The sky’s the limit, and judging by the recent explosion of high rise condos and hotels in Boca Raton’s downtown area, you could be right.
Whether you are Old Boca or New Boca you may have an opinion concerning our recent growth spurt, but how high is too high?
Does our code put limits on commercial heights anywhere within city?
The answer is yes. According to code the limit for commercial buildings abutting single family residential homes is 30 feet.
However, for residents living in the B1 and R2 districts of Boca Raton, fifty years of compliance was shattered when an anomaly in the code resulted in the granting of a variance of 40+ feet for a commercial project adjacent to single family residents.
After granting this additional height to the petitioner, the Council directed the Planning & Zoning Board as well as City Staff to suggest ways to plug this loop hole. Define language which would cap the height limit for commercial construction in these situations and adhere to the code limit of 30 feet.
On May 24, 2016 City Staff presented their report to the City Council in the form of Ordinance 5345. Simply stated, Ordinance No. 5345 would delete the allowance for additional building height in the B1 and R2 Zoning Districts.
The fly in the ointment for B1 districts is that not all of the commercial property is adjacent to single family residents, this only occurs on East Palmetto Park Road – the so called Beach-B1.
A Task Force was suggested to address this issue. The Task Force would be comprised of home owners and commercial property owners to review future development in the Beach-B1.
Although this task force was formed, it quickly dissolved because the core issues remain. Residents want protection and commercial land owners want the ability invoke the loop hole.
Clearly this can only be resolved by our governing board and not by a voluntary group with no authority to mandate zoning changes.
Three law suits later, we find that our City Council is reluctant to create conformity in the code by protecting single family residents from the intrusive heights of their commercial neighbors.
The recommendations of City Staff and Acting City Manager George Brown were unambiguous. Adopt the Ordinance 5345 as it is written.
At the May 24th meeting Mayor Hayne repeatedly stated she wanted to protect residential homes from intrusive heights but she never made a motion in favor of Ordinance 5345.
Councilman Rodgers pleading on behalf of the Beach-B1, did his best Austin Powers, “throw me a bone”, by asking the Council to change the word SHALL to MAY as it pertains to requests for additional height.
Why was that important?
In 2015 the Council was effectively bullied into second guessing their decision (as it pertained to the anomaly in the code) by Attorney Mitch Kirschner. The attorney for the petitioner used the wording as a legal argument claiming the Council ‘SHALL’ grant the added height for his client’s project.
Councilman Singer did his best to support Councilman Rodger’s request but this fell on deaf ears, Councilman Weinroth called for the Council to table Staff’s proposal and revisited it at a fall meeting and that is where we now stand.
The overwhelming sentiment of residents east of the bridge is for the Council to declare a special zoning district, Beach-B1, and cap commercial heights at 30 feet.
It should be noted that Boca Raton does not have a historic downtown but we do have a potential Seaside Village.
The quaintness of Boca Raton’s ocean to bridge corridor is the last unadulterated gem in the city’s portfolio. The consistency of character for this district impacts everyone’s property values, we urge the City Council to act and preserve this public asset.