22 Oct 2019 Crocker Partners Drops Midtown Plans, Pursues $137 Million Damages Lawsuit
This article was originally published by Al Zucaro on BocaWatch.org, preserved here now for historical purposes.
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Publisher’s Comment: Not only have the City’s actions or lack thereof caused Midtown’s missed opportunity, the City Council has, in effect, caused actual and reputation damage in the present. Greater roadway congestion is a guarantee with the City’s sale of the Boca Muni Golf Course to GL Homes, who has announced density plans for over 550 units on the site; density that will contribute negatively to the already failed roadway of Glades Road without contributing one cent in tax revenues to the taxpayers of the City of Boca Raton. Sears is already vacant with the conversation for future use suggesting increased residential density, the one item that caused the Crocker missed opportunity. And, finally, just this week, Macy’s announced plans for a 10,000 sq.ft. discount merchandise application within its current space, a space that was once the premier shopping experience in Boca Raton; to wit: Town Center Mall. Incredibly disappointing outcomes orchestrated collectively by the entire City Council, current and past, but, in large part, orchestrated individually by Mayor Scott Singer and Councilmember Andrea O’Rourke. Opposition to Midtown has been a lose, lose circumstance. Boca Raton residents suffer all the downside outcomes and none of the upside benefits….Way to go City Council!!! Al Zucaro, Publisher
BOCA RATON, FL. – Crocker Partners, whose prominent mixed-use and office developments helped shape the City of Boca Raton over three decades, announced it will no longer pursue redevelopment plans for the Midtown Boca area. The company, however, will continue its claim for $137 million in damages from the City under Florida’s Bert Harris Act, with an appeal filed on October 15, 2019 by Henry Handler of Weiss, Handler & Cornwell, PA.
The company has discontinued two other lawsuits against the City since the remedies sought in those cases are moot with Midtown plans blocked by City Council. The first sought to have the court compel City Council to adopt updated development regulations, as required under the City’s 2010 Comprehensive Plan amendment designating Midtown as a Planned Mobility District (PMD). The second suit requested that ordinances passed by City Council in violation of the Sunshine Act and which precluded residential development, be invalidated.
“After trying to work with City Council for four years, revitalizing Midtown is off the table — a tremendous missed opportunity for the City and the community,” said Angelo Bianco, Crocker Partners Managing Partner. He noted that the overall redevelopment plan for Midtown, representing private sector investment exceeding $1 billion, would have transformed 300 acres of 1980s-era, strictly commercial projects into a cohesive, walkable, amenity-rich, live, work and play environment, while reducing traffic with new transit options and positioning the area for the future.
“City Council has made it clear that despite the Comprehensive Plan’s vision for Midtown, revitalizing the area is not of interest to it. Council members never even responded to proposals made nearly a year ago to resolve the dispute with Crocker Partners,” said Handler.
“All we ever asked of the City Council was to fulfill its legal responsibility to put updated zoning regulations in place so that we and other Midtown landowners could bring projects forward, still subject to the full approval process,” Bianco said. “Instead, City Council refused to adopt new state-required zoning regulations, in effect creating a building moratorium, which led to the damages lawsuit. City Council would not even adopt the mixed-use recommendations made by the outside consultant hired by the City to evaluate development of Midtown. When the consultant’s independent mixed-use vision did not match City Council’s regressive building moratorium policies, they fired him.”
Bianco said the opportunity to take a big picture, collaborative approach to the area’s future has passed. At the City’s request, Crocker Partners in 2015 brought together a coalition of Midtown landowners to draft proposed land use regulations for City Council’s consideration. The group did so, in line with the Comprehensive Plan, and patterned regulations after those adopted in 2015 for the City’s first PMD, the Arvida Park of Commerce. Now, given City Council’s inaction, those other land owners, including Trademark, owner of Glades Plaza; Cypress Realty, owner of Strikes and Nippers, and Town Center Mall’s Simon Properties, have also moved on with plans to individually redevelop or sell properties, he explained.
“It’s puzzling why City Council, led by Mayor Scott Singer and Councilmember Andrea O’Rouke, chose a diversionary strategy with the outside consultant and then disregarded his development insights rather than come to the table directly with a landowner with a track record of working amicably with the City,” said Handler. “Our clients call Boca Raton home, have helped shape the City’s quality of life and invested heavily in its future. With Midtown Boca, Crocker Partners was ready to do so again.”
Crocker Partners’ currently owns Boca Raton properties valued at $750 million, including Boca Center, which was to be the centerpiece of Midtown, One Town Center and The Plaza, also in Midtown, as well as the nearby One Boca Place.
The City’s Comprehensive Plan amendment designating Midtown Boca as a PMD recognized the need for a residential component and revitalization. The landowners’ conceptual plan called for high quality housing allowing people to live near work, millions of dollars in new infrastructure funded by the landowners, plus alternative modes of transportation and pedestrian-friendly improvements making it easier to get to and around Midtown and take cars off the road.
Without well planned, future-looking redevelopment of the area, Bianco said, Boca will be less competitive and Midtown will fall short of its potential, with aging infrastructure, stagnant tax revenues, and lacking viable solutions to the area’s existing traffic congestion.
Bianco noted that the City’s inaction may have a ripple effect. “What is the impact on Boca’s economy and future opportunities if investors and property owners can’t be confident in the City’s process and count on the City to meet its legal responsibilities?” he said. “The Midtown process has been costly to all sides, not least of all to the City’s taxpayers. Taking the legal route was the last thing we wanted to do but the City left us no choice.”