People with a political agenda love to present voters with stark choices. For example, either you are pro-development or you are a NIMBY Neanderthal. You are either for economic progress or against it. Elections—and Boca’s future—too often turn on such false dilemma fallacies. When it comes to development in Boca Raton, we have other options. We need “Good Development”.
The key is balancing self-interest with the broader public interest. We need elected and appointed officials who are willing and able to think about both. By self-interest I mean both the investment and profit considerations of developers and the quality of life and investment concerns of property owners and residents. Both have rights and are entitled to fair treatment.
The City Council is Responsible
Problems arise when one group or another tries to take advantage and game the system. On the development side we have seen several glaring examples. There is Tower 155 on SE Mizner Boulevard, a stylishly designed high-end condo on a lot that is way too small for its bulk. Why? Because the developer, aided and abetted by the architect, asked for a variance to maximize the building’s $quare footage. A pliant City Council granted the request as a “housekeeping” measure.
The result looks like they built the Taj Mahal on a parking lot. Then there are the shenanigans surrounding the proposals to build on the beach at 2500 and 2600 N. Ocean. The properties were bought on the cheap because they were not open to development,. Then the buyer turned around and asks for permission to build or, threatening a lawsuit, offers to sell the land back to Boca for a small fortune. This particular bait and switch ploy was so egregious that the City Council voted 5-0 to deny development. Such tactics give development—and developers—a bad name.
Maybe there is a development project in Boca, current or planned, that you particularly hate. Chances are the reasons are as follows:
- The developer failed to consult with concerned citizens who live and work close by.
- The developer failed to consult with anybody. Council members, Mizner on the Green residents and their neighbors read about Elad’s plans for 30-story glass and steel towers in the newspaper. Three years and four iterations later, development was allowed to proceed after a compromise was reached with the building’s neighbors. What a waste of time, energy and money—unless you are a lawyer or a lobbyist.
- The developer is asking for special treatment. Usually this involves an interpretation of the laws that govern development in Boca’s downtown. The architectural standards in Ordinance 4035 are open to interpretation. While the height, density and open space requirements are quite strict, they can be waived, and
- The development project fails to take into consideration the infrastructure required to support the increased density and population. In the past ten years we have seen a building boom in Boca. The resultant problems with traffic, parking, water and sewer, school overcrowding, etc. have been treated as after shocks. It’s not the developer’s problem that Boca failed to plan adequately for the consequences of progress. It’s firmly the result of poor leadership by elected officials.
Good Development isn’t NIMBY either
But it would be unfair to paint the developers as the perennial bad guys in Boca’s building battles. Some of us can remember when Boca was little more than a fancy hotel and a pile of vacant sand, or when Mizner Park was the ugly Boca Raton Mall. Boca has developed into a vibrant city, concrete warts and all. Those who are adamantly opposed to future development—any development—should consider the following:
- Are you being selfish? You’ve got your spot in paradise, but why block others who just want what you already have? Growth doesn’t have to be a zero sum game.
- Are you being short sighted? Florida is experiencing exponential population growth because of our weather, our quality of life and our low taxes. More and more people are coming, and we need to handle the growth sensibly. “Just say no” is not an option.
- Are you being unfair? Property owners have rights. They have made investments with a reasonable expectation of making a fair return. Some, like Investments Ltd, have dramatically improved their properties and are looking at future development opportunities. They are heavily invested in our community. They should not be painted with the same brush as the build-want-you-can crowd who are in Boca solely for the profits they can extract before they leave for the next growth opportunity.
Midtown Needs Planning, Balance and Consultation
So what’s the best approach to Boca’s growing pains and stalled Midtown? Balance, planning and consultation. We need to ensure that there is a comprehensive, city-wide plan for Boca Raton before any new major development schemes are approved. We need to see the future before we approve it. We need to ensure that there is adequate infrastructure in place before any new major developments are completed. Major construction has consequences. We need to be more rigorous in enforcing architectural and building standards. And finally, we need to come together as a community rather than as warring factions of individual or corporate interests, battling at City Hall or in the courts over one development project after another. Consult your neighbors, don’t confront them or insult them.
Above all, we need elected and appointed officials willing to embrace this approach. Boca will hold important City Council elections next March. It is not too early to start thinking about the kind of candidates committed to consultation, fair play, and a balanced and well-planned future for Boca Raton.