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The City and Done Deals

Done Deal Again

by Alan Neibauer

It looks like it might happen again. Another done deal. This time it’s the proposed hotel to replace the Mizner Plaza shopping center and downtown post office in NE 2nd Street. See Bye Bye Mizner Plaza. And, like Aletto, the hint that gives it away is open space.

The proposed Mizner Plaza hotel.
Hotel and retail to replace Post Office and Mizner Plaza on NE 2nd Street.

The hotel proposal includes an open plaza area on the second floor. The applicant (Batmasian) is asking the city to accept that area as open space, a slap in the face to Boca residents. If you look closely at the drawing, it appears that there is NO open space at the front of the project. The applicant is also asking the city to accept a wide entrance of steps leading up to the second floor. The Boca version of Rome’s Spanish Steps.

Second floor open space is not allowed.
Open plaza on the second floor doesn’t qualify as open space
Wide stairs leading to the second floor offering open space

The second-floor plaza is definitely a violation of open space policy. Because this is the definition of open space according to city:

A. “An area which is open from the land/ground to the sky.”

B. “Predominately Visible and connected to the Public Realm”.

However, the second-floor open plaza is not open from the ground up and it is not visible and connected to the public realm.  This means the public would get less legitimate open space than required. No matter how land use attorneys try to mince words, this part of  Batmasian’s plan should have been summarily rejected.

Help Me Help You

Regarding the second floor, if a landowner and his attorney have enough influence, or the project is already a done deal from the onset, there are ways around the rule. They are playing this run:

1. Count areas that really aren’t open space according to policy as open space anyway.

2. Don’t allow staff to reject the proposal outright.

3. Ask the applicant to “please provide justification for how the Open Space on both levels would comply.”

4. Use their self-serving justification to explain away the violation.

 So that is how something that is not open space can be turned into open space anyway. And it looks like we have a done deal again. It’s like a thief giving the police justification for a crime they are about to commit.

And this is not an obscure issue. Back in 2016, the open space policy was scrutinized. And staff realized that the rules were incorrectly interpreted by allowing multi- use paver drives, pool decks, upper story balconies, private courtyards, upper breezeways, among other spaces.

In 1916, Boca Raton realized they were applying open space incorrectly.
Boca Raton was applying open space policy incorrectly

Mistake Corrected

Ruby Childs, the city’s downtown manager, stated “clearly this [open space] refers to outdoor, ground-level pedestrian areas such as sidewalks, crosswalks, plazas, landscape areas, etc.” She continued, “We believe those areas above the ground level and within the confines of the building diminish the quality of public realm and are not necessarily included within the language of [city rules]”

So they corrected the situation. Until now.

Take note. When they ask for justification, and the decision hasn’t already been determined behind the scenes, it gives developers the upper hand over well-defined policy.

We’ve seen this just recently. Done deal Déjà vu. Aletto Square didn’t have enough legitimate open space. So they wrote the CRA chairperson to fast path the approval and allow areas staff had said didn’t really qualify as open space to be counted as open space anyway. Then staff had to make up nonsensical excuses.

City Hall Logic

One area within the confines of the building, for example, was declared open space when it clearly did not qualify as such. When questioned about it, staff said that the space qualified as a pedestrian walkway. That may be so, but one has nothing to do with the other. It is still not open space. It’s like saying because an apple qualifies as a fruit, it’s an orange.

In another twisted reality, the city objects to calling the ground floor of the garage the “ground floor of the parking garage.” Since the ground floor of a parking garage is not open space, they say just don’t call it that. Yet in the real world, the building is a parking garage, and thus its ground floor is the “ground floor of the parking garage.” Don’t you just love City Hall logic? Especially considering this statement from Mayor Singer to a resident:

 “Open space is important to me too, which is why my calls for more meaningful open space were instrumental in changing a 13-year policy that now require more open space for downtown projects.”

It is difficult to reconcile the Mayor’s comment on open space with his approval of the Aletto open space plan. Something just seems hypocritical there. It will cement it as lip service if the city approves Batmasian’s above ground and disconnected hotel plaza as open space. We are being cheated. Deja Vu. Cheated out of the open space that the city code promises us. It is our open space that the city is willing to give away and rubber stamp as they did with Aletto.

Sure is starting to sound like a done deal to me.

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