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An Open Letter(warning) to the City Council:
Is Planned Mobility a Function of Lobbying Influences and Political Cronyism?
I have a confession to make. This is the first letter I have ever sent to any councilperson. I served on City Boards for 25 years. I generally agree with the direction our council is taking us, and when I disagree I have maintained public silence lest I be perceived as a partisan instead of a jurist in a Quasi-judicial post. I generally agree with the direction the City is taking and I do not wish to add to the sometimes divisive political rhetoric in this city. Now, however, I find myself for the first time writing to the council because this issue is too important to maintain silence any longer.
In open meetings and in workshops I have often, at times, vigorously challenged the direction of Planned Mobility (PM) on several grounds including the lack of adequate Individual Development Plan safeguards, lack of a comprehensive review process, and the lack of objective standards and metrics by which we can analyze the impact of the developments being considered on traffic. The City recently decided to lessen the only objective standard in the PM ordinance, the “points matrix” not because it was ineffective but because it was too difficult for a developer to attain enough points to meet the standard. Now, at the current time,there is not any genuine objective measuring standard left in the PM ordinance and we are about to entertain the approval of Midtown, which is in reality the largest “rezoning” in the City’s history without having put in place adequate and proper safeguards, standards and metrics. In short, this letter is an attempt to inject my considered opinion on the subject. This letter will also demonstrate why the Midtown project is different than the APOC Northwest corridor projects which were approved. I will conclude by urging you to consider that voting to approve Midtown on any basis is reckless and that not enacting Boca’s own traffic and school concurrency standards is both politically and legally reckless.
The first point I wish to make is that Midtown is a development of such intensity and density that there will certainly be increased traffic, and increased demand on schools and municipal services. In contrast to the proposed Midtown project, the PM projects in the Northwest corridor were placed upon vacant land. In Midtown the developer is proposing we allow him to keep the existing developments and add thousands of residential units to an existing project WITHOUT deleting any of the existing development. The existing development was built to its maximum capacity when built some 30 years ago. Existing density and intensity will be greatly increased as will traffic and demand on other governmental services. Thus, there will not be less traffic travelling to Midtown. Instead, there will be an additional traffic impact over and above existing conditions. Laying another tier of development on top of existing development is like adding another layer of cake to an existing cake. It’s not less cake or calories, it’s more cake and more calories.
This “wedding cake” layering adds an entirely new level of traffic and impact upon this city and to say it will not have negative impact is disingenuous at best and dangerously naïve at worst. The developer will argue that there will be less traffic because of the proximity of the residential units to employment centers, but that proximity argument presumes that none of the residents will ever take any trips in their cars. Adding residential units causes traffic because nearly every occupant will have at least one car. The existing customers of the shopping center will not stop coming there. The shopping center will not generate less traffic than it currently generates. Instead it will generate same amount of shopping traffic as it currently generates and the 2500 new residential units will generate additional and new traffic.
Are we actually going to add thousands of apartment units to an area which for years has been quantitatively considered the most heavily over-trafficked in Palm Beach County? Every objective metric has rated these roads and intersections to be failing. Under long-standing concurrency standards they are rated “f” and that means that no new development that increases traffic or impact on schools could have been approved there. The nearby intersections on Glades Road are deemed to be the most failed intersections in Palm Beach County. At one time, while Crocker Center (that is what Boca Center was called then) was seeking its initial development approval there was near universal rejection of the notion that residences would be considered there. There continued to be opposition by residents to apartment development anywhere on the Military Trail corridor. I do not think that the people of Boca Raton have changed their thinking that much.
For those that follow politics and government it is of particular interest that Roads will no longer be reviewed by state concurrency standards but through county standards instead, a fact which seems to have been obscured in the debate over PM. Having PM introduced at the very same time as the statewide traffic concurrency system was being legislated out of the state’s Comprehensive Growth Management Laws leaves this entire process open to a charge of lobbying influence and political cronyism that this City should rise above. When everyone on both P and Z and council voted for PM, I am certain they were under the assumption that there would be areas where PM projects could not be built because they would not pass concurrency review. I doubt whether the repeal of state concurrency review has been brought to their or your, the residents) attention. I know the repeal of statewide concurrency review was never brought to the attention of P and Z, who always assumed that we had in place checks and balances established by state law in 1972. (see for example modifications to Chapter 163.3180 and 163.3182 for those that are inclined towards legal research) No one seemed to know of this repeal of statewide concurrency standards (except perhaps the applicants and their representatives and myself who privately asked the Development Services Director what this repeal would mean,(unfortunately he did not remain employed long after my visit). My point is the process itself seems to have been geared towards an outcome. The voting boards attention was deflected away from the unknown factors such as the disappearance of concurrency review. Voting members of both P and Z and City Council should have been given information that might have had an effect upon their votes.
