What’s Wrong With Development?

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To be blunt, it is just as stupid to characterize those who oppose development in Boca Raton as “not-in-my-back-yard crazies” as it is to claim that those who support it are the “paid stooges of developers.” The 2017 local elections are upon us, and you are going to hear plenty of this.  Vital questions surrounding Boca’s future deserve a more intelligent debate.

Development—or redevelopment—comes in many forms. There are projects, big and small, of quality and taste.  One could argue that Mizner Park (although it was very controversial at the time) falls into that category. Then there are projects that look like they don’t belong in Boca.  The Mark and the new budget Hyatt Hotel are examples. Some projects are just too big for the land or neighborhoods they occupy:  Palmetto Promenade, Tower 155 (it received a special variance), and the proposed monster Mizner 200 come to mind. Some projects don’t belong in the neighborhoods for which they are proposed: a Walmart on the beach or a museum in a residential enclave. These are all questions of style, taste, quality and suitability.

But the issue of what you build is only part of the development story. Equally important is the question of how you sustain development. Do you have the roads, the parking and other infrastructure in place to ensure that the addition of thousands of new hotel rooms and residences does not impair quality of life? Do you have a vision? Are you working to a comprehensive and detailed plan? This is not rocket science; it is common sense. For if you do development in a piecemeal fashion—one project at a time—you end up with unintended consequences and angry residents.

This is what has happened in Boca Raton. Over the past eight years, our City Council has approved project after project—some good, some bad, some very ugly—without careful consideration of the consequences. To be fair, some Council Members such as Robert Weinroth do have a vision:  of an exciting “urban center” where our old downtown used to be. He just does not have a detailed plan of what it is supposed to look like or how it is supposed to work. He has no plan for parking or traffic, and neither (as of this writing) do his colleagues on the City Council. Like in some urban Field of Dreams, their philosophy is “build it, and they (parking and better roads) will come.” So we have had development in Boca without the necessary foresight or planning.  And it is a growing mess.

The resulting problems, traffic and parking and overall congestion, have led to public disapproval. Most recently this was manifest in the “Boca Question” on the November ballot, when a whopping 67% of Boca’s voters—a majority in every precinct, east and west—approved a measure banning commercial development on city lands adjacent to the Intracoastal Waterway. This ballot measure, which was vigorously opposed by both sitting City Council members and the Chamber of Commerce, is the clearest indication to date that our civic leaders have not handled development in Boca well. It was a referendum on the quality and pace of development, and the developers lost overwhelmingly.

What’s next? First, there will be a pause in major development decisions, as three of five City Council seats are up for election on March 14th.  No politician in his right mind would want to vote for another big construction project until after that date. Then on March 14th, the voters will decide the direction that future development in Boca will take.

Make no mistake. The development and redevelopment of Boca will continue. No sensible person is advocating otherwise. At issue are the quality, character and pace of that development; and whether we have adequate infrastructure to handle it all in place before the buildings are built.

How to decide which of the many candidates running for City Council is best qualified to deal with these complex issues? Here’s a simple test:

If you are happy with what has happened in Boca over the last eight years, vote for the status quo. If you are unhappy and think we could do better, vote for candidates who advocate change.

The future direction of development in Boca is yours to decide on March 14th.

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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. Over 30 years ago Boca Raton planned for and approved this development. The CRA was developed and the infrastructure was completed to accommodate the growth. The economy slowed the development but now it is justified.

  2. Robert Hartford, you are correct. There was a plan created over 30 years ago. However, the cumulative effect of deviation and modification from what was planned has created a much different outcome from what was intended. The details of which are too numerous to list here. Suffice it to say that what was intended is not what we got.

  3. Boca Raton has no strategy for development since it is apparent that:
    1. Everything is permitted unless specifically forbidden (and not much is forbidden)
    2. The city is ‘opportunity driven’ not ‘opportunity driving’

  4. I have a problem with Boca Raton determining what is acceptable development because it doesn’t appear to me that Boca Raton has any communication with Palm Beach county. Countywide, including Boca, any development idea is met with approval unless someone can justify why it shouldn’t be developed. That mindset was fine 50 years ago when Palm Beach county was expanding but today, there is hardly an undeveloped blade of grass east of Powerline Rd. The mindset should be, does this enhance the city or county and if it doesn’t then don’t build it. Many people moved to this specific area because it wasn’t filled to the gills with highrises and traffic gridlock. But, we have gridlock today in 2017. There’s something seriously wrong here when it takes 35 minutes to go 6 miles using Military Trail and Yamato Rd at rush hour. Neither Boca nor PBC have any plan for sustainable development. South Florida is lost cause and that is why so many long-time residents are getting out of here.But, it’s not problem because they are quickly replaced with people who think this is paradise because they have spent their lives in congested cities. All things are relative.

  5. I am so sorry that I live two blocks outside Boca city limits and as such cannot vote for change. Unfortunately I still have to bear
    the traffic and look at the misplaced and unattractive development, but don’t have a voice in making change. Those of you that
    can make a difference, please please do so for those of us that cannot vote for change.

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