What’s Wrong With Boca Raton?

6

When my wife and I moved here in 2003, downtown Boca was a very different place.  It was an oasis of calm sophistication.  But look at our downtown now.  Enormous city-block square concrete buildings, many of them of undistinguished architectural design (i.e. ugly), block out the sun and sky.  When it comes to having a view, beggar thy neighbor, rather than do unto others, seems to be the rule. This is our “urban center” utopia, brought to you over the years by Mayors and City Councils who never met a development (or developer) they didn’t like.

So let’s say you are one of the thousands of residents who are unhappy with what you see?  What can you do about it?  Well, you can start attending the meetings of the City Council and the other quasi-judiciary panels like the Community Appearance Board and the Planning and Zoning Board that rule over matters developmental in Boca.  At each of these you will be given time (five minutes or two minutes) to express your concerns.  You might have to wait two hours, depending on the agenda, but you will get your chance—eventually.  And when you do get up to make your little contribution, why is it that the people you are talking to seem so disinterested or condescending?  Why does it have to be a confrontation rather than a conversation?  Why isn’t our government more resident friendly?

The good news is that some of our government leaders are listening—and you can bet they will be listening carefully as the March 2017 City Council elections draw near.  Next March, there is an outside chance that the City Council, which makes all these development, zoning, traffic and parking decisions, could be completely transformed.  Out with the pro-development majority, in with a resident-friendly majority.  Three out of five seats are up in March, in an off-year local election that usually attracts about 8000 out of 70,000+ eligible voters.  You do the math.  A dedicated get-out-the-vote effort can swing the results.

In the meantime, here are three common sense suggestions for those in City Hall who really want to reconnect with the voters who put them there:

  1. Try solving some existing problems before you create any new ones. You don’t need statistics to know that downtown Boca has been transformed.  Just look around, or try and drive around.  We need creative solutions to our traffic problems and parking problems.  Solutions that go beyond “walking is good for you” or “just stand by the curb until a Chamber of Commerce jitney comes by.”  We need solutions that involve cars and what to do about them.  Most importantly, do not approve any more massive construction projects in the square mile downtown until you have had time to assess the impact of what you have already approved.  No more new buildings until the ones under construction are fully occupied and functioning.
  1. Take some simple steps to make citizen participation in Boca’s government proceedings easier and more productive. Putting it bluntly, the meeting notification process stinks.  Either you send out incomprehensible blue written notices to the locals announcing life-altering massive projects, or you put up yellow signs with one-inch type that are useless to anyone who doesn’t make a special trip to read them, or you put something on line at the last possible moment.  Surprise!  As for the agendas of these important meetings, only the insiders seem to know in advance.  There should be greater advance public notice of meetings and earlier publication of agenda items.
  1. The format of City Council meetings could also be vastly improved. The current “public comment” period of 5 minutes for each speaker is archaic and inefficient.  Petitioners such as big developers are given ample time for slick power point presentations.  Organized citizens groups such as BocaBeautiful.org or Boca Watch should be given the same opportunity.  It would save the Council from having to hear 8-10 people say the same thing, with varying degrees of clarity or passion.  Or how about when people get mad enough that 100 show up, each demanding their five minutes of angst?  That’s over 8 hours of public comment.  Our City Council meetings should not be an endurance test.  They should be a constructive discourse.

If we don’t work together in a more cooperative and constructive manner, we will never solve the problems that Boca now faces.

Three years ago, when I made my first appearance before the City Council as President of BocaBeautiful.org, I warned that Boca’s building binge was out of control, that there was insufficient thought given to the effects that all this new construction would have on traffic, parking and infrastructure, and that the anger among Boca’s citizenry was real and growing.  Where are we today?  There are still enormous downtown building projects awaiting government approval.  Traffic and parking are worse than ever.  And public anger continues to grow.

It is not too late for our City Council to do something about it.  To solve problems before creating new ones.  To make citizen input easier and more welcome.  We need to say “enough is enough” before there is nothing left of the Boca we knew and loved.   

