A Message from BocaBeautiful…
First, the good news. After almost two years of advocacy, BocaBeautiful.org and other citizens’ groups have succeeded in changing the political dynamic in Boca. The City Council is no longer blindly approving new development projects and granting spot zoning exemptions. They know that the public is angry about overdevelopment, and they are worried about the political repercussions when we go to the polls next March. They are even beginning to talk about doing something about Boca’s traffic mess. It may not look like it from all the new construction, but the politics of development in Boca is changing.
Now for the bad news. What’s up in Boca? What’s not up in Boca? Everywhere you look, especially in the “new” downtown, condos and rental apartments and hotels are rising like concrete mushrooms in a new urban forest. We are witnessing the culmination of 15 years of dysfunctional urban planning by our pro-development City Council and their surrogates in city government. Snowbirds returning this winter will be shocked at the changes, with the mammoth Via Mizner I and Palmetto Promenade properties taking renters this fall and the hulk of a Hyatt Hotel opening shortly thereafter. There goes the neighborhood—at least the “downtown” neighborhood that many of us loved.
But as far as development is concerned, your City Council is just getting started. There are more mammoth buildings awaiting approval in the downtown square mile, the biggest being the proposed 960-foot long 200 Mizner project on SE Mizner Boulevard—a building longer than the Eiffel Tower is tall, running south to north for three full city blocks. Just up the street, developers are still waiting to break ground on the 12-story Tower 155, a building so big on a lot so small that it took code variances to move it forward. And then for those of you on the barrier island, there is the proposed new 100-foot tall, square block of condos at the intersection of AIA and Palmetto Park Road. The mind boggles, as developers push to add over 3000 residential and hotel units to our already overcrowded downtown.
And that’s just what’s planned for Downtown Boca. Residents should also be aware of intense development plans now in the works for the neighborhoods near the Town Center and for land just north of FAU. These projects, still on the drawing boards, will rival the “new downtown” Boca in density and scale. And—like downtown Boca—most will come as an unpleasant shock when they suddenly spring to life in the next 5 to 10 years. “Who approved that?” residents will once again ask. And, once again, traffic will be an afterthought.
We at BocaBeautiful.org think it is time to take control of Boca’s building binge. The first priority of our City Council and city government should be to find a solution to the problems that overdevelopment has wrought: traffic congestion and the paucity of parking. It is almost inconceivable that the current development spree in Boca over the last ten years has been approved with almost no thought to the traffic consequences. The last “major traffic study” conducted by the city was bogus, problems were ignored and results skewed to allow development. The most recent traffic “study,” i.e. what to do about the mess that is the intersection at Palmetto Road and Fifth Avenue, was a joke. Six months and $50,000 later they decided to install a left-turn arrow.
Boca Raton desperately needs two things from our city government: First, a comprehensive traffic study conducted to measure the impact of all new construction in the downtown. This should be conducted after the current crop of new buildings is finished and fully occupied. In the meantime, there should be a pause in approval of new construction in the downtown until we have a better understanding of traffic congestion and some creative ideas about how to handle it. This is not rocket science: solve traffic and parking problems before you allow construction of any more buildings in the Downtown.
One might ask, is the battle for Boca irretrievably lost? Are we beating our heads against the wall asking for sensible, creative leadership from City Hall? There is good news—a slim hope—that change is possible, and certainly worth fighting for. That is because in March 2017 the citizens of Boca will have an opportunity to elect a new majority on the City Council. There may be a challenge to our pro-development Mayor Susan Haynie, and two additional council seats will be up for election. If we are lucky, qualified candidates will emerge to run for those seats, and we will have the first real opportunity in 15 years to bring some sanity to Boca development. March 2017 will be a critical election for Boca’s future.
There is also a very important primary election coming up in Boca of which you should be aware. The date is August 30th, and there are two important local issues on the ballot. First, there is a ballot initiative calling for the election rather than appointment of Boca City Council Members in the event of a vacancy on the Council. That’s right, the current system allows the remaining sitting City Council Members to select a replacement, with no voter involvement, should a sitting Council member depart. The last thing we need is foxes picking another fox to watch our hen house. So it’s important that you support the election option for City Council vacancies. Second, there is a proposal on the August 30th ballot that would give Boca’s City Council Members a 400% salary increase. If you feel the current City Council has done a good job, by all means vote to increase their pay.
If you are not going to be in Boca on August 30th you can and should get an absentee ballot. Details can be found on the Palm Beach County Supervisor of Election’s website www.pbcelections.org.
So as you can see from this rather lengthy update, we at BocaBeautiful.org are not folding our tent just yet. There is too much at stake. If you agree, now would be the perfect time to make a donation to support our fall advocacy campaign. We are trying to raise $100 from every Boca citizen who thinks, “Enough is enough” and “It’s time for a change.” If you are unhappy, now is your chance to make your feelings known. The coming elections in August, November and March offer a unique opportunity to bring new thinking to City Hall. Help us secure a better future for Boca Raton and the great people who live and work here.
Contributions can be made by check to BocaBeautiful.org and mailed to 500 SE Mizner Boulevard, Apt A-109, Boca Raton, FL 33432. Credit card contributions can be made online at BocaBeautiful.org
We have helped change the political dynamic in Boca. Now it’s time to change the politicians.
John C. Gore, President – BocaBeautiful.org