Ordinance 4035, signed into law in 1992 comprises the basic set of rules for development in downtown Boca. It is currently at the center of a fierce debate whether city officials, either by accident or design, have allowed the construction of buildings that are not in compliance with the law.
During the course of the coming debate, you will hear much about 4035—about its confusing “complexity,” about how it is intended to serve merely as “guidance” to developers, about how it is outdated and therefore irrelevant. Here are the facts:
Ordinance 4035 is “An Ordinance of the City Council of the City of Boca Raton, Florida, making findings of fact and conclusions of law.”
It is the law. Nowhere in its 65 pages does the word “guidance” appear: “In the event there is any conflict between the terms of the amended Development Order (4035) and any other rule, regulation or ordinance of the City, the terms of this amended Development Order (4035) shall control (emphasis added).”
Ordinance 4035 is not complex. It is incredibly detailed. It covers everything from density, to height restrictions, open space requirements, setbacks, landscaping, irrigation, parking, use of building materials and architectural design. In most instances the law contains specific definitions or demands.
For example, quoting from the Ordinance:
“Open space means an area which is open from the land to the sky” and roughly 25% of the required open space for buildings taller than 75 feet “shall be open and uncovered from the ground to the sky.”
“No reflective glass shall be installed on the perimeter of a structure or building…No more than 40% of the perimeter of a building’s materials shall be composed of glass.”
“Light and pastel colors shall be used for external treatment of buildings.”
“Fifty percent or more of the required trees for a project shall consist of one or more of the following recommended species:” There follows a list of 36 species of trees, as well as a list of five species that may not be used.
The incredible detail specified in Ordinance 4035 is a clear indication that its authors wanted to leave as little as possible to the discretion of developers. Why? One senses a worry that, if left to their own devices, their creations might favor economics over aesthetics. Ordinance 4035 is not a testament to trust.
The one section of Ordinance 4035, which does grant some leeway to developers, is the one covering architectural design. It is in this section alone that one finds the word “may” instead of “shall.”
For example, again quoting from the Ordinance:
“It is the intent of this amended Development Order (4035) to ensure that the development of Downtown Boca Raton is carried out in accordance with a harmonious architectural environment. …
All development is encouraged to use the fundamental concept which are found in the architecture of Addison Mizner as a principal design influence….Prime examples of these concepts are found in Mizner’s Worth Avenue development in the Town of Palm Beach and in the Mediterranean style of the Boca Raton Hotel… Development designers should employ creative re-interpretations of the Mizner tradition as opposed to literal copy of Mizner’s work. …
Unlike other sections of 4035, this is not command and control language. But intent of the architectural provisions of the law is clear:
new development in Downtown Boca should be consistent with what is already there– harmonious.
Finally, it is worth pointing out that fully eight pages of Ordinance 4035 are devoted to traffic. Clearly, as far back as 1992 the City Council was worried that Downtown Boca would not have adequate roads to handle up to 4.9 million square feet of office equivalent development. So they included in the statute twenty-seven specific road improvements that had to be completed before each stage of development could proceed. Worth repeating: 4035 demanded road improvements as a precondition of development.
For example, again quoting from the statute:
“At the intersection of Palmetto Park Road and I-95 East provide double eastbound left-turn lanes, 3 eastbound through lanes, double northbound left-turn lanes, a free-flow northbound right turn lane, 4 westbound lanes, and a free-flow westbound right-turn.”
“Widening of Federal Highway from NE 6th Street to Glades Road to six lanes.”
“Widening Dixie Highway from SW 18th Street to Hillsboro Boulevard to five lanes.”
“Widening of Camino Real between Military Trail and Dixie Highway to four lanes.”
Ordinance 4035 also called for a traffic monitoring program “based on actual field data” which “shall address the actual impact of development in the Downtown as compared with the impacts projected in the Application for Development Approval.” This was supposed to have been done in 2007—fifteen years after the enactment of Ordinance 4035—in order to ensure that Boca’s traffic infrastructure was sufficient to handle the “impacts” projected by the developers.
It is now 2016, and the traffic is here and growing, but the oversight and foresight seem to have vanished. No one at City Hall is calling for a comprehensive traffic study that will tell us whether Downtown Boca’s six major arteries are capable of handling the traffic that eight million square feet of office development will bring. (Ordinance 4035 anticipated no more than 5 million square feet of development.) Boca’s current Five-year Road Plan calls for the following improvements:
- a new I-95 interchange at Spanish River
- “intersection improvements” on Glades Road
- Bridge rehabilitation and replacement on Camino and Palmetto
- Auxiliary lanes on Palmetto from I-95 to Military Trail
- Widening Dixie to three lanes from Yamato to Linton
That’s it. Will these do anything to meet the traffic challenges presented by the urban center developers love to call the “New Boca?”
Why is nothing more in the works? The answer is simple: there is no room to expand Downtown Boca’s roads. There is no more space.
The solution to Boca’s traffic problem—anticipated by the authors of 4035—is also simple: if you cannot build more roads, do not build more buildings. Or, as 4035 clearly required at the time, build the roads BEFORE you build the buildings.
We need a comprehensive traffic study to give us an idea of the problem before we make the problem worse.
Ordinance 4035 was a visionary document. Its authors correctly foresaw the attractions of Boca Raton and the surge of development that they would bring. They favored development, but tried to put in place strict controls that would limit its impact and preserve the architectural harmony that makes Boca unique. Their vision and their resolve have somehow been lost. We are all witness to the sorry result.
We can and must do better in the future. Start now by paying close attention to Ordinance 4035.
John C. Gore, President, BocaBeautiful.org