Disagreement, Mistrust and Name-Calling:

It happens too often. Citizens who take the time to exercise their right to attend City Council meetings or Public Hearings in an effort to express their heartfelt concerns about losing the original Boca charm that attracted them here in the first place, are called “naysayers, “NIMBY’s”, “obstructionists”, “no growthers” and even “crazies” by outspoken people in the development community. Meanwhile, even some on City Council have shamefully joined in on the name-calling. With the citizen voices and ideas diminished by those “powers that be”, the citizens can’t help but feel misunderstood, disenfranchised and ignored.

 

As a result, a growing number of these residents have become mistrustful of the development community whom they feel are trying to game the system while they overgrow the city just to line their own pockets. Increasingly, citizens have come to question their elected and appointed official’s judgment that has given the nod to a number of large projects recently completed or under construction. In virtually every instance these approvals come with a relaxation of existing building codes or the creation of a custom made Ordinance to accommodate the developer.

 

Whether City Officials choose to recognize it or not, the growing chorus of public sentiment against over-development with relaxed rules in the downtown area has reached “new heights”. While I count myself in that group, I find it frustrating that a relatively small number of residents unwittingly choose to shoot themselves in the foot by repeatedly attacking development and city officials, particularly on social media. It seems no matter what the issue, they will find fault and complain in an offensive manner. I believe this to be counter-productive. This attitude reflects on and damages the legitimate efforts of many citizens willing to have the opportunity to come to the table and have productive conversation toward a better outcome. That being said, let’s not lose sight of the fact that most citizens are not against development per se. Again, the issue is over-development with the related concerns for traffic, parking and stress on our infrastructure. Also, let’s not forget, residents are stakeholders in the community along with developers. It should not be either/or.

 

Memories… Light the Corners of My Mind:

I have been in Boca Raton for many years. Along with others, I cherish the memories of “Old Boca”. However it’s time for many of us Old Boca diehards to buck up and realize the times, they are a changin’…not just here, but everywhere. Aren’t we the lucky ones to have had the privilege to have these wonderful memories of an earlier, easier life here in Boca? Let’s hold those “Old Boca” days close to our hearts and in our photo albums, as we figure out how to move forward with the increasing population, crowded roads and developer’s land grab.

 

Will Developers Love Our City to Death?

We can’t deny growth. Who doesn’t want to be in South Florida? Who doesn’t want to be in Boca Raton? The past several winters in the North and Midwest have been brutal. The Boomers are retiring. The Millennials want the easy life too. Businesses are happy to be in sunny South Florida…the land of golf courses, sunshine and beaches. Boca Raton is on the map in a big way. So what do we do now? We know traffic will get worse. Roads will be more and more constricted. Parking isn’t going to get better. So, whether we like it or not, we must accept much of this as coming with the territory.

What remains to be seen is how accepting residents will be when two mammoth projects in the downtown are completed. I predict people will be shocked at the size, scope and impact of Via Mizner, at Camino & Federal, and the Archstone/Palmetto Promenade on E. Palmetto Park Rd. Those two projects indicate a clash of values. It appears that reasonable residents would like new buildings that will contribute to our city. They would like developers to make an effort to preserve our “specialness” as we progress forward into the future.

 

Business is a Key Component:

I think within this conversation it’s important to note that at times it appears the residents are wrongfully characterized as being pitted against the business community when they protest overdevelopment. To me that is a complete miss. We both need each other. The businesses in our community cannot make it without the residents and the residents need, desire and support a vibrant business community. A healthy business community does not equal taller, denser residential buildings and less sky. To me business development is much, much more than this.

 

And Then There’s The IDG:

Regarding the much discussed Interim Design Guidelines (IDG) and Pattern Book…I don’t want to relive history but moving forward this is a topic we are going to have to come to terms with.

In 2007-2008 there was a public Charrette held to discuss the future development of our downtown. Before the Charrette, projects were approved under Ordinance 4035. What was touted, as coming out of the Charrette was the notion that residents didn’t want to see the “crew-cuts” or “bulky buildings” of the past. Hmmm…did citizens really know what a crew-cut was? Was this the development community looking for alternate ways to just build bigger, bulkier buildings? Urban Design Associates (UDA) was hired by the city and the IDG and Pattern Book were born and 4035 was then considered an old school option by developers in the downtown. We now have developed one test IDG project called The Mark – with three more projects under way. The future application of the IDG is now up for debate and ultimately will be; adopted, modified or die as we move forward. The outcome of the test project has certainly challenged the resident’s trust in the IDG’s effectiveness.

 

To review the IDG test project a workshop was conducted by UDA on April 30th, 2015. There was tremendous input from local residents, who unanimously spoke out against IDG and the Pattern Book. I will leave this much-debated, unresolved issue with several questions: Where is the human scale and high & lows depicted in the renderings presented in the IDG book? Will these new buildings contribute to the beauty of our city? Have these new designs added walkability to downtown? Can paint fix poor design? This is a conversation that we are on the brink of having.

 

One thing I heard stated at a recent town hall meeting, which I think is worth repeating…”The citizens will probably never win in a debate with developers or staff when it comes to technicalities, however what is as important to consider and weigh is…public sentiment.”  I, for one, have not heard the average resident looking up at sky to say, “Boy-oh-boy, I love all this new development in Downtown Boca.”

 

It’s Time to Hit the Refresh Button:

I would like to suggest that we turn a corner. It’s time to change the dialogue. It’s time to have open, respectful discourse between concerned citizens, community leaders, business leaders, our Chamber of Commerce, and City Officials. We need to have conversation between interested people who care about doing the right thing for our beloved city. It’s time to talk about how to preserve the charm without turning our back on progress. It is time to be forward thinking for the future development of our city. It’s time for us ALL to come together and be visionaries, not name callers. It might be easier for some to name-call and attack, but that does not honor our city. We can do better.

 

I suggest we coalesce in a way that would allow us to grow our city with vision. It’s time for a new charrette or workshop with participation from all stakeholders. Let’s put our heads together and work as a community where everyone’s ideas matter and we come to the best conclusion. Let’s figure out how to retain some of the Boca charm, the original lure…maintain the culture and foundation of Boca Raton, as we plan for the unavoidable future growth of our amazing city. There are many cities that have done this successfully; I am confidant we can too. That would be the ideal!

Andrea O’Rourke, A Concerned Citizen

 

I Conclude: I can’t end without saying that if not for this BocaWatch platform I would have no way to get my opinion or message out to the public. I appreciate that there is a platform that allows citizens to express their opinions and have their voice heard by many. I may not agree with every article written and I certainly don’t agree with some of the comments that people have made…None the less, I think it is important for everyone to have a voice. I encourage others to share their views as well. Let’s encourage our community leaders to get the conversation started.