Different Perspectives on Development

BocaWatch received the following from a reader…


Developers vs. Residents:  An Alternate View


The City: That geographical area legally recognized as The City of Boca Raton (Woodfield Country Club is in the City)
The Residents: Those people living in The City
Rules Making Group: The City Council
Referees: The City Council
The Western Suburbs: That area of the City lying west of (you pick the North-South Road)
The Eastern Suburbs:  That area of the City lying east of the Intracoastal


When people ask me where I am from, I say “Boston”. I never lived in Boston, but it is easier on the conversation than if I named the small suburb. The town was small, somewhat quaint, had great schools, a few supermarkets, a few nice places to eat and easy going traffic. But, when I wanted to see a “show”, go to a museum and see the Monets, eat great food, we travelled the 20-25 minutes to Boston. Boston had high rises, heavy traffic, high density, congestion. It was wonderful, and at the end of the day we went back to the burbs. There were lots of residents in Boston. They chose to live there for myriad of reasons, none of which I subscribed to.


Time marches on, and with it comes development. I wonder what “the residents” thought when it was decided to build a mall on land formerly a bean field? From Palm Beach County History Online: http://www.pbchistoryonline.org/page/august-h-butts


“The Butts Farms land stretched from Interstate 95 to Florida’s Turnpike on both sides of Glades Road. The family sold most of it in the 1960s, when farming became less profitable. Arvida Corporation purchased much of it. The bean fields were replaced by projects such as Town Center Mall, Royal Oak Hills, and Boca Square. Butts Road runs along the east side of Town Center as a tribute to the family’s contribution to the local economy.”


I am quite sure that all recognized that this would forever change Boca Raton. I am sure that some looked at the change positively and some negatively.


The current opinions on this web site seems to opine that there are two sides to the current issue in downtown Boca. The Residents and the Developers. Is it possible that there is a third opinion? Residents in favor of high density? Residents who look forward to the increase in business that all of the “new residents” (downtown) will bring. I cannot say for sure, but feel that if I walked the entire ‘downtown’ only talking to ‘legitimate’ city residents that inhabit all of the small businesses that populate ‘downtown’ a very high percentage are in favor of the higher density (and increased business) that will occur.


Why, you ask, do these people not make their voices heard? Why don’t they wear colored shirts? Why don’t they crowd the chambers? Because historically in our great country, the minority, seeking change, are activists, the majority not so much so.


There are three distinct areas of Boca Raton. The eastern suburbs (east of the Intracoastal), the Western suburbs (west of the line under ‘definitions’) and the downtown itself. Each has its own wants, likes and dislikes.  The eastern suburbs are all high rise, high density, and contain some of the most valuable real estate “in Boca”. The Western suburbs are less dense, less high rise. Downtown will consist of higher density rentals, and condominiums.


I think that to lump all residents together, and to indicate that our wishes and concerns are not being heard presents a credibility gap. Get over it We are going to have high density, traffic and all of the other attributes of a “city”. To many this is good!


For the record. I live East of Federal Highway. My development abuts Via Mizner. I hate the building, I hate The Mark, I dislike what is happening, but I am a pragmatist. I have choices. I can move back to the burbs, or choose to live in the City. If we want vibrant commerce in the city, we must accept progress. Keeping the ‘old’ Boca would continue the destruction of a vibrant business community. Or we can level everything and plant beans.

-Joseph Borrow (Boca Raton Resident)




Growth in Boca Raton: The Undeniable Truth

Some things in life are undeniable. One such thing is the certainty of population growth in Florida that stretches into the foreseeable future. With this unrelenting trend in place, forward thinking communities in our state have developed plans to accommodate the new residents. But the planning should not end there. It is an advantage to create or evolve into the type of community that attracts businesses that in turn lead to sustainable economic growth.


We are confident and  proud, in stating that our City has a history of doing this well. Boca offers excellent recreational amenities, beautiful neighborhoods, outstanding educational facilities, opportunities for businesses and the entrepreneur, and a first responder force second to none in our state. All these things are cornerstones that collectively separate Boca from many other communities and these are also the reasons so many of us live here. So what could go wrong? The answer is poor planning or deviation from what is an established, good plan.


The Reasons Why There is a Current Citizen Outcry

For those who have paid close attention to the happenings at City Hall since the Great Recession, you may be aware that plans put into place prior to 2009; be it the Comprehensive Plan which covers the entire City, or the Downtown Master Plan have significantly and systematically been altered and we are only now beginning to experience the impact of these decisions. As building projects come out of the ground we can see, sometimes shockingly, that we have gone in a direction that was not intended less than eight years ago. Supporters of this change will argue that plans need to change with the times. While there is merit in that statement there is also the reality that the true beneficiaries of these changes were almost entirely the development community or property owners, not the residents.


There are numerous examples of this but for brevity sake we will highlight two such instances: 1) Our City created Ordinance 4035 which was passed by voter referendum in 1992. The Ordinance contained within it an allocation of development rights for various subsectors of our downtown with a one-hundred-foot height limitation. Through various subsequent ordinances our City Council, through the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) has reallocated development rights to other areas, which is creating an imbalance of development within the downtown. 2) Our Downtown Master Plan and companion Pattern Book, when created, called for Palmetto Park Rd and Federal Highway as being the only location for a “Landmark Building” which was defined as a height of one-hundred-forty-feet plus twenty. Through subsequent amendment to the Plan the area for the larger buildings was increased significantly to a “core area” of downtown with a limitation requiring a 2.0 acre parcel of land. Subsequent to that, the two acre limitation was reduced to 1.25 acres in order to accommodate a specific project for a Boca insider. This was effectual “spot zoning”. We now have three “Landmark Buildings” built or under way, another already approved, two additional in the approval process and five more in the planning stages.


We cite these cases for this reason: In each of the above, the original plans had citizen involvement. One by referendum and one through a well publicized Charette process. However, after the fact, influential members of the development community have been able to shape the intended course of development to their liking. It is also noteworthy to point out that our current Mayor along with former Councilmember Constance Scott travelled to Tallahassee to lobby for eliminating the citizen’s right to participate in development decisions through the referendum process. This leaves citizen input reduced to your five minutes at the microphone during public hearings where in most cases the citizen voice is virtually meaningless.


What is the Real Discussion?

In politics participants like to frame the narrative to marginalize an opponent. Make no mistake about it . . . in Boca Raton, development issues are political, and at the present time Land Use Attorneys and their clients control the political process. The development community tactic has been to categorize voices that have an opinion about any development issue as; anti-growth, anti-development, naysayers, NIMBY’s, etc. They love to use the name calling to marginalize a concern. Also, narratives are used such as; “The new residents are coming and we need to provide for them” or “We are simply building out the plan that was conceived years ago”.


We submit to you that the residents of Boca overwhelmingly want growth and development to occur but would prefer a lower density approach to minimize the potential for paralyzing traffic and other ills. We also submit that we have no mandate to build abundantly for the oncoming wave of people. Sometimes, less is best and following what was originally planned would help preserve the quality of life and enhance our reputation as a special place. We further submit that if development projects were presented without variances, without technical deviations, without changes to the rules project-by-project, there would be no citizen outcry. Let’s build, but let’s build quality projects according to the intended rules.


Finally, we end with the rhetorical question of “When will the development discussion in our City begin to focus genuinely on quality of life issues that affect residents rather than the granting of additional development rights beyond which developer/landowners are entitled per City Code?






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