22 May Local Politics, as Always the Determining Factor in Over-Development
This article, originally published by Al Zucaro on BocaWatch.org, is preserved for historical purposes by Massive Impressions Online Marketing in Boca Raton.
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On Sunday, May 21, 2017, the Sun Sentinel published that “Boca’s building boom includes more than 700 condos, apartments.” The article outlines the numerous building projects currently under construction or at an advanced stage in the development process. Mizner 200, Tower 155, Mandarin Oriental, Residences at Mandarin Oriental and Camino Square are specifically highlighted. The article states that thirty (30) years ago the city set an eight (8) million
square foot development goal. In March, during the City election, Mayor Haynie stated that capacity was at 83% and with the addition of Mizner 200 and Camino Square, the goal will reach 100% capacity. Assuming this to be accurate, it has been generally believed that development would then stop.
Development will continue only with future projects no longer governed by city ordinance; ordinance 4035 which allows for the bypassing of individually required traffic studies. Hence, developers will still be able to submit new projects making the 8 million sq. foot limit illusory; a partial truth, a false hope BocaWatch has cautioned against for some time.
All Politics are local and local politics may cause the Mizner 200 development in Boca Raton’s downtown from receiving a CRA/City Council approval….and worse, cause a litigation the taxpayers will have to underwrite!
This week’s score card for the Mizner 200 project, a project dubbed the ‘Monster on Mizner’, was a resounding 2 for 2 in affirmative votes. Both the Community Appearance Board (5 – 2) and the Planning and Zoning Board (5 – 1) recommended approval of the project, thus, sending it forward to the CRA/City Council for a determining vote sometime in July.
Facing down much energized resident opposition, the Community Appearance Board, on the project’s fourth (4th) try, heard evidence supporting approval of the project. The evidence presented established that this developer, unlike others over the last few years, is asking for no variances or technical deviations. Because of this, the developer argues that they are entitled to build this project as presented; an assertion seemingly now adopted and confirmed by the totality of evidence.
With over two (2) years in the approval phase, four (4) submitted redesigns, two (2) outside consultant reviews, and zero (0) city staff objections, Mizner 200 is perched to become a downtown reality; a reality supporting over a half billion dollars in increased property values; a reality limited by city code to 100 feet in height while requesting 100 feet in height; a reality that requires 672 parking spaces while providing 672 parking spaces; a reality that requires 40% open space while providing 40.1% open space; a reality that meets and exceeds all setback requirements under the City’s ordinance; and a reality where the increase in daily car trips on Mizner Blvd will not overtax the roadway’s current capacity nor decrease the roadway’s ‘level of service’. In short, the developer argues that the evidence presented establishes this project meets and/or exceeds all objective measurements imposed by city code; the objective measurements in place to insure the rights and privileges of this land owner as well as those of all other adjacent property owners.
Opponents of the Mizner 200 subjectively argued that the project is out of character for the location; that the project’s mass and density is too big for neighborhood compatibility; that traffic impacts and solutions are not ‘safe’ for the pedestrian experience, that the design is inconsiderate of the neighboring property’s vistas and views and that the project is not ‘Mizneresque’ enough to meet the demands of Ordinance 4035. The law in Florida is well established that a ‘view’ is not a legal entitlement particularly when the subject property is surrounded by properties within a Community Redevelopment Area; an area formed specifically to promote redevelopment.
Both CAB and P&Z found these objections less than compelling; most objections being from well-meaning neighbors with personal interests to protect. The developer argues that the project’s design and compatibility is not really the issue. What may be at issue is whether any development allowed under the City’s code would satisfy the objections of these neighbors and political foes; a criterion that, if true, suggests this property may never meet approval for redevelopment.
The CRA/City Council, in its quasi-judicial role, will be the final arbitrator. Here, the CRA/City Council is the fact finder for a reviewing court in the event that an appeal is filed; an eventuality that is sure to follow in the event of denial. The CRA/City Council must consider whether a denial based upon the totality of evidence would survive reversal in a court of competent jurisdiction.
