The City is proposing significant amendments to Ordinance 4035, the ordinance approved by referendum which contains the land use rules for Downtown Boca. See the BocaFirst article “Downtown Boca Raton: Standing Room Only” for a primer on Ordinance 4035. The proposed amendments that say “Bye Bye 4035” provide some needed changes to architectural standards but do not address the two biggest, most important problems with 4035, namely:
• The absence of a requirement for appropriate side set-backs between high rise towers and
• The absence of a requirement for providing parking commensurate with the size of the units being proposed.
Setback Rules Need to be Amended
When Ordinance 4035 was originally introduced, it did not contemplate that one day Boca’s Downtown would be filled with high rise, multi-family residential buildings. The zoning ordinance permitted “zero lot line” buildings—essentially buildings with little or no space between them. The single-story retail stores on the north side of Palmetto Park Road east of Mizner Boulevard are an example of zero lot line construction. Zero lot line design works well for low-rise retail (think Atlantic Avenue in Delray), but (unless you are in the Bronx) not at all well for high rise residential buildings.
Ordinance 4035, as written, made no distinction regarding side setback requirements for residential buildings vs. commercial buildings. While it does contain vague criteria (such as requiring buildings to be “sensitive” to one another), it omits specific metrics to measure compliance with the vague criteria. The lack of specificity opens the door wide for inappropriate development.
Ordinance 4035 needs to be amended to require side setbacks between residential towers (over two stories high) to be at least 10’ on either side (meaning 20’ between structures). And the taller a high rise is proposed to its adjoining neighbor, the greater the setback necessary (at least on higher floors) to insure that the streetscape doesn’t resemble the Bronx.
Note that we are not talking about views. Views, as a matter of law, are not protected. We are talking about having a beautiful streetscape and making sure that lower floors have access to light and air.
Residential Parking Requirements: Not All are Equal
Additionally, the parking requirements in Ordinance 4035 need to be amended. As written, Ordinance 4035 requires 1.75 parking space per residential unit. Fine when the unit size was 800’ to 1000’—but not appropriate when the “unit” contains three or more bedrooms. In the larger units which developers are now building, residents are going to expect (and Boca should be planning for) at least two assigned parking spaces per unit, plus parking for tradespeople, service people and guests.
Ordinance 4035 needs to be amended to establish parking requirements either in relation to the number of square feet in a “unit” or in relation to the number of bedrooms in the unit. Boca’s parking requirements need to reflect the fact that not all “units” are created equal. And must take into account that tradespeople, service people and guests need a place to park.
A Startling Example
Developers, as is often the case, try to stretch the rules for their own benefit. But they also provide, in their submissions, a guide for what needs to be addressed in any update to Boca’s zoning ordinance.
An example: the developer of 343 E. Royal Palm Road is proposing to build a 70’ high tower on a lot which is just 50 feet wide—with side setbacks of less than 5’ on one side and less than 3’ on the other. The proposed building would be sandwiched between one existing residential high rise condo and one proposed residential high rise. The developer claims that said building conforms to Boca’s existing land use regulations.
Each unit (3000+ sq. ft.) in the proposed building contains three bedrooms plus a den. The developer is proposing just one guest parking space for the entire building. On a block with no on-street parking and no public parking garages or lots nearby.
Bye Bye 4035. Hello the Bronx.
We urge the City to take a more comprehensive look at Ordinance 4035. To recognize that standards adopted nearly 30 years ago—when Boca did not contemplate that it would become a City that would attract more and more high rise residential towers to its Downtown—are not appropriate or sufficient to guarantee the “Beautiful Boca” that we have all come to expect.
The City needs to incorporate into 4035 requirements for appropriate side setbacks between residential buildings. And it needs to include parking regulations that reflect the size of the units being built (measured either by square feet or number of bedrooms).
No one—except maybe developers trying to cram as many units as possible on the smallest footprint—wants to see Boca turn into the Bronx. No one wants to allow “tenement architecture” to become dominant in Boca. And no one wants to permit buildings to be built which make a mockery of Boca’s open space requirements.
Boca prides itself on being beautiful. Ordinance 4035 needs to be amended to incorporate rules to protect Boca’s vision. Amendments to architectural standards, however welcome, do not address the glaring structural flaws in Ordinance 4035.