While most of you were away…
Under pressure from Boca Raton’s City Council/Community Redevelopment Agency and from advocacy groups such as BocaBeautiful.org and Boca Watch, the developer of the mammoth Mizner 200 project in downtown Boca agreed to correct the design and reduce the visual impact of the building. The corrections are intended to bring Mizner 200 into compliance with Ordinance No. 4035 and to address many, but not all, of the concerns of the building’s neighbors. The corrected Mizner 200 will remain the biggest building in downtown Boca. But the corrected Mizner 200 will have greater separation from the buildings next door, a more “Mizneresque” design, and a variable roof line that will offer vistas and views where there once was only steel and concrete.
At the August Community Redevelopment Agency Meeting, the developer’s corrections were met with cautionary approval from the project’s two major neighbors: Investments Limited, which owns the Royal Palm Plaza, and the Townsend Place Condominium. Their approval was conditioned on the developer actually following through on what has been promised. Too many times in the past we have seen developers promise one thing (look at the pretty pictures) and then deliver something else. Not this time. We will be watching carefully.
The approval saga of Mizner 200 offers several important lessons for future development projects in Boca:
The first is that it is far better to inform, work with, and win the approval of your neighbors before approaching Boca’s City Council/Community Redevelopment Agency for approval. The developer of Mizner 200 tried to ram through a flawed design that did not even comply with the basics of Ordinance No. 4035 and wasted a staggering amount of everybody’s time and money.
Only when the City Council/Community Redevelopment Agency put its foot down and refused to approve Mizner 200 as presented did the developer belatedly realize its error. The City Council/Community Redevelopment Agency has the discretionary authority to approve or disapprove the design aesthetics of downtown construction projects.
What is or is not “Mizneresqe” is in the eyes of our elected officials. Just because the metric requirements of Ordinance No. 4035 are met does not mean the design requirements have been met. Just because the City Staff, City Boards and the City’s Urban Consultant have approved a project does not mean the City Council/Community Redevelopment Agency will.
Second, our elected officials have learned that public outrage over traffic and density in downtown Boca has become a political liability. Those running for office in March of 2018 will be measured on their willingness to disapprove projects that will only increase congestion. Those who have looked with favor on almost every development project, no matter how egregious, will face tough opposition for the first time.
Third, we have learned that educational and advocacy efforts by non-profit groups such as BocaBeautiful.org and Boca Watch can produce salutary results. The amount of time and money invested by concerned citizens can pay quality-of-life dividends.
Fourth, the developer of Mizner 200 waged a dishonest public relations campaign, filled with gross misinformation, in local papers and blogs. The developer hired a high power litigating attorney to threaten the City with a law suit if Mizner 200 as presented was not approved. These efforts failed in the end. One hopes that in the future, developers will not resort to these heavy-handed tactics.
Fifth, our City Staff, City Boards and Downtown Consultant (The Mellgren Planning Group) need to reflect on their enthusiastic support of Mizner 200 as originally presented. The City Council and the Community Redevelopment Agency took the needed time and extra effort to listen carefully to both sides and then apply Ordinance No. 4035 according to its clear terms. How did the City Staff, the Community Appearance Board, the Planning and Zoning Board, and the Downtown Consultant get it so wrong?
Finally, we have seen that the battle for Boca’s future is far from over. Massive new development projects, such as for Boca’s Midtown, are on the drawing boards. Barring another recession, developers will press to cram more and more units into the new “urbanized” Boca. The problems that the excesses of the last eight years have brought us—no places to park, terrible traffic, and concrete canyons where there used to be sunlight and sky—will only get worse. We need to continue to fight for sensible development in Boca. We need our elected City Officials, City Staff and City Boards to follow the Code. We need to elect City Officials who will protect and improve our quality of life.
This is the mission of BocaBeautiful.org. With your continued financial support, we are confident that we can continue to be a positive force for change in Boca.
John C. Gore