An Historical Perspective On Downtown Boca


The City of Boca Raton has posted a narrative titled the “Legislative History of Downtown Boca Raton”. The history that is portrayed in the article seems largely to be true, though somewhat benign. It can be found at this City Link  

The city should be commended for creating this piece and posting it. It is a great primer for anyone who is interested in downtown affairs. Please take a few moments and read it; you’ll be glad you did.

It is an interesting article, partly for what is said, and partly for what is unsaid. I have studied the history of our downtown. I was appointed by our city council to, and have chaired, the Downtown Advisory Committee, and am very familiar with the documents cited in the article.

Reading this piece, there was one statement that leaped off the page. Here it is:

“The next decade would see significant residential and office growth in the downtown. Demolition of existing buildings made way for new projects which were inspired by urban design characteristics and would follow the design guidelines carefully defined in Ordinance No.4035, thereby, keeping in line with the spirit and intentions of the CRA vision.”

On the surface, this statement is true.

What is not said is that 4035 has been amended at least eight times. An entire new set of guidelines called the IDG (Interim Design Guidelines) have been adopted and added to 4035. And countless variances have been granted to individual projects as they have been brought forward for approval.

4035 calls for maximum 100 foot tall buildings, now we see 140 foot tall buildings popping up all over town.

4035 calls for redevelopment to occur across seven sub areas of the downtown. Development rights have routinely been shuffled from one area to another, resulting in extremely high density in some areas, leaving other areas relatively devoid of redevelopment. To get an idea of this, read the original 4035 and compare it to the annual report on the Downtown published by the city. And while the development rights were moved around the subareas, the roads did not move along with them. This contributes to traffic congestion that no one would have ever imagined.

4035 is very prescriptive about the use of open space. Our city staff is in a rather intense exercise to determine if the open space requirements have been met or not, going as far back as 1988. We will see the results of this study shortly.

4035 and the IDG specify “Mizneresque” architecture, totally missing from many of the buildings that have been approved by the CRA.

The IDG calls for minimum two acre lots for building of 140 feet in height. This requirement has been abandoned.

4035 and the IDG call for step-backs in building design to create a “wedding cake” effect and open the sky. Take a look at the new Hyatt, which is intended to be our “landmark” edifice on Palmetto Park road. It goes straight up, rather than stepping back. I’ll be writing a piece about this subject shortly.

There is more, much more. Suffice it to say that, in my opinion, very little of the development that you see happening in the downtown is “following the design guidelines carefully defined in Ordinance No. 4035”, as stated in the city’s narrative.

Regarding “the spirit and intentions of the CRA vision” – On this point there are two possibilities. Either we have abandoned the vision as evidenced by the metamorphosis of 4035 over the years, or the vision is so fluid that it is not a vision at all.

In my opinion, the original intent and the vision embodied in 4035 and the original CRA were correct. They allow for development and re-development of our downtown, in a sustainable manner, while preserving the character of Boca Raton. But something changed……..

Can this situation be remedied? Unfortunately, no one will be tearing down any buildings anytime soon, we can’t turn back the clock. So we have to look to the future and elect leaders that have the courage to establish a vision and stick to it. That is why I am running for a seat on your city council in the March 2017 municipal election.

Thanks for reading this; I welcome your constructive comments.

Joe Panella

Footnote: Even though this is a free blog entry, the following is required: Political advertisement paid for and approved by Joe Panella for Boca Raton City Council, Seat B



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