For those of us who have been arguing that Boca Raton is being cavalierly and callously overbuilt, 2015 was a major disappointment. As the year draws to a close, our City Council and its developer-dominated advisory boards continue to ignore citizens’ concerns over the building binge in Boca, with vote after vote supporting more and more development. Examples:
- Approval of two more mammoth Via Mizner buildings, one of which MAY house a Mandarin Oriental Hotel. Promised by the developer, but no guarantee. For sure we will get two more concrete leviathans. Who the tenants will be is by no means certain. Ask yourself, why would Mandarin Oriental choose to operate a five-star hotel with no beach or golf course access smack on Federal Highway? So guests can walk to Publix?
- Approval of an additional 500,000 square feet of development just north of FAU, bringing the total to 1.5 million square feet, with NO ASSURANCE of what will be built there and NO IDEA where the traffic will go, other than on to Spanish River Boulevard.
- A zoning variance for a private developer to build a four-story mega-mansion on a pristine section of Boca’s beach because the developer threatened to sue if denied a variance. Some things are worth fighting for.
We need different outcomes in 2016. Specifically:
- A moratorium on new construction in the downtown area until we can assess the impact of what is now being built.
- Creation of a creative traffic plan for downtown Boca, before traffic becomes such a mess that it negatively impacts both commerce and residents.
- Immediate establishment of an oversight and enforcement mechanism to ensure that developers adhere to the designs that were approved by the CRA and the Council. No more bait and switch!
As activist organizations such as BocaBeautiful.org and Boca Watch seek citizen support for our 2016 campaign, we are increasingly being told that what we are doing is too little, too late. True, while we were sleeping, the developers and their allies in government have succeeded in transforming downtown Boca into a new “urban center.” The look and feel of our village has been irretrievably altered.
The question now is what can be done to protect our quality of life in this new “urban” environment, as well as in the rest of Boca. Can we hold developers to their promises, ensuring that the buildings under construction are attractive and pedestrian friendly? Can we somehow keep 6000+ additional cars from clogging our downtown streets? Can we hold in check runaway development in other parts of our city? Or at least plan for it better?
If we cannot convince our elected officials of the wisdom of our approach in 2016, we promise to work hard to bring new thinking to City Hall in the elections of 2017. The battle for Boca is far from over.
John C. Gore, President