Which leads me to conclude with this point. Certainly, prior to the final vote approving PM, our city staff had to know of this repeal of statewide concurrency standards. Certainly, the repeal was not brought to the P an Z Board’s attention. Was that intentional? If so, then there is a deeper issue behind this that leaves me pondering our grave future. If not intentional, then this “mistake” infected the approval process. People voting on this assumed the growth management laws were still intact and would still be the shield against development beyond our road’s, school’s, and municipal services’ ability to process.
Therefore, I request that one of you introduce Boca’s own concurrency review standards. I am certain our City Attorney can direct your Attention to the dictates of chapter 163 of the Florida Statutes which states that statewide traffic and school concurrency standards are no longer in effect and FS Section 163.3182 which goes on to state that unless a local government adopts its own concurrency standards then none can be considered. Are we left to the standards of review of Palm Beach County? Are we not better than Lantana, Lake Worth, et. al.? We should never be considering thousands of new units to be built onto failing roads and not adopt levels of service standards to replace the recently repealed state standards. This would be reckless and would be serving developer’s interests rather than the people’s. Which naturally leads me to suspect how, in the course of this entire debate, that our City Boards and City Council were operating under the reasonable assumption that long-standing concurrency laws were still in effect. This raises a whole host of questions about what has transpired and why which I will not address in this letter but will leave up to you to ponder.
Thank you for your time and please accept my sincere appreciation for your kind and prompt attention to this most serious matter.
STEVEN UTRECHT, Former Vice Chairperson Planning and Zoning
BocaWatch, through a public records request, has uncovered that subsequent to receiving this letter from former P&Z Board member Steve Utrecht, City Council member Andrea Levine O’Rourke requested that the City Administration place this item on the July 24th City Workshop agenda for discussion and for exploring concurrency standards specific to the city of Boca Raton. Also uncovered is that Deputy City Manager George Brown and Development Services Director Brandon Schaad both responded to Council member O’Rourke’s communication. Below see the text of their responses.
Moreover, in response to a BocaWatch inquiry as to the Deputy City Manager’s statement that Boca Raton does, in fact, still have concurrency standards, Mr. Utrecht states that his research has not uncovered any provision in the city code supportive of the statements. Mr. Utrecht also reaffirmed his comment that in all 7 years since Planned Mobility has been in place, little, if any, mention of these concurrency considerations have been brought to the attention of either the P&Z Board or the residents in a City Council workshop. Transparency be damned! Residents, especially residents in the Midtown Boca area, have a right to be fully informed of the impacts that this high density project will have on their communities and quality of life. The developer has failed to provide specifics to the community on this massive project. Planned Mobility was conceived and adopted under the premise that it would reduce traffic but with what is now being uncovered, it may be viewed as a hidden means for the developer/land owner to exceed the concurrency standards on roadways, schools and municipal services put in place to protect us, the resident, against another project with extreme overdevelopment potential. Here again residents….Caveat Emptor, Buyer Beware….
Stay tuned to BocaWatch…More to come over the next few weeks leading up to the July 24th workshop. Also, follow the BocaWatch commentaries by Jack McWalter on this Midtown Boca development project.
Response From George Brown, Deputy City Manager
Sent: Wednesday, July 5, 2017
Andrea, please see Brando’s brief summary below. The bottom line is that we still do have concurrency standards in the City of Boca Raton and we are applying them. In relation to Midtown, one of the most important considerations is, in fact, concurrency. As has been noted in the staff reports on the ordinance as it has been presented thus far, the proposed regulations must demonstrate concurrency. Because the Midtown lands are getting new zoning regulations, the action (if taken) must be consistent with the comprehensive plan. “Consistent” means the action must meet consistency, compatibility, and concurrency requirements of the City’s Comp plan, and the proposed rezoning and text amendment that allow for a PMD with additional overall development and residential units must satisfy traffic concurrency requirements.
Staff will be prepared to discuss concurrency at the July workshop in conjunction with the Midtown matter. Please give me a call if you have additional questions.
Response From Brandon Schaad
Sent: Wednesday, July 05, 2017
Since 2011, traffic, parks and school concurrency have no longer been REQUIRED by the state of local governments. Local governments can still maintain such standards if they choose to, and most have, particularly for traffic. Including Boca, and including Palm Beach County. The state never did concurrency reviews, and the actual standards were always up to the local government for roads they were responsible for. So nothing has really changed, except that we could get rid of those concurrency standards if we chose to.
TO THE READER:
BocaWatch found only the below LINK mentioned on the city’s website with regards to ‘concurrency’. BocaWatch suggests that this reference is not the equivalent of a city code or ordinance. Although it may be a ‘standard’, it can be implemented and/or changed without council action. If that is a correct interpretation, there is a ‘big’ difference from the binding elements of an adopted ordinance.
To see what is on the city’s website, click this link: https://www.myboca.us/891/Transportation-Planning
RESPONSE FROM THE AUTHOR STEVE UTRECHT:
I live outside Boca city limits but near the proposed the proposed Midtown development and I think the Midtown is going to be a nightmare especially if the city caves into the developer and gives all that is asked for. South Florida doesn’t have mass transit other than TriRail so people use their cars to get around. The developer wanting to add development to an already overburdened area is a mistake the city shouldn’t make. Since the developer doesn’t have to do anything realistically about the traffic the development will bring, traffic gridlock will be the end result.