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John, President of BocaBeautiful.org is a 13-year Boca resident and lives in Downtown Boca. He is also Chairman and CEO of Political Solutions International LLC, a consulting firm which advises a wide range of clients on government relations organization, competence, issue management and strategy. Prior to his chairing Political Solutions International, Mr. Gore served from 1996-2002 as Group Vice President, Government and Public Affairs, for the British Petroleum Company in London. In that capacity Mr. Gore was responsible for BP’s government and public affairs activities in over 70 countries. He is a 1970 graduate of Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service and attended Georgetown University Law School. He is married to the former Antonia Stepovich of Fairbanks, Alaska. His outside interests include golf, creative writing, and the arts.

6 COMMENTS

  1. Agree let’s see what approved building does. I have been in Boca since 1973 and I was attracted because
    it was small, no high buildings.

  2. Very well put. As a citizen of Boca since 1971 we also moved here because we did not want to be in a big city and loved the beach town feeling.
    As a side can we be told in an easy format who is for less development and who is for the developers among the candidates for the up coming election in March

    • Ms. Merrill, Thank you for your comment. Of the three candidates competing for the vacant seat currently held by Deputy Mayor Mullaugh, only Andrea Levine O’Rourke has demonstrated ‘resident friendly’ positions regarding development issues in Boca Raton.

      Please visit her campaign website for more information and use the search engine on BocaWatch to review her writings over the past few years on growth, development and urban green space.

  3. We all knew and approved this development years ago, Below is the history.

    HISTORY OF THE BOCA RATON COMMUNITY REDEVELOPMENT AGENCY
    The Boca Raton Community Redevelopment Agency
    was created in 1980 by the City of Boca
    Raton City Council under Chapter 163, Part III, Flor
    ida Statutes. The Agency is responsible for
    promoting economic redevelopment in the desi
    gnated 344-acre Community Redevelopment Area
    in downtown Boca Raton (the “Redevelopment Area” or “Downtown”).
    The Agency Board of Commissioners was comprise
    d of five (5) members appointed by the City
    Council. This was later increased to seven (7) members in 1984. Under State Statute and City
    Ordinances, the Agency has substantial powers an
    d authority within the Redevelopment Area.
    These include the power to make and execute contr
    acts, to acquire and dispose of property, to
    approve plans of developers, to
    implement a program of voluntary or compulsory rehabilitation of
    buildings, to mortgage its property, to borrow a
    nd invest money and to apply for and accept grants
    and contributions.
    In 1982, the City authorized the establishment of
    the Redevelopment Trust Fu
    nd, which is financed
    through Tax Increment Revenues on Downtown prop
    erties. Tax Increment Revenues are payments
    made to the Agency by certain local taxing units
    in an amount equal to designated property taxes
    that accrue through the appreciation of Downto
    wn property from the date the trust fund was
    established. The trust fund, along with other monies generated by the Agency, provides a portion
    of the funding for the Agency’s operation a
    nd participation in redevelopment projects.
    Also in 1982, the City of Boca Raton adopted
    a Community Redevelopment Plan to stimulate
    private development in the Redevelopment Area.
    The plan set up land use controls, transportation
    and parking concepts and sign guidelines to aid
    in the achievement of specific redevelopment
