Let it be known: The concept of Planned Mobility Districts (PMD) when properly planned, with the plan then being followed, may add desired livable qualities to a community. In New Urbanization the notion of ‘village’ type developments strategically placed within a metropolitan area make a lot of sense. Within these villages it is a must to provide for housing, walkability, bicycle paths, some essential retail, community transportation with connectors to other modes of transport plus services, or facilities, that encourage ease of mobility. A benefit to the landowner/developer is added density to their projects and therefore more development dollars.
When the interest of the community comes first it can be a winner, particularly in this day and age of burdensome traffic and parking. PMD, when done right, can replace an angst filled drive to work with productive commuter time. It can also eliminate short car trips for everyday services. The following is paraphrased from the City of Tallahassee in 2009:
“improve urban design, increase bicycle and pedestrian mobility, improve pedestrian comfort with more street trees, promote in-town amenities and destinations, ease restrictions to urban infill, and support the effort” of transportation hubs and connectors.
But then there is Boca style PMD.
A Brief History
Taking a cue from other communities, the concept of PMD in Boca Raton originally came forward in 2010 under the name Multimodal Transportation District. The original ordinance was drafted by a developer’s attorney and ultimately re-branded as PMD.
Among the features of the plan were items to encourage use of public transportation. Included were: Fifty percent discounts on transit passes; internal shuttle circulators; and to encourage walking, jogging or biking to work, showers and lockers would be provided all at developer expense.
In an effort to further ‘sell’ PMD to the public and City Council, the developer attorney created a Matrix of points, or a scorecard, that required each PMD development to score a minimum of at least 150 points in order to proceed with their development plans. The more mobility enhancing features provided, the higher the score. So far, so good – A plan that asks for something from the developer in order to create a better outcome for all. The City Council approved the Matrix.
Now You See it. Now You Don’t.
But this is Boca. And in Boca, developers come first – always. In January 2015, before ground had been broken on a single PMD project, the developer’s attorney asked for a reduction in the Matrix points required for a project from 150 to 100 points under the guise that the point criteria were too burdensome. Wait a minute! Weren’t you the one who created the Matrix in the first place at the prompting of no one? The City Council granted his request. The only beneficiary from this action was the landowner/developer.
We currently have a PMD project that was approved in June, 2014 at 900 NW Broken Sound Boulevard. It is a sizable project: 370 residential units; 107,030 square feet of office use; and structured parking. The project is planned to be constructed in two phases. Under the original approval the project scored 150.5 points for Phase 1 and 152.5 points for Phase 2. Eureka! They met the original criteria of the Matrix. But that was then and this is now.
Presto! We are still compliant!
At the September 13, 2016 City Council meeting, a different developer attorney for the Broken Sound project, with the approval of City staff, spoke on behalf of two resolutions that accomplished the following: Transit passes at a discounted rate will change from 50 percent to 10 percent; No longer provide an internal shuttle circulator; No longer provide shower and locker facilities on sight.
Under the Matrix scoring system, the Matrix point scores are reduced to 108.5 for Phase 1 and 118.5 for Phase 2. The only beneficiary is the landowner/developer. The City Council granted the request and effectively gutted the intent of PMD for the project. So, the landowner/developer ends up with their desired higher density and the community is deprived of the promise of Planned Mobility. This is a precedent setting action that opens the floodgates for greater development density throughout the city minus the conveniences once promised.
Like other City goals, such as walkability, Planned Mobility has become a slogan, not a reality. This is a sad and repetitive outcome for Boca Raton. Too many times a project is brought forward for approval in Boca Raton and after the fact it is modified only to the benefit of the landowner/developer. A willing City Council makes this possible.
It has been said that Planned Mobility Districts are nothing more than a Landowner Relief Act. The actions taken in Boca Raton confirm that notion.