Ever wonder how all that massive new construction in downtown Boca got crammed onto such small lots? Right up to the sidewalk with no open spaces? Blocking out the sun and sky?
It turns out that developers and city officials may have been ignoring the requirements contained in Boca’s basic building law: Ordinance 4035. The Ordinance that time forgot.
Originally passed in 1988 and revised and supported by a public referendum in 1993, Ordinance 4035 runs to over 65 pages. Most of those pages dictate—often in painstaking detail—the steps developers must take to preserve the historic architectural heritage of Boca Raton. The essence of the Ordinance is to ensure that future development is consistent and compatible with what has gone before.
- The Ordinance requires that new buildings over 75 feet in height contain approximately 25% of their volume as “open space, ground-to-sky.” So a one-acre building must contain at least a quarter-acre of ground-to-sky open space. A recent interpretation by city staff correctly indicates that this space need not be open to the public, but it should be open to public view. The intent of the Ordinance is obvious: we do not want bulky, boxy, concrete behemoths that hog all of the land on which they are sited. Seen any of those lately?
- The Ordinance limits the height of buildings in the development area to 9 stories or 100 feet. The Council subsequently approved Interim Design Guidelines to allow a few test-case buildings in the downtown to rise as high as 160 feet, but only in a limited area of the downtown.
- Six pages of the Ordinance lay down precise requirements for parking and number of parking spaces.
- Ten pages of Ordinance 4035 are devoted solely to landscaping requirements. Developers are told the number, size and type of plants they must use; the type of plants (like Australian Pine) that they are not allowed to use; what areas of the property must be landscaped and how, etc. The attention to detail is amazing. Not a lot is left to trust.
- Four pages of the Ordinance lay down specific design requirements for new buildings in Boca. In this case, you had better read the Ordinance, because what has been built often does not reflect 4035’s design requirements. In other words, by looking at what has been built in the last few years you would never be able to guess what the Ordinance either recommends or requires.
- Among those design requirements: use the “fundamental concepts which are found in the architecture of Addison Mizner” Look at Worth Avenue in Palm Beach for your inspiration, says the Ordinance. Builders should use “textured stucco, clay tile roofing, and painted window frames…” If you want to creatively interpret Mizner’s designs, says 4035, look to Mizner Park for inspiration. For buildings over 75 feet, “at least 65% of the required (40%) open space shall be open and uncovered from the ground to the sky.” No glass and steel buildings: “No more than 40% of the perimeter of a building’s materials shall be composed of glass.” Again, the authors of Ordinance 4035 were leaving little to chance—or to the discretion of future developers. Now we know why.
What went wrong? How is it that the clear language of the Ordinance and the wishes of the electorate have been ignored?
Simply put, the city did not enforce its own law. Or at the very least, they allowed developers “interpretations” and variances to squeeze every possible square foot of profit out of each project by interpreting the Ordinance in a way that it’s authors and the citizens who voted for it never intended.
That’s why we have these ugly behemoths rising all around us—with many more in the planning stage. That is why we are choking on our own traffic, circling endlessly looking for a place to park. That is why it can take up to 45 minutes to drive from the beach to I-95. That is why so many people are angry.
City officials are now scrambling to determine and explain what went wrong. They are conducting an audit of development projects in the downtown to see if buildings are out of compliance with Boca’s strict development law. They have promised that no new projects will be allowed to proceed until they have sorted this mess out and given us answers.
Meanwhile we are saddled with ugly buildings that have altered the look of downtown Boca forever. Our city leaders could have spared us this result. They could have saved themselves time and embarrassment by just reading and applying Ordinance 4035 as written. What a tragedy.
John C. Gore, President-BocaBeautiful.org
Example of open space:
Example of representation of new development with what appears to be no ground to sky open space: