BOCA RATON FL – To say the New Dixie Boca initiative that targeted Boca’s Winfield Park, Boca Woods, Chatham Hills and Villa Rica neighborhoods failed is an understatement. It went down in flames and well it should. Decades of hyper development in downtown Boca Raton has created an electorate wise to the players and their tactics. A project touting pro-bono services of Tower 155 architect Derek Vander Ploeg, an outside urban planner, support from Mike Arts and a Boca Raton realtor as the leader was a dead give away. This was redevelopment veiled as beautification. Some residents were pulled into the project no doubt by the idea of landscaping and traffic calming but the rest were not fooled. And they showed up in force Tuesday night, to make their voices heard. They took no prisoners.
After listening to both sides and doing research, it became clear to me that the intent from the outset was to “beautify North Dixie Hwy” by encouraging redevelopment of the 60 duplex homes between 20th and 32nd. That “development” bias made the New Dixie Boca leadership team blind to true beauty. Those 60 duplexes represent 120 homes to families, singles and elderly that take pride in their community, their diversity and their chunk of Boca Raton. That is beautiful.
New Dixie Boca failed for two reasons:
- It targeted the wrong thing
- Lack of transparency
Lack of Transparency
You can’t fault anyone being suspicious after receiving this mailer only a few months after the failed attempt to change Boca’s single family zoning to allow multistory/high density Assisted Living Facilities. While pitched to the city as a project to beautify Dixie Highway, the New Dixie Boca mailer reveals the real goal is the redevelopment of the duplex properties on the western edge of the neighborhoods between Dixie and Federal. But wait, there’s more. Rather than propose beautification, the mailer actually renders explicit the ulterior motive to gentrify the strip between 20th and 32nd with luxury apartments over commercial buildings by changing the zoning.
FOIA requests by astute residents rendered explicit that redevelopment of the strip was the intent from as far back as 2018. Read one here. It drips of snobbery. And here’s a quote from the mailer submitted to the City for approval that clearly shows intent and motivation:
“The investors on our western border have not found the motivation to improve their properties beyond current state. … Can you imagine if we changed the least valuable street in our neighborhood into the most valuable? … My proposal includes a change in zoning along the highway that allows small business on the first floor and beautiful luxury residences on the second floor.” — Michael Weppner
Targeting the wrong thing
ICYMI, Boca is on a headlong rush to increase density and diminish residential zones. With New Dixie Boca, the City actually paid the group $16,000 of taxpayer money to study how this can be done under the guise of beautification. Not satisfied with inundating the downtown with large buildings and traffic, it took on the North Dixie Hwy R2 zone. They couldn’t have chosen a worse target.
Now if you catch yourself rolling your eyes and raising your nose about homes along Dixie, you are wrong. While I’ve travelled Dixie plenty, it’s been driving at speed. So to get eyeballs on it, I rode Dixie by bike from Camino Real to Spanish River Blvd. I was shocked by my preconceived notions and bias. While there are stretches of Dixie in Boca that aren’t so hot, this is not one of them. Of the 30 duplexes along Dixie in the targeted strip, all but one showed a pride of ownership with decent paint, roofs and yards. What needs beautification isn’t the private property. What needs beautification is the public land of Dixie Hwy itself.
From 20th to 32nd, Dixie Hwy is a lot of tired plain old road. There’s plenty of opportunity for a skilled landscaper to create a beautiful road that caters to the eyes as much as the tires. And a curb wouldn’t hurt either. All this already happened on Dixie South of 20th. The City of Boca Raton needs to do the work with the County and get it done. Rezoning and redeveloping 60 properties with commercial businesses isn’t the solution. New Dixie Boca got it wrong.
$16,000 down the drain
Boca Raton Resolution 27-2022 shows the City Council gave Michael Weppner $16,000 of public money for:
“the purpose of providing funding assistance associated with the efforts to change and improve Dixie Highway North of NE 20th street.”Boca Raton Resolution 27-2022
It does not say anything about the properties other than the property owners must be notified. Nice to know we paid for someone to come in and destroy one of our neighborhoods. In the hands of local resident landscaper Michael French, that $16,000 could have put more landscaping along the easement. But beautifying what was ugly was never the intent. The intent was always to target the strip of homes that somehow offended the sensibilities of the “influential colleagues and various community leaders” who don’t live there and drove the project at redevelopment.
Residents outsmarted New Dixie Boca
The usual threats were voiced in the meeting. “Change is going to happen. You can’t do nothing. Landowners can come in and build to 25′ or 35′ tall buildings if they want. …”. It was a major miscalculation rooted in “old think”. In preventing zoning changes, the residents cleverly kept the existing zoning forces at work that will keep those properties residential. They gave no quarter to the attempted rezoning. Make the city do its job to beautify public lands and make the roads safe? YES. Let greedy outsiders make money on the backs of residents? NO. Smart.
Residents want traffic calming on the cut through roads of their neighborhood, landscaping on Dixie and the city to stop the drag racing that occurs on Dixie most nights. Those are all the domain of the City to make happen. No special interest group needed thank you.
It’s not over
When will enough be enough? Step by step, the City is changing Boca Raton into a Fort Lauderdale wannabe. Gone are the historic downtown buildings. Gone is the low traffic small town feel. Adios quaint strolling streets. The traffic is now so bad on Federal Highway that they need barricades to protect people in Sanborn Square park. For every park they give us, beautiful as they may be, they give us tons of concrete lining our streets with dollar store pedestrian/bicycle infrastructure. They’ll chip away at our single-family districts, small steps at a time, until they don’t exist.
Section 2.5 of the grant requires the New Dixie Boca group to provide an accounting for the monies spent and the submission of renderings, maps, and brochures by a licensed architect. Keep an eye on this to see what is presented to the City Council for our $16,000. BocaFirst will continue to follow this story.