Boca Raton Visioning – 2017 – More of the Same!


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At last week’s Boca Lead luncheon, Pastor Mitchell delivered a talk on the topic of the ‘Six scales to Map Team Building’.  Unfortunately, Boca Raton’s elected officials were not present to benefit from this topic.  Under the banner of “Canoeing the Mountains”, he covered 6 topics; Communicating, Evaluating, Leading, Trusting, Disagreeing, and Deciding.  All these are important to demonstrate characteristics of ‘leaders’ but, for this comment, only the ‘Deciding’ element will be explored.

Two personality types were defined for the ‘Deciding’ category; to wit: ‘Consensus’ and ‘Top-Down’.  Consensus was defined as ‘Decisions that are made in groups through unanimous agreement’.   Top-Down was defined as ‘Decisions that are made by individuals (usually the boss).

Perhaps in jest, Pastor Mitchell quipped that ‘consensus’ decision making is where, generally speaking, nothing gets done.  With this statement, I fully agree and if you were to witness the interaction by our elected officials at their visioning session, you would also have to agree.

Only attending the Thursday afternoon session, I observed the following three topics; to wit:

  • 20th Street Corridor;
  • Midtown Boca
  • City Hall Campus Plan;

With these, there are common denominators.

All are currently land use applications subject to the Zoning regulations; all are currently deferred to outside third party consultants; all have been actively discussed for years; and, all are items that the ‘marketplace’ should determine the ‘highest and best’ use.

But I digress….Back to the topics discussed.

20th Street Corridor…..This item has been a subject at previous visioning sessions with little results to date.  Currently there is ‘consultant’ contract in place to give the local government a government solution to a ‘marketplace’ issue.  Of course there is no guarantee that the land owner/developer will follow the government solution.  The ‘marketplace’ will be the deciding factor and elected officials only influence the ‘marketplace’ through regulations that recognize the needs of the private sector and, in this case, with the input from Florida Atlantic University.

Indicated at the visioning session was an on-going conversation with the leaders of FAU.  If that is actually happening, very little was offered as to the status of those discussions.  Former Councilmember Constance Scott, now representing FAU, did speak; her remarks were couched in the future tense with little insight into what has been agreed upon or what is currently being implemented.  ‘Consensus’ with the University leadership, the City Council, and the private sector has not been achieved; a perfect example of ‘nothing getting done’.

Midtown Boca….here there is a bit of a different problem.  Here the issue is that the land use regulations in place are archaic and left over from the annexation of the geography from Palm Beach County decades ago.

To his credit, the City’s new Director of Development Services, when asked for an opinion, proffered that leadership for this project needs to come from the City.  Leadership in the form of the zoning ordinance crafted to insure the City’s needs are addressed; an ordinance that insures  to not allow resident unfriendly outcomes to somehow fall through the cracks.

City Hall Campus Master Plan…another topic that can easily be decided by the ‘marketplace’ for ‘highest and best’ use.  Private sector is so much better at land use design than five elected officials who lack the tools to make complex land design decisions of this magnitude.

For this project, I draw on my experience in West Palm Beach during the formative days of CityPlace.  CityPlace was conceived by issuing a challenge to the private sector that asked them to submit proposals on creative outcomes to develop a ‘new’ downtown attraction.  The geography was approximately 50 acres with criteria to include the preservation and conversion of the Methodist Church into a performing arts center; a setting based in part on ‘New Urban’ principles and the great open spaces found in city centers around the world; the inclusion of a hotel and entertainment center to service Palm Beach County’s Convention Center and the providing of a plan for the private and public sector financing options available.

Boca Raton can easily use a similar method.  First, clearly identify the geography, a  geography that is suggested to be 30 acres + or – ; second, clearly identify the uses that must be incorporated into the geography; and, finally, ask the private sector to submit proposals on what plan they would envision to capture the needs of our government; their private sector needs; and the financing opportunities including a tax increment financing split to incentivize private sector to underwrite the risk/reward calculation in a public private partnership solution.

As a final note on this subject….A campus is just that…a campus.  None of our elected officials and I suggest none of the City staff are equipped to design the most efficient use of available land into a campus design.  Private sector is better at that…Land developers are best at this.  Developers are available that are ‘ready willing and able’ to plan such a campus based in large part on old fashion incentives; to wit: opportunity and profit, the major motivators.

In conclusion, the ‘marketplace’ must be the ultimate decider.  Let it work….

Let the private sector tell the government what it needs and then oversee government to provide the framework for the private sector to proceed.

‘Consensus’ is the hallmark of the Boca Raton government structure.  I am not a fan of ‘consensus’ governing as compared to a ‘Top-Down’ structure…but there is a middle ground. There is a way to short circuit the pitfalls of ‘consensus’ government.

Leaders lead!

Perhaps, an individual Councilmember could be appointed to navigate with outside interests to determine what the ‘marketplace’ will support; perhaps, that individual councilmember would keep the Council informed at critical decision points for direction and guidance; and, perhaps that Councilmember would be best able to safeguard residents’ interests while balancing the ‘marketplace’ demands for ‘highest and best’ use.

Just a creative suggestion….Back to the beginning….Visioning or lack thereof….

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