There was an article a few weeks back in the Sun-Sentinel where the city of Ft. Lauderdale can’t increase geographically because there’s no land left so they are increasing the density. However, there’s no mass transit so traffic gridlock will be the end result. To me, Boca is just like Ft. Lauderdale. It may have a few parcels of vacant land but it’s basically built out so you can only increase the density.
It’s a nice thought that people can live near where they work so they can walk to work but when you consider rents from $1500 – $4000 and and $300K minimim for a townhouse, who is going to afford that? Wages have increased here in south Florida but they are not keeping pace with housing costs.
Another interesting tidbit was from an article about how people are flocking to Parkland because of the open space – how long do they think that’s going to last?? Best laugh I had over that. South Florida is going to be like New York without the mass transit in the next 5 years. You read it here first!
The very premise of Planned Mobility is a joke. I am shocked that anyone could say that Boca residents would walk to work or shopping with a straight face knowing the demographic that is targeted at these developments. I like the concept of multi-use developments but the idea that it will significantly reduce trips is fantasy. Especially during the summertime when you get soaked just walking to the mailbox. These developments should have the same traffic and parking requirements as any other development project.
Unfortunately Mr. Utrecht you as misinformed. All PMD projects must meet PBC traffic concurrency and must meet the city’s traffic requirements as well. The PMD projects do not get a “free ride” when it comes to traffic. Everything is the same as any traditional project with the exception that the PMD projects get a 5% traffic credit for meeting the PMD Matrix requirements. 5% that’s it. The main PMD goal is to reduce trip length and reduce the number of single occupancy vehicles.
The City of Boca Raton has it’s own traffic concurrency standards and every traffic report I submit must meet these standards. .
Mr. STEVEN UTRECHT’S letter certainly seems ‘right on’ – and, we will once again see that the proof is in the pudding. He articulates much of what has brought most of south Florida to its knees regarding important ‘concurrency’ issues such as schools and traffic. Furthermore, the points he makes are quite obviously true:
“…voting to approve Midtown on any basis is reckless and that not enacting Boca’s own traffic and school concurrency standards is both politically and legally reckless.”
“Having PM introduced at the very same time as the statewide traffic concurrency system was being legislated out of the state’s Comprehensive Growth Management Laws…” Geez!! I wonder how that happened?? I’m sure it has nothing to do with: “My point is the process itself seems to have been geared towards an outcome.” Yes, like a traffic study!” 💰💰
The ‘checks and balances’ (if any exist), favor the ‘connected’ – sadly, the residents are not very well connected. 💰💰
Excellent letter Mr. Utrecht – too bad it will most likely fall upon mostly deaf ears.
Thank you for authoring a terrific explanation or overview of the continual quagmire which threatens our ‘quality of life’ and for making your letter part of the Public Record
John Donaldson is a respected professional traffic engineer. His opinion should be given all the weight it deserves as such.. In responding let me reiterate for the third time that I am not saying Boca does not utilize a traffic concurrency standard. i am saying that one should be codified and i urge the City adopt a written standard in the Code. For years we operated under a standard that classified these roads and intersections as failing. Now, we are operating under a state law that has been rewritten and leaving this open to legal argument rather than the certainty of a code. the new state law says if a city does not adopt a standard one cannot be considered. We adopted the County standard so we are told. Is that in a resolution? then let’s see the resolution. Is that in an ordinance? Produce that. We can in a vacuum without a written standard, but as a lawyer i read that to no longer be a legal way of operating and that if there is no written standard in our Code that none can be applied. I cannot say the Florida legislature intends such havoc, but it would not be the first time they created a mess for Courts to sift through.
What about Boca code section 23-37? I thought that dealt with the city’s concurrency requirements?
We’ve had “Planned Mobility” for quite some time. Examples? Stand outside any Publix which is surrounded by residential. Count the number of people who walk or ride their bike home with their groceries. Stand outside a downtown office building at 5 PM. Count the number of people who go home on foot or on their bicycle. Stand at a busy intersection like Camino and Dixie at lunch time and witness the throngs of people riding their bikes to lunch – not!
Mr. Utrecht is very knowledgeable in concurrency having served many years for the city on boards, but there are probably many on here who are not as well versed in traffic concurrency.
In the late 80’s the residents of Palm Beach County voted to in favor of the Countywide Traffic Concurrency standards. You may hear it called traffic concurrency or more commonly called TPS. This required that ALL development projects in Palm Beach County (unincorporated areas and cities alike) meet the county traffic concurrency standards. This is located in the PBC ULDC Chapter 12 should anyone want to read it. This is still in effect today.
