Saturday’s Sun Sentinel, local section, has as its lead article ‘Planners approve Chabad’ reporting that the Planning and Zoning Board voted 5 – 1 to recommend approval to the City Council when the item comes up in June.

After attracting a packed house and taking testimony for nearly 5 hours, the height variance was granted to allow an 18,000 square foot synagogue, museum, community center, and catering facility in a residential neighborhood within a stone’s throw to the beach on Palmetto Park Road.

Not an unexpected outcome given the Board’s previous approval in March, an approval rejected by the City Council on technical issues that, when corrected, would allow the Chabad to exceed city code from 30 feet for its requested 40 foot high exhibit hall.

Evidence was presented by neighborhood opponents demonstrating misleading elements in the application process.  For instance, the traffic count impact was based upon the County Traffic Engineer being told that the space was to be a ‘House of Worship’.  That depiction flies in the face of the applicant’s promotional literature.

Multiple uses were prominently displayed on the applicant’s website where the “My Israel” video unequivocally showed intended uses far exceeding the ‘House of Worship’ designation.

Entering this video into the record evidence required the applicant to walk back the use statements as not being reflective of what will actually take place; a convenient last minute retraction to address the ‘substantial competent evidence’ standard..

That said, final approval for this project still faces a lengthy challenge.

Quoted in the Sentinel article is the applicant’s architect, Derek Vander Ploeg, a politically connected downtowner, who often demonstrates the ability to influence the City Council’s approval of projects requiring elements outside the city code (a recent example would be in the Tower 155 project).

In fact, many argue that in Boca Raton, if you hire the right consultant, the right lawyer and/or the right professional, you are almost guaranteed success in exceeding code requirements….A perception that has sparked serious resistance from residents.

On the subject of resident opposition, Mr. Vander Ploeg states that in his 40-plus years of building properties in this city, “I’ve seen nothing like this, a project with this level of scrutiny.”

Well Mr. Vander Ploeg, with the current level of resident resentment brought on by the unprecedented overdevelopment covering the last decade; and with the negative impacts on the downtown by the four projects approved under the Interim Design Guidelines over resident objections; and with the seemingly all-accommodating City Council, is it no wonder that there is resistance?

PREDICTION….’YOU AIN’T SEEN NOTHING YET’…

Residents have begun to realize that the city codes can be manipulated; that the rules can be changed to accommodate the privileged few.

Residents have also begun to realize that outside agencies are available to review a tainted process…

These realizations are resulting in residents retaining attorneys to file actions in Circuit Court when appropriate; to prepare and file complaints with the Florida Commission on Ethics, the Palm Beach County Inspector General and, in the extreme case, the Palm Beach County State Attorney’s office.

It is fair to say that all interests should begin to expect that the ‘party is over’. Rules exist for a purpose….to make the process predictable….

The message is clear….Misrepresentations in applications, misleading or false statements under oath, and special treatment and access to the chosen few need to be a thing of the past….

The application process must be cleaned up….or a mere two month delay as in the Chabad project will be a drop in the bucket compared to delays incurred fighting actions within these outside agencies….