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Fast tracked or Sidetracked?

by Alan Neibauer

Large development projects, such as Aletto at Sanborn Square, are complicated. They contain thousands of different elements and require the expertise of numerous experts.  When city staff reviews one, approval depends on how well it follows the city building codes. And, they may also defer to the expertise of the applicant. That is, the developer, architect, and/or land-use attorney who submitted it to the city. Just to recap, Aletto at Sanborn Square is a VERY large and complex project of two office buildings with a 550-spot parking garage stuffed into a small lot across from Sanborn Square. According to the developer, it will bring six times the current traffic to the area. That means more congestion on the already clogged streets around the park.

According to the city’s official memorandum on the site plan and IDA application, the project requires 203,983 square feet office space development. After getting some credits for demolishing existing buildings and other credits, the additional development requires 151,055 square feet. Since the area does not have that much space allotted to it, space must be transferred from another area. After numerous other dizzying calculations and credits, the city said that a transfer of 110,870 feet of development must be taken from another zone in the city. This means Aletto will overbuild the downtown. This is the definition of overdevelopment. If the project was built to fit (without a transfer), the traffic increase would go down to three fold instead of the proposed six.

View of the proposed Aletto at Sanborn Square as seen from high above the Synovus Bank on Federal Hwy and NE 2nd St.
View of the proposed Aletto at Sanborn Square as seen from high above the Synovus Bank on Federal Hwy and NE 2nd St.

There is always a catch

We were saying that sometimes that city staff refers to the applicant to clear up or justify issues. But there’s always a catch when they do so. Sometimes their responses are skewed toward the interpretation that favors them. They can push one minor way of looking at policy that may or may not follow the actual intent of the code. 

Sometimes the staff doesn’t agree, and the applicant tries to “make a case” why their interpretation should be accepted. When a project has gone through numerous review cycles, everyone involved in the process can get worn down. 

As mentioned in Wizards Control the City’s Hands, this often leads to the applicant seeking intervention politically.

Staff Forced to Break Impasse on Aletto at Sanborn Square

Aletto went through almost two years of review. I have followed all the staff and applicant comments from the beginning. I can tell you the delay was not the fault of city staff. The staff kept sending it back to the developer with comments. But the developer would send it back without properly addressing all of the staff objections. Or, they would create new ones that generated further issues. Between each of these cycles, eight in all, weeks were spent in discussions. How was this impasse settled? The letter shown here arrived at City Hall.

Aletto Developer's Letter to CRA Chair Widger
Aletto Developer’s Letter to CRA Chair Widger. Click to zoom.

The developer is asking for an end of the review process. More than that, he is dictating when the hearings should be held; dates that were just weeks away when the request was granted. This meant numerous details had to be settled, or ignored, by staff by the deadline. When that happens, decisions based on applications with holes like swiss cheese are made by the Planning and Zoning Board, and City Council. You know, the same group that fast tracked the project and forced staff to wrap everything up, swiss cheese that it is.

Crippling Congestion

When a project goes through that route, alarm bells should be going through your head. Bells that make you question why the project had to be accomplished politically. In this case, it is too large, too intense and doesn’t belong there. The preverbal swim upstream. It will devastate downtown with crippling traffic and congestion. It will also destroy the peaceful nature of the award-winning Sanborn Square.

The intersection of Palmetto Park Road and Federal Highway, by the way, is a hot spot of traffic accidents involving vehicles, pedestrians, and bicyclists. This according to the 2022 City of Boca Raton Vision Zero Action Plan. Aletto will add considerable traffic to this trouble area. Rather than being fast tracked, the city should have let the staff complete their thorough review, even including public meetings to solicit ideas from residents.

What you can do

The Planning and Zoning Board will vote on Aletto at Sanborn Square this Thursday, May 18th at 6:00 PM at 6500 Congress Avenue. If you want Sanborn Square and downtown to retain what’s left of its charm, attend the meeting to oppose this project.  The CRA/City Council meeting to vote on this project will be held Monday, May 22, at 1:30 PM, also at 6500 Congress Avenue.

Even if you don’t attend the meetings, you can contact city officials by email. Click the button below and make your voice heard:

To learn more about Aletto and development tactics in Downtown:

Wizards Control the City’s Hands

We’ve Been Played

The Wizards of Boca

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