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On April 8, 2019 the Camino Square project comes back before the CRA after previously being recommended by City Staff for approval before the CRA and after receiving votes of approval by both P&Z and the CAB. Even though this project is vested for traffic concurrency I hear that the applicant has some positive traffic fixes for the Camino and Dixie intersection.
As with all things development related–A funny thing happened with this project on the way to the CRA: Politics!
So true to form, on January 7th, after long winded and unsolicited rendition by the City Attorney on her (meaningless and improper) interpretation of ‘substantial competent’ testimony, you guessed it, the matter was pushed to April 8th following an all-day hearing which centered around traffic. (See the January 7th CRA meeting’s first 15 minutes)
The City Attorney basically was coaching the CRA members on how and what to vote. This on a project that has literally been before the City for almost five (5) years and having been resubmitted as a “new application” at least twice.
And as to BocaWatch?
In the interim, BocaWatch has moved from the cliché of ‘resident friendly’ to the posture of ‘resident responsible’ by looking to highlight things that the City Council could do better and the ever-growing set of litigation risks that put taxpayers in jeopardy. This positional change has been met with criticism arguing that BocaWatch is supposed to oppose ALL development regardless of the facts and circumstances.
Certainly, it appears that some ‘copycat’ voices feel that way; that everything should be made to be a conspiracy with greedy developers at the center of things. Others, who have criticized BocaWatch as the boogeyman, are upset that they may not have a convenient target anymore. Imagine being critical by saying BocaWatch is hypocritical for now doing what some said BocaWatch should have been doing all along; simply being more objective.
And now, the Project at Hand—Camino Square
The Camino Square project is the latest and next opportunity to get the City mired in another multi-million-dollar lawsuit. I hope the City bond counsel is following all this carefully.
This article will show that the City Attorney’s aggressive legal strategy is all based on politics. With weak leadership, this manipulative City Attorney and some on City Council who oppose ALL development no matter what regardless of what legal liability it creates. After all the City Council members will never have to pay the judgments or the legal fees—the taxpayers will.
Why do we have a CRA if we don’t want to Redevelop Blighted Properties?
The Camino Square project is in subarea G of the CRA and the DDRI. DDRI stands for Downtown Development of Regional Impact. The project comprises 9.1 acres of a closed down partly fenced off retail shopping center of 75,954 sq. ft. This center was built in—yes–1965; some 54 years ago.
The purpose of the CRA and of Ordinance 4035, the enabling ordinance creating the CRA, was to redevelop blighted properties. The Camino Square property with no tenants is arguably the most blighted property to exist in the Downtown. It borders areas where the City originally had its sober home issues. If you read my article on “Favored Developers” it would seem that the applicant here (KIMCO, a NYSE Company, and FCI the residential wing of Florida Crystals) certainly are not ‘favored developers’ in the eyes of the City Attorney, the City Administration, and the City Council.
And why is that? Nearby competition? Some other bias?
Needless to say, the City has pushed this applicant to the brink for years; a sure-fire guaranteed recipe for litigation. There was and is no plausible reason for the Staff to have recommended against approving the project to the P&Z Board. That’s just an objective fact.
The Question No One Asks—But Where there Is an Answer…
The question no one ever asks is WHY did staff not recommend approval of the Camino Square project to P&Z?
The Answer is very simple—they were TOLD to not recommend. Development Services has no independent authority to make recommendations. Development Services are simply TOLD what to do by the City Manager and City Attorney, who set the policy direction from our elected officials; the CRA members and City Council members are the same people—thus no one questions anything as to the ”why”.
Sources tell me that in the matter of Camino Square, the City Staff had learned from the outside consultant that the project meets all the requirements of Ordinance 4035. While the staff had been successful one time in thwarting this project by manufacturing a phony (traffic) safety issue, the lack of an affirmative recommendation did not work the second time around.
Camino Square Project Particulars:
There are no variances or technical deviations of any kind requested; all open space requirements are met or exceeded; all parking is to full code (unlike some other Downtown projects with ULI based parking technical deviations). The project is 77’ at its highest point (100’ permitted) and is pushed back against the railroad tracks. Based on the 9+acres site, this residential development will be one of the lowest density projects in the entirety of the Downtown; to wit: 350 units which comes to a little more than 38 units per acre while Tower 155 has 164 units on 1.25 acres or 131 units per acre.
