On December 22nd, two days before Christmas/Chanukah Eve, the Planning and Zoning Board met for a detailed, lengthy discussion regarding an application to create a new zoning district category for the high-density project known as Midtown along Military Trail near Town Center.
Even though the developer has been working on this proposed project for four years, the P&Z Board concluded that the application is still not ready to be considered for approval. The board outlined several revisions and clarifications to be made before they will consider voting on this application. The vote has been pushed to January 19th.
What Is Being Proposed?
The applicant, a developer, is asking that the area be rezoned so new residential and retail (including stores, restaurants, hotels, and/or motels) can be developed. They anticipate 2,500 new units. Their goal is to create a mixed-use, walkable, transit-oriented center, hoping to tie together this new development with the existing buildings in the area.
The development is dependent upon the construction of a “kiss and ride” train station and circular shuttle because it is anticipated that the public transportation will support the new development. However, the rail station will not be built if the rezoning for the development is not approved because of the financial support promised by the developer to fund the shuttle.
In addition, Tri-Rail does not believe that the current area justifies a new rail station. If the new project is approved, then they will support a new station off of Military Trail by Boca Center because the concentration of the proposed development would make the station more viable.
Finally, it is still not known if the developer will donate the land for the location of the rail station (or who would pay for it). A meeting will be held in a few weeks to address this issue.
Concerns With Current Proposal
The P&Z board expressed several concerns with this pending project as proposed in the Ordinances. They asked staff and stakeholders to revise the proposal to address the following:
- Justify number of proposed parking spaces because board concerned that too few are in the plan.
- Present explanation for total number of units and a phased-in roll out plan for building these units.
- Outline specifics regarding how the shuttle will be funded.
- Explain the balance between residential and non-residential development proposed.
- Discuss building setbacks.
- Introduce reduction in density and intensity in area.
- More details regarding traffic and transit.
- More detail about the type of retail anticipated to ensure some service-oriented options.
Why The Time Pressure?
There was concern that this December 22nd meeting was held at an inconvenient time because of the holidays. The P&Z board acknowledged that several people were unable to attend the meeting, including one member of the board itself.
It appears that the applicant is feeling pressure and pushing for approval soon because there is a March 2017 deadline for commitment of funding for Tri-Rail’s FY 2019 construction schedule. Without the new zoning approved, Tri-Rail can’t propose or plan for the new station. Therefore, the developer’s plans also get held up.
More Public Comment Needed and Requested
Interestingly, the public hearing consisted of mostly those in support of this project. Letters of support from the neighboring communities Via Verde, Paradise Palms, Fairfield, and Boca Bath and Tennis were presented. However, it is important to note that a couple P&Z board members pointed out that these letters contained identical language as though an outside party drafted the language. This raised a red flag for these board members.
Next, a couple board members voiced concern that this is a huge undertaking, like creating a mini-city, and more input from the broader Boca Raton community needs to be considered. This is a project that has the potential to impact a large portion of Boca residents and increase traffic along Military Trail and in the surrounding area.
The approval of the Ordinances proposed will set the development process in motion, although additional steps are necessary, such as a City Council hearing. Each step is an opportunity for more residents to voice their concerns, and it was clear that the board members are seeking input from the community as a whole.
If They Build It, Will They Ride It?
The real question here is whether this project including the new train station will really reduce traffic, or do we end up with just another congested shopping center in Boca along an already heavily traveled road?
Several board members questioned whether drivers will really leave their cars behind to take Tri-Rail to and from work. They asked for more data about the current Tri-Rail ridership. They want a traffic sampling of the current station and shuttle on Yamato Road to see the level of impact that station has on reducing vehicles on the road. They are also worried that the current proposal does not consider all the people who will visit this new development who do not take public transportation. How much more traffic is expected on top of the already overly congested roads in that area?
One board member did not see how this proposal reflected a traditional Transit Oriented Development zone in which the goal is to put more residential development at an existing station to encourage more people to use public transportation to travel to and from work. In this case, he doesn’t see how building more residential units creates a market for people to live and use rail to get to work. Additionally, are the people who typically take public transit even going to be able to afford these new apartments or condos?
The city traffic engineer explained that aggressive assumptions were made to come up with the anticipated transit use in the report. They are assuming a lot of people will leave their car at home and ride the train. But the board members want to see more data and evidence that this will really be the case. Many of the board members said they are not convinced that adding a train station will alleviate the increased traffic due to the proposed new development. In fact, they asked for more parking spaces in the proposal, which will only encourage more drivers on the road.
Finally, one board member pointed out that adding 2,500 dwelling units could not equate to only 1,177 vehicle trips per day. He found the traffic report to be unrealistic, and called for a site-specific traffic analysis.
What do you think?
Make Your Voice Heard
We urge all of Boca Raton’s residents to attend the meeting on January 19th in City Hall at 6:30pm or, at the very least, communicate your concerns to City Officials.
Members of the Planning & Zoning Board:
William Fairman, Chair – WFairman@ci.boca-raton.fl.us
Arnold Sevell, Vice Chair – ASevell@ci.boca-raton.fl.us
Glenn Gromann, Board Member – GGromann@ci.boca-raton.fl.us
Kerry Koen, Board Member – KKoen@ci.boca-raton.fl.us
Janice Rustin, Board Member – email@example.com
Mayor Susan Haynie – firstname.lastname@example.org
Deputy Mayor Mike Mullaugh – email@example.com
Councilman Mayor Robert Weinroth – firstname.lastname@example.org
CRA Chair/Councilman Scott Singer – email@example.com
Jeremy Rodgers – firstname.lastname@example.org