As to the assertion that ‘all politics are local’….
Much of the ‘evidence’ presented is political in nature. The purported ‘substantial competent evidence’ presented in support of a denial was mainly provided by a representative from Investments Limited, the owner of Royal Palm Plaza, directly west of the Mizner 200 on Mizner Blvd, a property owner with immediate development interests; development interests that will further exasperate residents’ concerns about overdevelopment.
Again, with politics being local, local politics is at play….
Investments Limited is actively preparing a submittal to the CRA/City Council for the first of a series of high rise for-rent buildings in what will eventually be the complete redevelopment of Royal Palm Plaza. Investments Limited, predominantly, has concerns for their view corridors and vistas.
Investments Limited’s redevelopment will further compound the imbalance in the downtown of for-sale versus for-rent offerings. Mizner 200 being a 384 unit for-sale multi-million dollar offering for seasonal residents and, arguably, having fewer impacts then hundreds more for-rent apartments with a year-round, higher impact resident in an already over-congested downtown.
BocaWatch has previously published articles on alternative design proposals for Mizner 200 (see links below). Included in those articles are graphics suggesting that Mizner 200 should be three separate buildings. That said, the developer argues that their submittal does, in fact, employ the suggested three building separation. The architectural submittals presented at the CAB and the P&Z shows that the developer does provide three distinct towers with varying setbacks.
In their design evolution, the developer argues that it has addressed the neighbor’s concerns with over-generous setbacks and landscaping considerations. The developer argues that it has reduced the project’s density by dozens of units in consideration of the neighboring concerns. The developer further argues that it has created a pedestrian experience with a lush landscaping canopy second to none in the downtown corridor; an assertion that is hard to refute in light of other recently approved projects like The Mark, Tower 155, Via Mizner and the Hyatt.
The final hurdle is the CRA/City Council. Here is where local politics may reach an apex.
The Mizner 200 developer has not been a political participant, is not a local insider or political power player; this developer has not retained the usual suspects, i.e. the dreaded lobbyists that seem to always have inside track to the group think of the CRA/City Council members. This developer has not participated in the political process or the political aspirations of our elected officials who are always looking for their next political position and campaign contributions. Unlike other developer interests, this developer has not made political contributions to CRA/City Council members; the developer does not actively interact in business with any of the local elected officials; and, the developer did not allow political signage to adorn his property in the recent local Boca Raton municipal election.
If this process were simply the CRA/City Council sitting as a political body, there is little doubt this project would again be recycled for further iterations and changes in a never ending attempt to satisfy the insatiable interests of other politically active land owner/developers. Hard decisions require leadership, making the right ‘hard’ decision requires strong leadership!
In this process, there is a reviewing body for recourse to the ‘local’ politics; litigation at the Circuit Court. This developer, unlike many others, has the financial capacity and the will to file suit against the city and anyone else that may be interfering with their private property development rights.
The dangerous thing about litigation for elected officials is the ‘discovery’ process; the process where litigants get to take depositions under oath of opponents and witnesses. Here is where the proverbial ‘skeletons’ are uncovered and available for all to see. The CRA/City Council, representing the residents citywide, has the obligations to set aside their future political aspiration and protect the taxpayer from what will be an expensive lawsuit. The CRA/City Council must objectively review the evidence and take a correct decision by being the fact-finder and following the law.
Owing to the abysmal track record of legal advice by the City Attorney’s office, the CRA/City Council should take heart. Of course, there may be another calculous in play here….Call me conspiratorial but…If the elected officials act politically in this matter by voting denial, the elected officials would garner their ‘no chit’ with campaign donors and then could blame the courts for overturning the denial, allowing the project to go forward.
Again as my 7th grade teacher would often say…”A word to the wise is sufficient.”