So, what was the problem?
Apparently, nothing. After Staff recommended denial to P&Z, they recommend approval to the CRA. Really? Since nothing changed (other than the P&Z vote) and since no facts changed, why did the recommendation change? No reason other than it should have been a positive recommendation in the first place.
The plot thickens.
I am unaware during my time here in the City where a P&Z recommendation was changed in this manner—Did someone know something that needed fixing?
So, what happened leading up to the First CRA hearing? You guessed it. Politics!
Both Mayor Singer and Councilwoman O’Rourke, who announced that she is considering running for Mayor in March 2020, sent out dueling ‘informational’ e-mails on this project after it was conveniently ‘not properly advertised.’ Randy Schulz got his usual ‘seed story’ out and a relatively new phenomenon and purveyor of misinformation, ‘Nextdoor’, was ‘whipping up’ a controversy about ‘massive high-rise projects’ centering mostly on traffic issues. It was clear that the January CRA meeting was going to be a “traffic” telethon. It was!!!
Talking Traffic—DDRI —Those Pesky Facts!
It is an incontrovertible fact that traffic concurrency for this development is vested in the DDRI. The fact that the City decided in 2014 to waive Ordinance 4035’s required roadway improvements to the Camino/Dixie intersection is neither the fault of the applicant or the residents.
Notwithstanding the same, I attended almost every City Council meeting in 2016-18 and can remember hearing many general traffic complaints. However, I do not recall any resident specifically coming to a meeting and complaining about the pre-existing traffic conditions specifically at the Dixie/Camino intersection. Perhaps Dan Grippo, the former head of Public Works, could fill us in on that– but he seems to have disappeared; reportedly relieved of his position for poor performance. Really???
Where did he go and why?
Furthermore, I am unaware that anyone came forth and opposed the City’s not completing the intersection improvements which was heard before the CRA in 2014. Again it will be pretty hard for the City to argue from a legal standpoint before a Circuit Court Judge about the looming traffic issues the City itself caused.
City Attorney Talking Traffic—Competent Testimony?
As part of this story I note a relatively new or expanded phenomenon of the City Attorney offering unsolicited ‘testimony’ in the form of her opinions (more like jury instructions) on what is or is not ‘substantial competent testimony’. Another recent demonstration of the City Attorney’s interference was on an auto display room on Yamato Road at the last City Council meeting.
The City Attorney is not a land use expert nor an expert on ‘substantial competent testimony’. Her opinions are just that–opinions and should be disregarded. The City Attorney represents the City and the City Council as an interested party in all quasi-judicial hearing. Judges decide what is ‘substantial competent testimony’ not City Attorneys. Most of what she said was prejudicial and improper. All of what she said will be disregarded in a reviewing court as attorney comments are not evidence under the prevailing quasi-judicial case law.
It is quite clear that the unelected City Attorney is trying to set policy for the City Council, the city’s policy making body by inappropriately and improperly instructing the CRA members into arriving at her desired vote result; a result of NO approval. By taking these aggressive litigation producing strategies, the City Attorney is also generating significant revenue for her potential future employer who is being handsomely compensated by numerous frivolous city litigations.
New Developments in Advance of April 8th
It has now come to my attention that the City will ‘rescind’ the Staff recommendation for ‘Approval’ of the project. This after the applicant, as expected, has put together corrective traffic solutions for the intersection as was their stated intent. I have never seen staff change a recommendation basically for one meeting to the next?
So, what happened? Again, Politics with more than a bit of deception!
The City already understands that the applicant is going to file a lawsuit if the project is not approved as it should be. The City is also aware the applicant has vested DDRI traffic rights even realizing that the City, itself, caused complained of Dixie/Camino intersection problem.
So, what to do?
Right out of the City Attorney’s playbook, you invent some sort of subjective problem that actually does not exist (such as walkability or requiring a heightened standard of review not contained in the prevailing ordinance) and claim that the Office Equivalent (OE) conversions are discretionary when in the entire history of the CRA and Ordinance 4035 such a conversion has never been denied under these circumstances.
In other words, a plaintiff’s litigation dream come true; but why make a ‘winner of a lawsuit’ even easier with a recommendation? Even the average land use litigator and, certainly, a Circuit Judge will see right through this subterfuge.