In addition, cities are permitted to enact their own concurrency standards for local and city streets. Boca Raton did just that and has it’s own separate traffic concurrency regulations. This is referenced in the city’s Comprehensive Plan and in the Boca Raton code Sections 23-35 and 23-37. All projects submitted in Boca Raton are therefore required to submit two traffic studies. One for Palm Beach County (TPS) and one for the city (commonly called the Site Specific study).
I hope some of you find this information helpful.
Mr Donaldson, you are very helpful but I am lost trying to figure this out. I went to section 23-37 and it says go to “Concurrency Mgt Systens Administrative Manual” for boca which I can’t find on city web site. I went to boca section-23-40 (b) and it says go to county’s ULDC article 12 which I printed 59 pages since boca is suppose to comply with those regs. I also printed out the under Comprehensive Plan for boca “Transportation Element Goals,Objectives,and Policies”. Nothing there. I also printed and read all the city ordinances . I than went to section 28-1849 where a matrix of like 39 measurements are indicated that a traffic expert is to evaluate and must total 100 points before a development could be approved to qualify as part of a Planned Mobility Development District. Now what I don’t understand is how does a member of the boca P&Z decide 1000 to 4000 possible cars in the area of Military and Glades complies with what rules. The PBC ULDC article 12 rules or this matrix that boca has come up with. It seems since military is a county road that the former is prime and matrix is secondary. How will the P&Z evaluate.
Please understand I am for development of this area but military trail is the elephant in the room. What should the city do ???? Thank you for your help.You and Steve are very smart folks and we appreciate your comments since the city will not talk to any of us but developers get to go into city hall for days lobbying their stuff. Please help us.
Mr. McWalter. The answer to which set of rules does P&Z consider? The answer is both. It’s not an either or scenario both must be evaluated.
I have been a resident in the midtwon area since 1986 and drive on Military Trail virtually every day. In concert with many of my neighbors, I would welcome some prudent redevelopment of the area, but it has to be sensible (in proportion) and compatible with the existing development and infrastructure. In particular, Military Trail is already a high-traffic corridor, from the intersection of Palmetto Park Road, going north to Clint Moore Road. During rush-hour, a significant amount of traffic from Palmetto Park Road, Spanish River Blvd., and Yamato Road feeds onto Military Trail. I believe the South Florida Regional Transport Planning Agency considers Military Trail a Major Regional Arterial Road. It is probably designated as a major hurricane evacuation route (at least to access I-95 or the Florida Turnpike) Along this corridor, there is Boca Center, a US. Postal Service complex, an office complex, Lynn University, a high school and middle school, the new mixed-use complex of leased apartments and shopping center north of Yamato Road, and then immediately north of that is the Office Depot complex. Most likely, the new Spanish River – I-95 exit/entrance construction will contribute to the traffic situation (perhaps ease Glades Road traffic and exacerbate congestion on Military Trail). At lest perform a traffic impact study.
Another matter to consider (of less importance, but still an issue) will be the increased demand on the City’s ability to deal with garbage/recycling services in the future. Several weeks ago a Sun-Sentinel article alerted residents about the City’s need to determine whether to add trucks and facilities or contract the refuse/recycling program to an outside source in order to accommodate population growth.
One last point that I am interested in finding out the answer. In 2013, I recall reading that when this Midtown project was in its conceptual stage (it still may be at that stage), there was a developer pledge or promise to allocate ten percent of the hosing units for “affordable” occupancy. Is that concept still in the plans?
A correction I would like to offer Steve, is in regard to the seated City Council Members naiveté at the time of the Planned Mobility and Comprehensive Plan Update’s passing. I was one of those Council Members. I fought tooth and nail through countless planning workshops to warn the other City Council Members and P&Z members of the consequences of the changes. I even called you at home Sir, one hour before your P&Z meeting that recommended the new zoning changes that implemented the PM in the northwest LIRP area to explain those consequences as well. Unfortunately, you raised not one of my concerns during your board’s discussion. I tried. I was treated like an obstructionist for my entire tenure on Council, which never hurt my feelings, but hurt the quality of life of our citizens into the future. Everyone was too afraid of the backlash from the Whechels, Siemons and McClellans of the Boca world. Ye reap what ye sow.
So much inaccuracy here. First the City follows County traffic concurrency rules. Each project that has traffic impact must get a TPS letter from the County. Second the City carefully analyzes this and often suggests roadway improvements paid for by developers. I was involved in a project that made considerable off site roadway improvements in the Town Center area. Mr. Utrecht assumes anecdotally that there are no realistic “traffic” concurrency rules followed which is not the case. Mr. Donaldson is accurate in his observations. F.S. 163 has NOT been repealed nor has it expired. Fact is that at ANY time the Town Center area could have been rezoned to add residential at 30 units per acre and the annexed lands exceed City density at 20 units per acre. There are two apartment complexes with over 500 total units on Verde Trail alone with another 250+ residential units. No traffic problem whatsoever because I live there! FAR in the area at .5 compares to 3 in Delray Beach? The moral of the story is that Delray does not have viable traffic concurrency standards and the County has a lot more density, Delray development is moving south and Boca has no control over what surrounds it geographically. So everyone builds around us, we get NO tax ratables and we get all the traffic from the outside development. The City has two choices get quality development and the tax benefit or do nothing and get the traffic from Delray and unincorporated PBC. Retail has issues the Mall is the second highest tax ratable in the county. Do we let that fold or do we support it with indigenous customers. Just as the “golden triangle” resisted Downtown development only to see their home values triple (mostly for land) so to do some locals oppose Midtown. makes no sense.
I urge everyone to get involved and to stick together, but not in a negative way. i think it will be to no one advantage to end discussions with “I told you so’s” We need everyone’s voice. Mr Mahjess- I did not realize you felt offended at that meeting many years ago. I permitted you to speak and gave you additional time to make your case. As a councilman, I applauded you efforts to give your opinions and you did so in a respectful thoughtful manner. I think we need your input, and I hope you don’t let your frustration lead you to resignation. To clarify the vote, on the night you spoke it was not on MidTown, it was on the Lemson property on Spanish River. At first the development ordinance allowed hundreds of apartment units and over, I believe 100,000 feet or retail. That was rejected and hung around in various forms until it eventually became just an approval of a very much needed emergency facility for the area, especially of service to FAU. The location for that facility was perfect and much needed so i gave it my support.especially since we were informed of the urgent need to give that land a proper zoning classification or the builder of the emergency facility was “going to walk away”. The apartments went away as did the density needed to build a shopping center The final approval was the least dense,and least intense commercially zoned property in Boca, It is my opinion that the zoning could be changed in the future and therefore, i hope you continue in your quest to make this the best city possible for all residents. All the best.
By the way the CAP on unit count was in fact a great idea advanced by Anthony Majhess. What that did was make the projects more of a commodity and of higher quality and avoided the saturation of the market. Much like Midtown will. That 2500 number is just about right and averages out to something like 9 units per acre based on gross acreage. Under a county rezone that could have been 30 units per acre. Again each new project will have to stand on its own traffic concurrency. Just as every project in the NW did. Midtown is not a “project” its just the same implementing Ordinance as has already been done in the NW and for the 80 acres. Midtown is critical to the survival of the majority of the existing City tax base. YOU TAXES ARE GOING UP SUBSTANTIALLY IF NOTHING IS REDEVELOPED THERE especially if the new Homestead exemption goes into effect. Remember you heard that here first. I live and work here and have for decades.
Thomas Stern asks an important question, notably was the idea to make a percentage of the units be priced at affordable pricing levels, which we were calling “workforce housing”. I strongly supported that concept then and wanted that incorporated into all the Planned mobility districts. I wanted to see teachers, fireman, police , shopkeepers, retail workers and other city workers be citizens of Boca Raton, not just commuters, which adds to traffic and creates a commuter nightmare. i wanted people to have housing choices and not just create development opportunities to sell to wealthy people, snowbirds that want turn-key walk-away homes. I think strongly that good planning incorporates methodologies that consider more than just economics, profit and tax base. I still feel strongly that this was an “up zoning” and as a policy matter we could have and should have included some regulations on pricing before considering the up zoning. Mr Stern, your memory is perhaps better than mine. I suppose I tried to forget that my efforts to get a concession on rental and sales pricing were defeated.. .As it stands now the developers are building small units, at least they say they will, but without a specific development plan there is no way of knowing what their price point will be and i am most curious to find out. unfortunately, the old way of planning where we did a site specific plan with detailed drawings that can be studied has been replaced by what i see as a grant of vested rights to develop. I urge everyone as we go forward to insist on plans, on a development plan, not just a concept for approval of a number of apartments. When people say this will be a great development, ask how do you know/? can i see it? i think this is the core of my disagreement with the new zoning, it’s site specific quasi-spot zoning, without the details.
Dear Steve, John, and Glenn, thank you for the comments. I am struggling trying to understand this rezoning stuff. I am out of my league with you guys. I am basically a retired old washed up ocean sailor trying to be smart. I can barely read or write. First of all I would like to point out that myself and everyone I know is pro development in the midtown area but we are concerned about traffic on military. To help me I am bringing in guys that are urban planners and traffic experts. I have sent them the PMD ordinances and the PBC Traffic Performance Standards . They took 15 minutes to read and I have been working on them for 3 weeks. They say that the city can’t rezone a PMD in this 2500 unit thing without a TPS(Traffc Performance Standard)report from the county. Also, military is a 4 lane divided 4LD and can’t exceed 3220 cars in peak hour , LOS class D and if does it goes on CRALLS report(huh). Stands for Constrained Roadways at Lower Level Service and city can’t approve a site that will exceed this stuff. There also has to be a buildout period analysis for 5 years out that the traffic engineer has to address. So how can city rezone without above?? I have estimated 650 units from butts road to I95 and now I am being challenge. Steve, John, and Glenn I need help before I do another video. Thanks.
I can’t and won’t comment on specific projects but can hopefully answer your questions.
