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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This May 23rd, on Wednesday from 6:30pm until 8:30pm there was a “Visioning Session” for the Midtown Small Area Plan held at the Spanish River Library.
Like many people I’d been looking forward to hearing, or even better seeing, what developers have planned for this space pending zoning approval. Many neighbors like me have been disappointed with the reasoning for no plans being put forward: the developers can’t spend the money on plans until they get approval. Unfortunately there were no plans shared last night. Lots of people walked away wondering if we had gotten any closer to anything being done.
Midtown refers to the section in the middle of Boca Raton that includes Town Center and the area to the east of it. The Midtown initiative has been an effort by property owners to have City Goverment re-zone it to include residential units. It’s currently zoned for commercial use but property owners want this to change. They argue that they’ve got the rights via planning initiatives the City applied to other sectors. The roadblock is that the owners haven’t officially yet been granted a zoning change.
While it’s up to City Council to approve the zoning changes, and they could have done so already, public sentiment injected into the approval process has caused Council to favor more planning before any re-zoning occurs. Property owners have threatened to sue the city for failure to act and residents have expressed their dismay at the addition of more residents to an already crowded town, especially to an area without the traffic infrastructure improvements to handle more commuters at peak times.
The Visioning Session resulted in many residents, my neighbors, scratching their heads, wondering what it’s purpose was. Rather than being shown plans it turned out to be a workshop where residents contributed their “visions” for how the Small Area should be utilized.
I wanted to see a plan, not have the planning be asked of residents with little skill in city planning, little skill in architecture and development, and who have little ability to envision the amount of space thousands of residential units would take up. Some had hoped this session would give them a sense of impact versus improvement. But it didn’t communicate what it would be like to add anything at all.
How can people know how to direct their City Representatives to vote yea or nay for approval without knowing what’s going to go there? Even more fundamentally: What would it look like once you started adding residential units? People were given little to go on in the Visioning Session in terms of the impacts being discussed.
How can you have an opinion on something if what you’re asking about difficult to visualize? Back when I wrote this “embarassingly long” article on 4boca.com about Midtown I wondered about this very same thing. What could actually fit there? But that article was too long already so I didn’t explore it more.
Visualizing The Scope of 2,500 Units
The idea of putting 2500 residential units into the Midtown space was beyond what most people could visualize above and beyond anticipating the impact it would probably have on traffic or schools. How dense would that be exactly? What would 2500 residential units even look like if you squeezed all of them into that space?
I used a tool to measure acreage on Google Maps. That let me estimate the Midtown space east of Town Center, west of I-95, south of Glades and bounded by Military on the south. I measured roughly 85 acres in that space. The actual amount of space that’s pending approval might be more or less, but that’s a rough enough estimate to see the order of magnitude we’re dealing with.
This discussion assumes 85 acres because on the basis that it’s not going to be probable to build where Town Center is, given mall representation’s most recent statements. It’s not easy to envision that the Tyco building and the Medical Center adjacent would be demolished to be replaced with something. This 85 acre area does not include Boca Center aka Crocker Center either.
Using that same tool, and about a half an hour of Internet research I found out some information about multi-unit building projects in Boca Raton. If you compare these four examples of developments people are already familiar with here in Boca it can be used to get some kind of idea what can fit into that space, the 85 acres of Midtown, and what it would look like for comparison.
Four Example Multi-Unit Developments In Boca Raton
The four developments I chose were: Altis, a new rental condo on Military Trail north of Yamato; Chalfonte, two 22 story condominium buildings on the beach; Boca Gables (formerly known as the Vinings), a 3 story rental development close to Midtown; and finally Palmetto Place, the largest condo building selling units downtown, just south of the Bank of America building and north of Royal Palm.
# of Units: 398
Square feet of Units: between 700 and 1400 sqft per unit
Price Per Unit: between $1,850 and $3,100 per month
Acreage of Development: 6.5 acres
# of Units: 378
# of Stories: 22
Acreage of Development: 7 acres
# of Units: 312
Square feet of Units: between 750 and 1300 sqft per unit
Price Per Unit: between $1,235 and $2,600 per month
Acreage of Development: 15 acres
# of Units: 225
#of Stories: 9
Square feet of Units: between 700 and 3000 sqft per unit
Price Per Unit: between $225K and 750K listed sale price
Acreage of Development: 3.3 acres of structure (4.7 acres including adjacent roads)
Combining These Examples
If we add up all of the units in the above examples that gives us around 1,350 units.
398+312+378+255 = 1,343… approximately 1,350.
If we add up all the acreage in a similar fashion we come out with roughly 33 acres. If we take into account the connector roads it would take it’s possible to fit the above sets of buildings into the 85 acres twice. That would give us a density, if we use the above examples of around 2700 units that could hypothetically be fit, at that density, into that space. So it is technically possible to fit 2500 units into the space there easily. Also take into account that the Midtown project involved Town Center, but now it doesn’t.
Let’s imagine instead that the same 4 examples are the only ones in that space. Instead of 2500 units let’s stick to what’s in those four examples. That’s still a lot of tall buildings, a lot of occupied space with only 1,350 units. That many units on 85 acres of land is a density of 15.8 units per acre. The illustration below shows how 1,350 worth of residential units could look using buildings we’re already familiar with in Boca.
The Midtown website explains how the planned density will be 9.3 units per acre. It’s difficult to imagine how that density could be maintained with the space available and targeted number of units. How would that math work out once everything west of Butts Road is taken off the table?
This is envisioned for mixed use so the only way commercial and retail space can be fit in is if it goes under or adjacent, making the buildings go higher or eating up whatever might be left for greenspace. It’s a tough trade off, but either way, however you visualize it, there’s still some big dense buildings that are going to have to be packed closely together, all of them holding more families needing schools, transportation, services and competing with the rest of us with the precious personal space required for quality of life.
Is there a better, more elegant, less troubling way to visualize that many people in that small of a space? My imagination isn’t that powerful. Maybe there’s no way to paint an attractive picture of it and that’s why there’s no plans on the table that illustrate what would have to go where to achieve such densities.
This diagram only shows the northern section of the Small Area Plan. It doesn’t include Boca Center or the area next to it with the Wells Fargo and Tyco Buildings. Those two areas are in the Small Area Plan, but I didn’t include them simply because it was difficult to estimate their area and their areas aren’t as squarely shaped. It’s important to note that the re-zoning approval requested includes those two areas.
We hope this BocaWatch “Visualization Exercise” has provided you with more of a visual as to what’s being discussed. If you were at the Visioning Session Wednesday night and couldn’t present your group’s work and want to discuss it here, please feel free. If you have any other comments about the visioning of how that space can be optimally employed to make the quality of life for its residents and we, its neighbors, better please feel free to add them in the comments below.