But…the plot thickens…
Redevelopment Through Litigation?
I had occasion to speak to sources that had knowledge of City development practices including the days prior to the CRA. These folks also go back to the early days of the current City Attorney and City Manager. I was surprised to learn a theory and explanation applied which certainly fits in with the conspiracy theorists out there.
So here goes. I was told that in periods of weak leadership the first policy of the City was to delay and stall projects sometimes merely because either the City Attorney or City Manager did not like them. That certainly appears true here. The second thing I was told and even more shocking is something that the opponents of this project in Camino Gardens should clearly understand–That whomever is behind this legal strategy is merely setting the elected officials up for a “No” vote so they, the elected officials, don’t have to make a hard decision knowing that the courts will most likely resolve this in favor of the developer preferably AFTER the March 2020 Mayor and Council elections.
Hence, ‘Development Through Litigation.’
Under this theory the Midtown lawsuits will be miraculously resolved just after next March’s Council election. Sound crazy? We shall see.
Along with the matters noted above, I am also advised by reliable sources that some CRA members are no longer ‘allowed’ to meet with any applicant involved in a development project unless the City Attorney is with them as a ”minder”. This being the result of the Concierge age-discrimination disaster of inexperienced policy makers uttering foolishness on the official record and again putting the City in legal jeopardy. Say what you want about this monitoring, requested or not, it is clear these CRA members, who are public figures, do not have the confidence to even hold a meeting without an attorney’s hand holding.
Frightening to say the least.
The AUSA and State Attorney Handbook:
As a side note, I leave you with some parting thoughts. Many prosecuting agencies have a list of red flags related to potential public corruption. While many of these red flags are innocuous and have no direct meaning or guarantee of any illegal behavior, public corruption prosecutors look at some of things on the following list:
- Weak, decentralized, part time leadership: Boca Raton has a weak Mayor system where the elected officials are part time employees, some with full time jobs in the private sector. Boca Raton has no Independent CRA; the City Council members are the same as the CRA members. Weak leadership includes inordinate delay and hour’s long discussions on mundane topics brought before council/CRA.
- Prior recent corruption: Mayor Haynie comes to mind with many of the actors she interacted with still in the City both in public and private employment or otherwise; to wit: the City Attorney and the Administration. Former Mayor Haynie’s case remains unresolved and it is certainly plausible the former Mayor is a cooperating witness in the circumstances of this pending 5-year old application.
- Long Term ingrained upper management: The City Attorney and City Manager have been with the City with no turnover for nearly 20+ years. The Deputy City Manager for well over 30 years.
- No independent system or checks and balances or reviews for these key employees: The City Manager and City Attorney basically review themselves in an informal non-independent manner. Development Services is under direction of City Manager and has no independent authority to make final recommendations.
- Sudden and generally unexplained departures of key personnel: Over the years to include Jorge Camejo, John Hixenbaugh, Ty Harris, Dan Grippo and others.
- An inordinate number of lawsuits, and prior history of losing lawsuits: The City is currently deluged with numerous lawsuits. Most of these lawsuits center around development. Although recent filed complaints revolve around alleged Public Records Requests violations; alleged Sunshine Law violations; and complaints arguing for the City to take the actions the law and ordinances require.
- A history of retaliation against whistle-blowers.
- A charged political climate: Boca Raton has a charged political climate exacerbated by direct attempts to stir up residents and others by using social media and other means at agitation.
As was suggested in my recent article reviewing the alleged Sunshine Law violations brought by Crocker Partners and will also be suggested in a forthcoming article reviewing the pending Public Records Request complaint alleging improper practices by the City in fulfilling requests; requests that the State Ethics Commission, the State Attorney’s Public Corruptions Unit and the Florida Bar be brought in to evaluate the City’s practices and procedures; practices and procedures that permeate in the bowels of Boca Raton’s City Hall.
The City Council is the representative body responsible for protecting the Public Trust. Do your job!!!
The Council failed to do their job in the former Mayor Haynie situation. Now, the City Administration and the City Attorney are out of control…. The council has an obligation to get this under control.
To the elected officials:
If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.
The residents demand it and the law requires it….
Publisher – BocaWatch