Your experts are incorrect about the first thing about rezoning without a TPS report. PBC is unique so I don’t fault them for not knowing the rules here. (Heck I’ve been doing this stuff for 30+ years and get surprised myself on occasion). In the City of Boca Raton, when a parcel is proposed to be rezoned or has a proposed change in land use it is subject only to City of Boca Raton standards. That is because a land use change or rezoning doesn’t get you a permit to build as Land Use change and Rezoning are the first step only in the process. These are planning analyses on a local level (city) and not for concurrency and because of that the TPS is not relevant, city code is.
The NW Sector was the first to go thru them PM rezoning. Then the 80 Acres parcel was next. Both of these were rezoned to PM and there was no TPS approval for these rezonings. On the NW Sector I am not aware of any planning analysis, on the 80 Acre there was a planning analysis done and submitted and approved.. That rezoning to PM for both these only gave them the right to move forward to the next step which is submitting for actual development of the property (Site Plan). Each and every Site Plan that is submitted to the city in the NW Sector and the 80 Acres must meet 3 traffic requirements: 1) TPS (PBC), 2) PMD Site Specific Traffic (City) and finally 3) PMD Matrix (City).
So hopefully as you can see, the rezoning is just the first step in a long process and TPS approval is not required at this stage. Should an area be rezoned to PM, then they must still for each site plan submitted, submit TPS, PMD Site Specific and PMD Matrix studies for approval to PBC and the City of Boca Raton.
I would like to support the statements made above from John Donaldson and Glenn Gromann. I have spoken at several community meetings in support of Midtown, which is one of the most exciting Transit Oriented Development (TOD) projects I have seen proposed in South Florida. Glenn is spot-on when he says “The City has two choices get quality development and the tax benefit or do nothing and get the traffic from Delray and unincorporated PBC.” However, there is another alternative: Boca loses it desirability because it doesn’t offer interesting walkable communities that are in high demand. My research has found that rental and home values in TODs has far outpaced averages. See: https://todindex.com/ Studies by the National Association of Realtors and others have found that this where young professionals and baby boomers want to live. And in the 21st century, Fortune 500 companies go to where these young professionals want to live. If Boca chooses to reject Midtown and the concept of TOD, what you are saying is you want to continue to embrace the 1970s and 1980s model of single-family housing and drive-to-everything development. That model has failed and is why traffic is a nightmare. When you mix uses in a walkable, bikable and transit-friendly environment, people do get out of their cars. Read Arthur Nelson’s Reshaping Metropolitan America (https://islandpress.org/book/reshaping-metropolitan-america). He notes that our communities have overbuilt single family homes. Demand is for smaller units and more rentals. TODs present the perfect opportunity to provide this housing choice in a walkable, TOD. I recently authored an article that discusses a paradox. Despite my research above that shows home and rental values on a per SF basis are higher than the average market, housing in TODs are more affordable for two reasons: 1. They are smaller unit sizes thus people are consuming less space and 2. The average household in a TOD saves thousands of dollars per year on transportation costs because they do not drive as much. (See: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/10511482.2016.1193038). Last, I have seen many good TOD projects stall because of fear, which is apparent in many of the posts above. Fort Lauderdale, Delray Beach, West Palm Beach, and increasingly Downtown Lake Worth are all becoming the locations where the young people want to move. These are all TODs. As demand shifts away from Boca, so too will the best jobs, the desirability to live in Boca, and then home values will stagnate and property taxes will increase (as Glenn points out above). You might not see it today, but in 20 years from now, will a status-quo Boca be able to rest on the laurels of the 20th century?
two points, both hopefully will be abided in our approach to this:
1. This idea that it is one person’;s idea to put a 3500 unit cap on new apartments is just the wrong way to argue the point. It was not just Mr Mahjess idea it was the collective wisdom of a deliberative board. the idea may have originated from him, but we voted for it. The thinking then was that after some of these would be built we would take a pause and reflect and analyze where we are and what effect the developments have had, positive or negative. I am aware that we have a built up demand for apartments and I would like to see the infrastructure in place before we over do the new developments.
2. I think we have at least one development that is very much what was envisioned when we spoke of PM developments and others that serve as models for something less than a true TOD. We have Exhibit A and Exhibit B on the same arterial road for your inspection. There are visual differences in that one seems very connected to shopping and retail and very short walkable distances to traverse in contrast to the other which seems like a very attractive apartment building without much noticeable mobility features. hence, the discussion is necessary and the great experiment needed study and a cap was a way of giving us that period of study. A cap, by the way, can be lifted, so to say all future developments will be larger more expensive units is missing the point of the cap entirely.. .:
Mr. Gromann, thank you for pointing out inaccuracies posted here as you are part of that equation. Regarding the Golden Triangle, there was no resistance to development. There was resistance to bad development and not following the buildout plan as presented by Ordinance 4035 and the Downtown Master Plan. Palmetto Promenade violates the spirit and intention of both documents. Further, The Mark, and now Hyatt Place, lack the walkability, connectivity, genuine green space as envisioned by said documents.
