeded development, residents are powerless against PBC commissioners. This area is on target to be Broward county in 5 years, if that long. No matter how loud your voice is, chances are not in your favor to stop what development you are fighting against.

    Just to depress you more, realize that this fight is going on all across America. So, I think BocaWatch has thrown in the towel because it is hopeless. Please show me where a fight has been won; I’d like to know.

  4. I never thought I would wake up to read an apologia for the Monster on Mizner by Al Zucaro in BocaWatch. I guess the politics of development in Boca are indeed changing. The approval by the CAB and P&Z was “politics as usual.” Neither body has the expertise or the courage to pass judgement on such a mammoth proposal. Mizner 200 uses, by far, more of the bulk regulation envelope than any other Downtown building. It is ONE building, almost 1000 feet long, 120 feet high and 400 feet deep. Do not be fooled by the pretty picture in BocaWatch. It shows only HALF the building, and from an angle that makes the two 24 foot light shafts (that’s about 5% of the building’s total frontage) look like vistas. No wonder the neighbors oppose this building, not because they are selfish, but because they actually live in the neighborhood and will have to suffer the consequences of yet another mammoth Downtown construction project. The opposition turnout at the CAB meeting was amazing. I agree with Mr. Zucaro that the CRA will be a much more difficult approval process. Hopefully our elected officials will take the concerns of residents and the ill effects of overdevelopment into consideration and send Mizner 200 back to the drawing board. Sure the developer will threaten to sue, but the statutes give the CRA ample discretion to decide whether a proposed building meets Boca’s Downtown design guidelines. This, unlike the metric requirements of 4035, is a subjective judgement. And the CRA may even decide that displacing existing moderate income renters in Mizner on the Green is not good public policy. Very little similar housing which is affordable for firefighters, police, care givers, school teachers, etc. exists in our Downtown. So the CRA’s will be a political judgement, as it should be. Finally, I was disappointed in Mr. Zucaro’s conspiracy theory involving the owners of Royal Palm Place, and his thinly veiled suggestion that the discovery process in any lawsuit might reveal improper ties between the Batmasians and Members of the City Council. Al, are you still flogging that dead horse? Investments Limited owns significant properties in the Mizner Boulevard neighborhood and has every right to support sensible development. It’s architect has written a devastating critique of the Mizner 200 project. The bottom line: it is too big to be a harmonious addition to our Downtown. The CRA should reject it.

  5. Al, You lost me with the statement “approval is required”. A willing council and city boards can deny approval of any such project. Granted, there are legal ramifications. However, if a significant majority within a community has had enough and demands a change in course from its leaders, no mission is impossible (Think wildflower). Win, lose or draw, “the good fight” must continue!

    • George: Agreed, when a significant majority of a community demand change, elected leaders should facilitate change. However, when, as here, change requires legislative action, elected leaders have to legislate that change. Mizner 200 has now been recommended by two advisory boards for approval. The CRA/City Council is the ultimate arbitrator. That is the main message of today’s article. 4035 sets the objective measurements. Mizner seems to have met these. Arguably, politics will play a role in the CRA decision. This article is simply a warning about the possible and somewhat predictable ‘ramifications’ of that decision. Al Zucaro

  6. I have been following this redevelopment of Mizner on the Green for 2 years. Now called the Mizner 200 project. I was ready to pick a fight. You know to big. Block views,shadows, to much traffic, no parkng around it but I found the opposite when I went to the CAB and P&Z meetings last week. I think it is really big but only an additional 138 condo’s. It has huge setbacks and 220 trees proposed. Yikes. Canopy trees also.
    I have been supporter of John Gore and the bocabeautiful folks as they are of us here at bocawatch but this project is really cool. WE need to ask John “what are we suppose to do”? Everything we asked of Garcia and Stromberg ,the architects, they have complied with every point in ordinance 4035. I sit here after what I have learned at the meetings and have decided that I am not or is Boca Watch members of the C.A.V.E. Society. You know Citizens Against Virtually Everything. This is a fight I don’t want to pick but I am ready for the next one coming at us.

  7. Boca Watch has a member on City Council that has learned the responsibilities, limitations and difficulties of reviewing and subsequently voting on projects that meet development order and code parameters in a QUASI-JUDICIAL setting. Hence the article.

  8. It’s good to see that Al’s article has engendered so many responses. I would just add two comments: Jack asks “what are we supposed to do?” This shouldn’t be a fight, quasi-judicial or otherwise. It would not be one had the developer of Mizner 200 bothered to sit down with impacted residents and try and figure out a design that would work for everybody. This is what recently happened with the beach condo project at A1A and Palmetto. A real win-win. Mizner 200 should be broken up into several separate buildings, so as to provide sight lines and vistas to its neighbors (and it’s not just Townsend Place that’s affected). As to the legal nature of the proceedings, the CRA is indeed bound by Ordinance 4035, but the DESIGN elements of that Ordinance provide for incredible discretion. The decision which the CRA must make as whether Mizner 200 is “harmonious” or “compatible” or “Mizneresque” is subjective. Only the metric requirements of 4035 are objective. The Ordinance purposefully provides ample latitude to the decision makers. That cuts both ways.

  9. John, we have been on the same side for 2 years but Jorge Garcia and Peter Stromberg did exactly what you asked for in the 4th version of Mizner 200. It has 3 buildings that are 166 ft apart as you look east and 40 ft apart at the nearest point. Their setbacks are huge .As you face east looking at the fountain in front of the lobby it is 180 ft. Open space is 40.1%. 220 canopy trees and palm etc are over the top. There are many technical deviations such as bad elevations that they need to fix. John coply in his rebuttal to you used the phrase “modernization of Mizneresque standards”. Here is where you are right. They will make changes or interpretations to same and think we won’t notice. As far as Ocean Palm as you referred Garcia and Stromberg went out of there way to work with rivera Beach association and came up with a workable site. I just did a video where I talked about how good these guys are. John, I detest what this city has done to create this so called urban center. Look at the Mark and Palmetto Promenade. John, stay with us. We got some more fights coming at his. We need you.Remember,we are not members of the CAVE society Citizens Against Virtually Everythng.

  10. This change by BocaWatch – supporting the MONSTER ON MIZNER!! – looks, smells, and feels like SURRENDER. Over and over, the residents have made clear how we feel – we are AGAINST THIS PROJECT. How can BocaWatch still claim to speak for the residents?

    Who will stand up for the residents now?

    • Jean, stay with us. We are keeping our powder dry. We are carefully picking the time and place of our next fight. On Mizner 200 we decided to save our powder. Boca Watch will continue to fight for you. Just watch closely.

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