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In The Crosshairs: Single Family Zones

by Alan Neibauer

Once the American dream and the bulwark of the middle class, single family non-commercial zones (SFZs)   were thought untouchable. Now no longer sacrosanct, city planners and politicians are rethinking their value. In fact, single family zones are in the crosshairs of every developer, and it’s happening right here in Boca Raton. 

In theory, these attacks on SFZs are well meaning. Their aim is to build affordable and walkable neighborhoods. These neighborhoods, called the “missing middle”, would  contain a range of housing types that fit between single-family detached homes and mid-to-high-rise apartment buildings. Buildings such as duplexes, triplexes, townhomes, and other low rise buildings. Adding retail to the mix would, in theory,  make these neighborhoods more walkable.

You live there for a reason

But if you  live in a single family zone, you moved there for a reason. For space, low density, low traffic, quiet.  Changing your neighborhood to a missing middle neighborhood might change all that. And in Boca Raton, single family zones are in the crosshairs of every developer.

It’s already been tried. Just last December, a developer targeted a section of Dixie Highway  between 20th to 32nd. Under the guise of  “beautification” the proposal would have replaced 60 existing duplexes (120 homes) with a series of multi-use buildings. Each would have ground floor retail with residences above.

Area residents feared the project would bring more traffic to the residential streets, and not result in useful or affordable retail. Fortunately the residents protested the plan. They  prevailed and the plan was dropped.  But for how long?

Expect a more serious attack

Another, more serious,  attack may be  about to occur. The Whelchel company, in an ongoing battle with residents, is proposing a large multi-family building in the single family zone of Boca Square.  To do so, however,  would require a change to the city’s comprehensive plan. A change that can challenge single family zones throughout the city. It is so significant that it requires at least 4 council members to approve, rather than a simple majority.

Ongoing battle between residents and developers in Boca Square neighborhood.
There has been an ongoing battle to keep multi- family buildings out of single-family zones

If you think these are rare examples, think again. This challenge is nationwide. Many municipalities have already, or are considering,  allowing multi-family housing in SFZs. Another trend is accessory dwelling units. These are independent dwellings that share the same same lot. 

Headlines across the nation predict the end of single- family zones
Headlines across the nation foreshadow the end of single-family zones.

In 2018, Minneapolis outright  abolished single-family zoning citywide. Oregon has mandated  two,  three, and four-unit structures, as well as townhouses in any neighborhood previously zoned only for single-family detached homes. And California now allows up to four units on lots previously limited to a single house.

Protect single-family zones

Do you live  in a single family zone and want to keep it that way?  If you wait for your community to be threatened it will be too late. Keep watching BocaFirst.org and checking the Boca Raton agendas for projects attacking SFZs. 

Hands off our single-family zones
Hands off our single-family zones

But even more important, to keep SFZs safe into the future, elect City Council candidates who believe in them. There is one with experience fighting for single family neighborhoods in the race. Candidates who will not do the bidding of developers and architects who want fill our City with large buildings, traffic, and congestion. Tell them to keep developer’s greedy hands off of our single family zones. Your vote is your voice. 

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