The February 27th Boca Raton City Council meeting was unique in recent history. The topic was a landowner asking for a variance to construct a large four story duplex eastward of the Coastal Construction Control Line (CCCL) at 2600 N. Ocean Blvd. An overflow crowd showed up to voice their opinion on the issue. Several presented credible evidence as to why the variance should not be granted. An example was Boca resident Joe Graubart who pointed out that the City staff had created an 18-page report detailing how the proposal does not meet the qualifications for a variance. Joe’s point was that for the City Council members, a “vote to ‘deny’ the applicant was supported by expert, substantial, and competent testimony”. Other than the Landowner’s representatives and expert witnesses, nobody spoke in favor of the variance.
A Unique Meeting
So what was unique? Normally, the petitioner is granted twenty minutes to present their case and provide any necessary evidence or testimony. However, the landowner’s attorney Robert Sweetapple requested two hours for his presentation. Boca Raton city code allows for a maximum of one hour. Additional time can be granted by the City Council if it’s deemed necessary by the members. Mayor Singer enforced the city code and allowed Mr Sweetapple one hour. But when that wasn’t enough, the Mayor allowed another 15 minutes and then drew a firm line rejecting Mr Sweetapple’s requests for more. This was applauded in the overflow room. It will be interesting to see how many future hearings have requests for more than the one hour maximum.
Requests for Recusal
The uniqueness did not end there. Mr. Sweetapple opened his presentation by asking Mayor Scott Singer and Council members Monica Mayotte and Andrea Levine O’Rourke to recuse themselves due to prior statements or emails regarding the protection of Boca’s beaches. His request was deftly handled by the Mayor and Council members. Had all three recused themselves, a quorum would not have been established and the hearing could not be conducted.
In the End …
In the end, the City Staff recommended against granting the variance as did the public. Mr. Sweetapple did his best to overcome the arguments against him including threats of a lawsuit. This was done several times. Some residents who spoke at the podium remarked they felt his proposal for the City to buy the property for $7 million seemed like a “shake down”. One resident pointed out through public records that the $7M valuation was based on the variance being approved. So without it, the land was worth significantly less. Another astute member of the public used the cross examination phase of the meeting to ask Mr. Sweetapple if the applicant had bought the property knowing he needed a variance to build on it. Mr Sweetapple answered “Yes”.
When the vote was taken, the Boca City Council voted 5-0 to deny the variance. The well attended meeting erupted in applause.