Going into the Tri-rails meetings this week, many attendees thought that the big reveal would be if anyone had a plan on how pedestrians cross Military Trail. To the surprise of most of us we learned that not only is there no plan for the pedestrians, but that there may not even be a train station in Midtown.  It appears that the date in which a decision will be finalized on the station is somewhere in mid-2018 with shovels going in the ground 4th quarter of 2021. These revelations caused the attendees to ask the obvious question, “If the train station is a question mark, why is the City of Boca rushing the Midtown ordinance?” And considering Mayor Haynie and Councilman Weinroth are members of the SFRTA and MPO, it is safe to assume they have been aware of this timeline for much longer than we have.  Why haven’t they spoken up about this at the City Workshops where Midtown was discussed? The Silence is Deafening!

The developers have long linked the Tri-rail station to the entitlements they are requesting. How can the City give any entitlements for a TOD when the T is missing? The developer references “trollies.” That may start with a T but that’s where its efficacy ends. The area needs real transit and real mobility. With a train station buried in the NE corner of the area, we still need an internal transit plan that is forward thinking.

Commissioner Abrams said it best, “Florida has a long history of doing planning without transit and transit without planning.” Let’s change that here. It’s time to take a step back and ask the City to do a Master Plan for this area. It can likely be completed before the train site is even selected.

The meetings were scheduled for Tuesday at 6:00 P.M. for the public and Wednesday at 2:00 P.M. for elected and appointed officials.   On Tuesday evening, the audience consisted of some 50 plus people many of which were residents of Boca Raton.  Boca residents were made aware of this meeting through the efforts of Councilwoman Andrea O’Rourke, who insisted that the meeting be announced on the city’s website and the public service announcements published in BocaWatch.  Otherwise the meeting(s) would have been quietly held claiming that the public outreach was successfully completed.

Successfully completed is far from the case…A dog and pony show to say the least.  The presentation is now up on the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority’s web at www.tri-railboca2study.com .   A review of this website provides all that one needs to know about what was presented.  The script was well written and systematically delivered.  Any questions beyond this script were artfully deflected and left unanswered.

Elected officials in attendance over the two day period were County Commissioner Steve Abrams, Boca Raton Mayor Susan Haynie and Councilmembers Singer, Rodgers, O’Rourke and Weinroth.   City Staff in attendance was the Deputy City Manager and Development Services Director.  Also in attendance were appointed members of the Planning and Zoning Board and the Community Appearance Board.

Commissioner Abrams tactfully framed the materials presented around a series of future studies to determine two questions; to wit:  1) “…If it is needed…” and “, 2)…Where it is needed…”   It was apparent that Commissioner Abrams is fully committed to the ‘if’ question of need.  He is driving the intellectual argument at the SFRTA Board level and as its chairman, has privilege to frame the question and provide the evidences supporting the need.  What became apparent to this writer is the tactful use of that old adage of ‘Lies, damn lies and statistics’; statistics can be made to justify any outcome desired and in these two public meetings the desired outcome is clearly apparent.  Perhaps even more egregious was to have Boca Raton’s Mayor Susan Haynie, who chairs the MPO, and City Councilman Weinroth, a MPO board member, attend the entirety of both days without uttering a word in response to the dozens of city residents voicing their concerns.  AGAIN…The Silence was deafening!!!  Throughout the presentation, no responsive answers were forthcoming to residents’ concerns.  All probing questions were deflected and any reference to the Midtown Boca project was quashed as not relevant in the Tri-Rail discussion arguing that Midtown Boca is a city matter and would not be considered….Does anyone actually believe that???  I think not!!!

Commissioner Abrams stated that the agency stakeholders in this process are Florida Department of Transportation (state), the City of Boca Raton, the SFRTA and the MPO.  Palm Beach County is not listed as a stakeholder but that is impossible as Military Trail and Glades Road are county roadways.   There was no identified representative from FDOT present either Tuesday or Wednesday.  The City was represented by the Mayor who is also the chair of the MPO; the County was represented by Commissioner Abrams who is also the chair of the SFRTA.

Considering the agency stakeholders and the individuals that head these agencies,  the conversation would have been more honest if framed as the interaction between the SFRTA’s Chair, Commissioner Abrams, and the MPO chair, Mayor Susan Haynie.  No other voice in the room mattered perhaps with the exception of Councilman Weinroth but even that is doubtful.  Abrams tried to argue from a position of neutrality but his comments were far from neutral.  He sounded like a proponent of a pre-conceived outcome and seems already committed to the “if” question.  If true, then all that remains is the “where” question and the where has a direct impact on the Midtown Boca project.   Midtown Boca was represented both days with members of its legal team and on Tuesday by ‘Lobbyist Extraordinaire’, Mark Guzzetta.

On Tuesday evening, Deputy Mayor Jeremy Rodgers asked a series of probing questions.  The ‘tap dance’ type answers were annoying.  On Wednesday, Councilwoman O’Rourke also asked a series of resident oriented questions, again the tap dance was loud and clear….no answers!!!  Many of the resident questions revolved around the issue of what is the area’s masterplan?  Where is it?

Bifurcating Midtown Boca from the Tri-Rail discussion is not possible….

Commissioner Abrams stated that the there is no connection with the SFRTA and Midtown Boca.  He said that the perception of such a connection is wrong.  Right or wrong, the public’s perception is what it is and there is no one who believes that these two are unrelated…even if there was no direct collusion at the outset, there clearly is connectivity in the public’s mind today.

Midtown Boca wants 2500 units and cannot get that density without the density allowed under the Planned Mobility District ordinance in Boca and without a Transit Oriented District overlay.   Commissioner Abrams stated that Tri-Rail became interested in a second location around the time that Boca Raton implemented the Planned Mobility District Ordinance covering Midtown Boca’s geography. Moreover, there can be no TOD without the Tri-Rail station.  Hence, Midtown Boca is attached at the hip with the SFRTA.

Perception is the reality Commissioner Abrams…and the SFRTA, the MPO, the City and the County have not done anything that would allow the residents to believe anything but connectivity.

Seven (7) potential locations have been highlighted.  The rule is that a station must be a minimum of two miles from any other Tri-Rail location.  All seven (7) fit that criteria; three (3) locations are outliers…leaving four locations in a concentrated area that happens to be inside the geography of the Midtown Boca project.    Coincidence?  I think not….

Four questionable comments made by Commissioner Abrams….

  • Comparing crossing Military Trail in the Midtown Boca overlay to crossing Tamarind Ave in WPB…give me a break;
  • 900 to 1200 daily riders if the station were in place today…resulting in 1000 car trips off the roads…when challenged this comment was retracted on Tuesday but reasserted on Wednesday;
  • Midtown is a City issue and not a consideration for the Tri-Rail decision…Really, believe this and I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you!
  • 2500 new housing units would go to people that only walk and bike and would result in no increase in car trips on Military Trail…a double give me a break!!!

When pressed on the need for a master plan, Commissioner Abrams became argumentative….on issues like the need for safety considerations on crossing Military Trail; the need for planning  roadway improvements; the need for last mile considerations; the need for a funding formula for costs being imposed on the city taxpayer…all unanswered!!!

However, but for these meetings being a first opportunity for the public to peak under the curtain at the SFRTA, MPO, City and County on this Tri-Rail station question and the connection to the Midtown Boca project, attending this ‘dog and pony show’ was a waste of time….

Posted timelines for upcoming elements are as follows:  a) MPO meets in November/December 2017 for consideration; b) Public Alternative Meeting December 2017; c) Determination of alternatives – February 2018; d) Final Reports -June 2018

Based upon these timelines, Midtown Boca should be put on hold until the SFRTA determinations are finalized so that the SFRTA determinations can be incorporated into the Midtown Boca master planning process…

But no….there is now a special Planning and Zoning meeting with only Midtown Boca on the agenda scheduled for mid-September …What is this?  Why this special treatment?  Who is authorizing this…Mayor Haynie, Midtown Boca’s strongest supporter?

Councilmembers O’Rourke and Rogers need to  continue to ask the hard questions on behalf of the residents….If Councilman Weinroth wants residents to believe his new ‘resident friendly’ image, he needs to tell Midtown Boca that they cannot count on his vote…the same for Councilman Singer….but Singer is not up for re-election in 2018, Weinroth is….oops…Singer may actually be up for election in 2018/2019 as he is rumored to be and is acting like a committed candidate for Mayor as Mayor Haynie is off to the County Commission….Maybe!!!

Enough said!  More to come as this subterfuge continues….the public is watching….

Al Zucaro, Publisher