Since you have never lived near or in the Golden Triangle, you may like to know that prior to the financial meltdown, property values appreciated significantly before the projects were built or even planned. It is just now that we are getting back to the pricing levels of 2006. It is still a game of location, location, location as opposed to how much unstylistic concrete may be stacked. I maintain that had the original concept been followed our property values would be higher yet as a result of a more attractive and more livable buildout of the downtown.
I will submit my plan for fulfilling the original vision. Some updating needed for sure, but the vision is viable and neeeed now more than ever.
I want to thank Glenn, Steve, and Dr Renne for their in depth analysis of what to do regarding potential over development in Midtown. I pulled Dr Renne’s bio and I am humbled by your background. Oxford, New Orleans, Calgary, etc. You have written more books than I have read in my whole life. Sailors don’t read much. You are a social scientist and most of your works seem to reflect urban things in Europe. 6 months ago I watched your presentation at the Marriot where you said walking and biking was the way of the future. Reduces cancer by 30% along with other stuff. I just have life experiences. In Chicago where I grew up we had a very liberal gov’t build 20 story maybe 20 and talk about using the “EL” think TOD and now they are all being torn down. A social experiment that went bad. Second ex is Denver and Boulder. Denver built high density and Boulder didn’t . Guess which experiment didn’t work and other is a gem. I don’t want boca to be another bad experiment. We are not lab rats. Reasonable sustainable growth is ok after we study possible consequences. There is a new movement spreading thru boca. It is called Midtown Pro 650 as in apartments. Anything over 650 is an experiment which we don’t want any part of. I would love to debate you. Your books versus my life experiences. I am willing to learn. Help me understand. Stay involved. We will all listen. We are not Neanderthals . Maybe old and stupid though. LOL. Thanks for your comments.
Jeez guys, it’s not always about money! All those tired arguments about tax revenue and rents and home values have been used for decades to justify all kinds of development, good and bad. Boca is swimming in money! Can’t we find another justification? TODs and PMDs may have their place, but so do good old fashioned suburbs. In my mind, zoning changes, variances, and exceptions should be approved by the people who are most impacted by the changes – the existing residents!
Mr. McWalter, Thanks for your kind note (although I have never been to or had any affiliation with Calgary). Creating a walkable, transit-friendly TOD is about two things: 1. a critical mass of residents and activities – the Midtown area has a critical mass of activities but not many residents live in the area (which creates a lot of traffic because people have to drive to access the jobs and shopping) 2. a vital component is to create a walkable, inviting environment that encourages walking and minimizes driving – this is what the community should be focusing on, instead of capping residential density to 650 units. Regarding 650 units – who came up with that number? It is fundamentally flawed for the following reason: According to this study (http://www.fdot.gov/planning/trends/special/nhts.pdf) the average household in our area generates about 12,000 Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMTs) per year. 650 units in the Midtown area would not be enough of a critical mass to create a TOD so you can expect that 650 units x 12,000 VMTs would = 7,800,000 total VMTs in the area. A scientific study of TOD and non-TOD households conducted by researchers at the University of Utah of developments across the United States found that TOD residents, on average, travel 57% fewer daily vehicle trips, which is 5,160 VMTs per household, per year. Here’s the crux, you need the density to have a critical mass for a TOD. So if you divide 7,800,000 by 5,160 = 1,511 units. So if you are willing to allow 650 units, you are saying that you are willing to accept an additional 7.8 million new VMTs in your community. By this logic, you then should be willing to accept 1,500 units in the Midtown area because it would not generate any additional traffic, provided the urban design allows for a walkable TOD environment.
One more thing: TOD residents generate even less traffic during peak hours than non-TOD households because they self-select to live in the TOD for access to jobs via walking, biking and transit. You can expect that 7,800,000 VMTs generated by 650 units would actually clog up the streets more during rush hours because people are driving to/from work. Thus TOD residents are generating their 7,800,000 miles more at times of they day when they are using the car for recreation trips, such as the evenings and weekends, when traffic is not as bad. Thus even the 7,800,000 VMTs created by the proposed 1,511 units in my example would create less traffic and actually improve road conditions. This is the fundamental premise behind the PMD zoning and found in John McDondald’s traffic models. And, I have not even seen his models, so my numbers may be off, but my numbers are based on national averages. Mr. McDonald’s models are based on local conditions and are more accurate than my examples here. I’m just using these examples for illustrative purposes.
Good evening Dr. Renne, I read with great interest your comments that clearly demonstrate the complexity of this subject matter. Yours is an important voice with knowledge way beyond the average person’s comprehension. Jack McWalter works very hard within the old “KISS” formula; Keep It Simple Silly”. His last missive demonstrates the frustration we feel in our effort to inform the general public on the quality of life issues effecting them daily. Perhaps you, I and Jack could get together for coffee to discuss how we, together, can provide greater insight and understanding to the BocaWatch readership, a readership that is weary of the double speak received from all the experts, lobbyists and attorneys. My contact information is email@example.com and my phone number is 561-644-1665. I look forward to meeting you. Thank you for participating in this important debate.
