On April 8th 2019, the Boca Raton Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) approved the Camino Square development for the old Winn Dixie property at Camino Real and SW 3rd Ave. As described by residents who spoke, the approved road improvements for the project are at the expense of safety for pedestrians and bicyclists. As explained in Bye Bye Bike Lanes, the road improvements approved as part of the Camino Square project delete both eastward and westward bike lanes and do not address the difficult pedestrian crossing between the area to be developed and the retail areas of Fresh Market, Walgreens and others.
BocaFirst had proposed a comprehensive solution of right of way swaps that would have kept both bike lanes and improved access across Camino Real for everyone. Much to the disappointment of those of us who live there, city staff did not defend the quality of life for the area’s neighborhoods.
Instead, city staff recommended the project be approved and the bike lanes eliminated as per the 1988 road improvements specified in downtown development order Ordinance 4035*. After residents spoke on the dangerous nature of the area, the CRA directed staff to try and negotiate an agreement with Fresh Market. The essence of that deal is to trade Fresh Market’s use of city owned property in exchange for land to make an east bound bike lane.
Besides the road improvements, additional conditions for art in public places and other amenities were added since the January 7 2019 hearing. As was the case in January, Council Members Rodgers and Thomson made and seconded a motion to approve Camino Square. This time, Mayor Singer joined them to approve the project 3-2.
The developer of Camino Square is Florida Crystals and the landowner is Kimco Realty. Along with the Fresh Market Plaza, Walgreens, and other properties on the south and north of Camino Real, the whole area is the Southwestern most part of the downtown area that is governed by the CRA.
According to Kimco attorney Ele Zachariades, Florida Crystals/Kimco has the right to build the Ordinance 4035* compliant project. Also, according to Ms. Zachariades, the lack of residential square footage originally allocated to this section of the downtown district does not mean their allocation cannot be converted to residential. City attorney Diana Grub Frieser did not defend her position arguing against this point as she did at the January hearing.
It was also pointed out that the poor traffic performance of Camino Real and Dixie is not the concern of the Camino Square project because it was the CRA that failed to construct the traffic fixes when they were required years ago. Nonetheless, Florida Crystals/Kimco say they have “heard the residents traffic concerns”, and their $1.6M impact fee is to be used by the county to perform the 1988 era roadway fixes that the CRA failed to implement in 2014.
It is worth pointing out that Kimco and other downtown property owners are subject to incremental tax funding and are assessed a tax to fund improvements in the downtown. They point to Ordinance 4035* which required the intersection at Camino Real and Dixie Hwy to have been improved when the downtown reached a defined growth point.
When that point was reached, the CRA passed Resolution 2015-03 CRA which absolved them of the Ordinance 4035* requirement to improve the intersection. Citing that the changes were “non-substantial”, Resolution 2015-03 CRA from City Manager Leif Ahnell was approved by then CRA Chairperson Scott Singer, then Mayor Susan Haynie, Mike Mullaugh, Constance Scott and Robert Weinroth.
In lay terms, the stated reason for not making the roadway improvements was:
- Because the downtown area along Palmetto was converted from office space to residential
- The required road improvements at Camino Real and Dixie a mile away don’t have to be done
It seems that for the residents and businesses of the area, the CRA took the funds that were supposed to provide the infrastructure and failed to do so citing it as “non-substantial”.
Is this good governance on behalf of residents and businesses?
Mayor Singer is the only person remaining from the CRA that voted not to do the road improvements in 2014. Residents, businesses and those who travel through the area have paid the price for it. In approving the project with the condition that the 1988 road improvements are done before occupancy, Mayor Singer and Council Members Rodgers and Thomson have gotten Florida Crystals/Kimco to do what the CRA should have done. And to listen to the project traffic expert, the road improvements are a far cry from “non-substantial”. Is it good governance to tax, ditch responsibility and make local businesses pay for what should have been done by the CRA? As explained by former CRA Chairperson Jorge Comejo, the members of the CRA are elected officials. Voters should take note.
Where did the money go?
The previous CRA of Singer, Haynie, Mullaugh, Scott and Weinroth absolved themselves of the responsibility to fix the area and in the years since, the roadway has degraded to Level Of Service F. Ironically, both Weinroth and Haynie served on the Palm Beach Metropolitan Planning Organization which is responsible “to provide a cooperative, comprehensive and continuing transportation planning and decision-making process.” Good grief.
It seems today’s CRA owes the residents of Southeast Boca a safe and workable area at Camino Real and Dixie with all the “mixed use”, “urban mobility”, “walkability” features it routinely beats its chest about as reasons to approve development.
Is There a Leader?
The debacle at Camino Real and Dixie is arguably the result of a previous CRA. Fixing it now requires a leader to emerge. An improved roadway and comprehensive pedestrian/bike plan would be a win-win for everyone. The needs of both public and private interests must be accommodated because they are fundamentally dependent on each other. Florida Crystals and Kimco say repeatedly they are committed to the community. Now is their chance to show it.
Juan Porro is the Vice President of Real Estate Acquisitions and Development for Florida Crystals. He attended the community outreach meeting and the CRA meeting. We hope he can overcome the roadblocks preventing a wholistic solution for his own tenants and the community in which they live. History shows we cannot look to our elected officials or city staff to fix the urban planning problems of this area. There are solutions. Downtown landowners in the area like Juan Porro must be the ones to collaborate and solve it. A true leader among them knows their success depends on it.
* Ordinance 4035This ordinance is the controlling land-use document in the downtown Boca Raton. Understanding the development order and the status of the development order is fundamental to understanding the rights of Downtown property owners and the protections afforded the general public with respect to the impact of downtown development.