    objectives. The plan was largely dependent on
    private initiatives for the redevelopment of the
    Redevelopment Area. However, the plan did iden
    tify the need for public participation in the
    beautification of downtown Boca Raton. The 1982
    Plan was generally a fa
    ilure with the exception
    of a few beautification improvements. The only
    major redevelopment project, the Barbar Project,
    was defeated by the voters at a referendum in 1984.
    This project was taller and more intense than
    any project currently permitted in the Downtown
    . The 1982 Plan was subsequently amended in
    January 1989 and January 1995 to incorporate th
    e Mizner Park Project, the Visions 90 Capital
    Improvements Program and the need to a
    ttract a Downtown department store.
    An early example of the Agency’s beautification
    efforts is the expansion and refurbishment of
    Sanborn Square, a three-quarter acre park in the
    Redevelopment Area. The Sanborn Square project
    was a public/private effort initiated by the Agency
    in 1982 as a model for the streetscape elements
    and architectural theme to be implemented through
    out Downtown. The refurbished park consists
    of a pavilion, fountains, decorative tree-lined
    tile walkways, sculptures, outdoor furniture and
    streetlights. The park serves as the focus of
    both public and private functions ranging from
    concerts and festivals to weddings and celebrations
    . It also provides a lunch and rest area for
    citizens in the Downtown. The project has proven
    to be a catalyst for the redevelopment of the
    area surrounding the park. Prior to the creation of Sanborn Square, the area surrounding the park
    was predominantly in a state of disrepair. Af
    ter the park was completed, owners of property
    surrounding the park responded by rehabilitating thei
    r property. As of December 1988, every site
    surrounding Sanborn Square had been renovated. So
    me of the renovations were quite extensive,
    involving reconstruction of entire building facades.
    In addition to Sanborn Square, several restoration
    projects including the restoration of the Florida
    East Coast (“FEC”) Railway Depot and construc
    tion of several office buildings have been
    completed in the Redevelopment Area. The FEC
    Railway Depot served as the gateway into Boca
    2
    Raton for northern travelers visiting Boca Raton in the early 1920s. In order to preserve and
    restore the depot, the Agency and the City served as the intermediary between the FEC Railroad
    and the Boca Raton Historical Society. Arrangeme
    nts were made for the purchase of the property
    and the renovation of the building and the site
    using a combination of public and private funds.
    In 1986, a formal Beautification Plan was adopted
    by the Agency. The Beautification Plan calls
    for the development of landscaped corridors thro
    ughout the Downtown to improve the appearance
    of the Downtown and to link traditional historic
    Boca Raton landmarks such as the Railroad Depot,
    Old Towne Hall and the Boca Raton Hotel and Club
    with the beach, the Intracoastal Waterway, the
    government center and surrounding residential are
    as. The plan provides for shaded, tree-lined,
    decorative sidewalks, park benches and streetlig
    hts in order to create a pedestrian-oriented
    Downtown. These elements of the Beautification Pl
    an are reflected in the design of Mizner Park.
    In August of 1986, the Agency undertook a public
    initiative to stimulate additional redevelopment
    in the Downtown by seeking approval of a Do
    wntown Development of Regional Impact (the
    “DDRI”) for the entire Redevelopment Area.
    This process resulted in a new approach to
    Downtown Redevelopment based upon:

    Developing Mizner Park to give people a reason to go Downtown;

    Solving the infrastructure pr
    oblems in Downtown; and

    Eliminating the impediments to Redevelopment through the approval process.
    The DDRI application was completed in January, 19
    88 and a Development Order was approved by
    the City Council on March 15, 1988. The Deve
    lopment Order allows the construction of
    approximately 5,000,000 square feet
    of additional office equivalent
    development in the Downtown.
    The City and the Agency have approved the
    Visions 90 Capital Improvements Program, a $45
    million capital facilities plan to provide the infrast
    ructure improvements to support this level of
    Downtown development and mitigate impacts on the general public.
    The Development Order is particularly significant
    as a result of the Florida Growth Management
    Act of 1985 as amended (the “Growt
    h Management Act”) which impos
    es considerable restraints on
    large-scale growth and development. Under th
    e Growth Management Act, local governments are
    prohibited from issuing development permits unless ad
    equate infrastructure exists to provide a safe
    and efficient level of service to the new growth
    and development. Further, certain large-scale
    development requires a Development of Regional Imp
    act (“DRI”) review by the State in order to
    ensure that all off-site regional impacts are a
    ddressed. The Development Order approval received
    by the Agency allows large developments in
    the Downtown to operate
    under the Agency’s
    Development Order, thereby allowing developers
    to bypass the expensive and time-consuming
    DRI process.
    Pursuant to the Development Order, the Visi
    ons 90 Capital Improvements Program provides a
    comprehensive set of water, sewer, roads, dr
    ainage and beautification improvements in the
    Downtown. These improvements provide the Downto
    wn with efficient access to the regional road
    networks, upgrade water, sewer and drainage f
    acilities and transform the Downtown streets into
    attractive tree-lined ways with distinctive side
    walks, street lights, traffic signals and outdoor
    furniture.
    The Visions 90 Capital Improvements Pr
    ogram is being funded and built by the
    cooperative efforts of the Florida Department of
    Transportation, Palm Beac
    h County, the City of
    Boca Raton and City of Boca Raton Special Asse
    ssments on benefited Downtown Properties.
    Major projects such as Federal Highway, Palme
    tto Park Road, Mizner Boulevard and numerous
    3
    side streets have been completed. Remaining pr
    ojects include a north-south pedestrian linkage and
    improvements west of Dixie Highway.
    The day after adoption of the Development Or
    der, Crocker and Company announced it had
    obtained an option on the Boca Mall site and was in
    terested in developing the Mizner Park Project
    under the Development Order. In
    response, the Agency and City fo
    rmed a joint team to negotiate
    an agreement with Crocker and Company. This
    agreement called for the Agency to purchase the
    Boca Mall property subject to several Crocker a
    nd Company leases for commercial development.
    In order for the Agency to issu
    e the bonds necessary to
    fund this purchase,
    it was necessary for the
    City of Boca Raton to provide a secondary pledge
    of utility tax revenues for security purposes. On
    January 24, 1989, this pledge was approved by a re
    ferendum. In May of 1989, the original Mizner
    Park Bonds were issued. In August of 1989,
    the Boca Mall was demolished and in January 1991
    Mizner Park opened.
    Mizner Park was a major redevelopment project i
    nvolving the issuance of more than $68 million in
    Bonds. These bonds were subsequently refinanced
    in 1992 and 1998 to take advantage of lower
    interest rates.
    In February of 1991, an initiative referendum re
    placed the appointed seven (7) members of the
    Agency Board of Commissioners with the five (5
    ) City Council members. The five (5) City
    Council members currently serve as th
    e Agency Board of Commissioners.
    In September 1992, the City Council amended
    the Development Order to eliminate costly
    infrastructure improvements that were determined
    , based upon detailed analysis, to be unnecessary
    to support the development of the Downtown. This amendment was subsequently approved by
    referendum on May 4, 1993.
    In January 1995, the Downtown Plan was amended to
    enable the extension of Plaza Real in Mizner
    Park to Northeast Second Street and bring it up to
    more current standards. Under Chapter 163 Part
    III, Florida Statutes the Agency and Tax Incremen
    t will continue to exist for 30 years from the
    amendment date or until January 2025.
    In September of 2000, the Agency adopted
    the Rules of the Boca Raton Community
    Redevelopment Agency pursuant to the Deve
    lopment Order. Currently, the Amended
    Development Order, the 1995 Amended Downto
    wn Plan and the Rules of the Community
    Redevelopment Agency are the controlling land u
    se regulations and procedures in downtown Boca
    Raton. The Agency’s approach to redevelopmen
    t based on the Development Order, Mizner Park
    and Visions 90 has been successful in creating an
    environment in Downtown which has led to
    substantial redevelopment of the area.
    In the six years prior to the Development Order,
    75,000 square feet of new development was
    approved and built in the Redevel
    opment Area. Since approval of the Development Order in
    March 1988, the Agency has approved developmen
    t applications providing for over 3.3 million
    square feet of office equivalent development includi
    ng Mizner Park. Of this 3.3 million square feet
    of approved development,
    construction of approximately 2.4 m
    illion square feet of development
    has been completed.

  4. If almost 73% has been built, I believe most residents would support City Council amending the allowable square feet
    in the Development Order to 2.5 million until the impact of the first 2.5 million has been fully assessed.

  5. I for one am very supportive of the growth in downtown Boca Raton and would like to see more of it. This isn’t the Boca Raton of the 70’s. Cities don’t stay static. Boca needs to grow and evolve. It needs to get bigger. Public transportation needs to be revamped. The downtown parks need renovation. More activities for young people need to begin here. It’s time for Boca Raton to become a city for milennials, not retirees.

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