Al Zucaro, Publisher
Dr Renne, call me Jack. Now you have gone and done it. Here at Boca Watch we have been trying to keep it simple. Can you imagine trying to explain PMD’s to boca residents. Now you have open the barn door. with TOD’d,LOS’s, NHTS,Nat Household Travel Survey’s,MSA’s,Metro Statistical Area’s, and VMT’s Vehicle Miles Traveled and on and on. I am not happy with you because now we have to explain all this stuff to our viewers. Can you picture me in a video trying to explain how you divided 5160 into 7. 8 million and got 1511 units that should go into 50 acres around midtown. huh. Than you said that 650 boxes will clog traffic since to many VMT’s but 1511 boxes would generate less traffic because less VMT’s. I must be an idiot. How does twice as many people and cars cause half as many VMT’s even thou double. Throw all this on top of trying to explain 59 pages of traffic regs for military trail along with county concurrency regs on top of trying to explain the matrix that the city put together to justfy a PMD or Planned Mobility Development that no one in boca believes is legit or understands. Dr you do know that after your above comments I will get maybe 50 emails,phone calls ,and stops at Publix with “what is this VMT stuff”. “How come no one told me above that”. LOL. True. You are trying to create a village where everything one needs is in the area. Work,play,,get food, on and on. Thank you for contributing. Please stay involved and help us understand. Oh,you asked how we got the 650 number. I took my grandkids on a bike tour 5 to 8 and they came up with the number. LOL. Just maybe sort of kidding.
Al, I’d be happy to meet. I’m on campus at FAU in Boca most days. Jack – the data is the data. While it may seem counter-intuitive that 1,500 units in a TOD setting produces less rush hour traffic congestion than 650 units in a suburban setting, that is simply truth, based on data of tens of thousands of households travel behaviors across hundreds of locations. The research undergoes peer-review from other experts in the field to ensure the credibility. I’d be happy to meet with you and Al so we can try to better explain it in layman’s terms.
Here is a video of the former Transportation Commissioner of New York City talk about some important lessons that anyone should be able to understand. The topic does not exactly address the debates above regarding density and traffic. However, you don’t get any place on the planet more dense than Times Square in Manhattan. Creating a successful TOD for Boca should deploy most of these same lessons. TED talk: Planes, trains and automobiles
This should be a direct link to the video: https://www.ted.com/talks/janette_sadik_khan_new_york_s_streets_not_so_mean_any_more
The discussion on the topic of Planned Mobility Zoning has been I think, for the most part, a much needed discussion. The topic is complex, by its nature, and something not capable of being overly enlightening in a blog setting, being so limited in space and absent contextual details. I urge everyone to google the term exurb and you will find a wealth of information which will give contextual background to the topic. Also, some historical background is important. Boca Raton, a half century ago put in place a suburban land use code designed to maintain many features of suburban life, but mainly to prevent the type of sprawling chaos we have seen in our neighbors to the south, both municipalities and counties. Many measures were adopted including purchasing beach front.land, putting a cap on population growth and creating a code with systems in place to insure against over development. The reality is that Boca has always stood up to the challenges of growth and placed structures in place to manage growth wisely. Some have worked well, others have been the subjects of referendums and population caps, which resulted in lawsuits and a mixed bag of results, not just in Courts, but also at the ballot box all of which is now being debated openly, which in the long run produces the best results. If we can learn and listen, there may be progress. My main point and I don’t want this point to be lost in the discussion is that this time the debate on PM was handled differently than any debate ever before. The planning sessions were in private, and not in the sunshine. The meetings which undoubtedly took place between the development community and the city’s management were secretive and by the time they came to council and the planning and zoning board the “cake was already cooked” and there was incremental feeling out going on such that what began as a concept that everyone seemed to support in principle, but were waiting for the details to be formulated. Known to some, but not by most, was that the decision had already been predetermined. Instead we ended up passing what is in effect the largest rezoning in the City’s history, without being shown the details and even having the architects of the rezoning be known developers instead of deliberative boards. This happened primarily because of lobbying and because for the first time in our cities history the management of our city decided it was best to keep secret the ultimate promoters and beneficiaries of the rezoning. These beneficiaries had been standing in li9ne waiting for this, but not as applicants for rezoning but as unnanmed planners and promoters of the rezoning. The realization that this was done in this dark manner is my central argument one that no one can dare refute. I hope we continue the debate. Moreso, I hope we never see our city government function in such darkness again. Again, I am much obliged to the planners and design professionals who know more than anyone about their respective fields. Their contributions to this very special city are incalculable. they are first and foremost the architects of our past and future success as a community. It’s time we got moving forward, BUT in the sunshine.and with the type of open discussion we are now having.Please!
Thanks , I have recently been looking for info about this subject for a long time and yours
is the best I have discovered till now. However, what
about the conclusion? Are you certain in regards to the supply?