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Being ardently pro-development and anti-business at the same time may seem like a paradox, but there is ample evidence in Boca to support this seeming self- contradiction.
If you want evidence of pro-development bias, just look around. For years our City Council made multiple concessions to please developers. It all started with the battle over the massive Archstone property on Palmetto Park Road, a three-block long, ten-story high monster that has morphed into Palmetto Promenade. That was followed by quick approval of the Mark “experiment” which, despite its obvious failure, led to approval of other high-rise properties in our overcrowded downtown: Tower 155, Via Mizner I, II, and III, Boca City Walk, and Mizner 200. All of these were approved by Boca’s City Council without consideration of the infrastructure necessary—roads, parking, schools—to handle the accompanying increase in population. “Build baby, build” has been the mantra of Boca’s elected officials. If you want to propose a major development project, you have friends at City Hall.
But ever wonder why these new concrete behemoths are still looking for commercial tenants? Perhaps it’s because Boca’s ruling elite are not so generous when it comes to their treatment of small businesses. Consider the following three examples:
Proper Ice Cream on East Palmetto wanted to open a 971-square foot ice cream store in a small two-story office building across the street from the mammoth Palmetto Promenade. City Staff required the building owner to go through a full-blown Individual Development Approval Amendment process—the same time and expense for the City and the applicant-owner as for a large downtown building. The initial application was made to the City in October 2016 and the IDA Amendment was granted by the City Council sitting as the Community Redevelopment Agency on January 8, 2018.
Shoppers at Publix on Camino Road and Federal were admiring the chain’s efforts to beautify and remodel one of its flagship stores, when work abruptly came to a halt. Apparently they were moving shelves without getting the necessary permits from Boca’s shelf-moving code enforcers. So there’s a day glow orange “Stop Work Order” unceremoniously pasted to their front door while management tries to sort things out with the City and shoppers wander around trying to find where they moved the Cheerios. If this can happen to Publix, it can happen to anyone.
Then there is the tragi-comic saga of Luff’s Fish House, one of Boca’s newest and more promising restaurant ventures owned by the family that operates Trattoria Romana. In late November, the owner painted the Luff House a tasteful green sea foam color. The sea foam green appeared on the original 1920s bungalow and was approved by Boca’s Community Appearance Board. But not apparently by Boca’s more powerful Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA). VIOLATION! The subsequent dance at City Hall and before the City’s Special Magistrate cost the owner $ thousands in filing and legal fees. He repainted the building white over the New Year’s holiday weekend in order to avoid $1000/day fines for non-compliance, but has yet to receive more than a temporary certificate of operation while he waits months for CRA approval so he can paint the building the sea foam color he wants. He has a bad taste in his mouth, and it’s not from food.
I’m sure readers of this article can cite numerous instances where their business plans have been handicapped or thwarted by Boca’s building bureaucracy. Just ask your local butcher, baker or ice cream maker. How ironic that our City bends over backwards to build all these buildings but then makes occupancy such a chore. Is this any way to run a city? Time to start sweating the big stuff, like traffic and school overcrowding. Time for a change in behavior at City Hall.
John C. Gore