The saga of development in Midtown Boca Raton continues to add new chapters to its story. With development progress halted due to lawsuits filed against the City by Midtown developers, progress is taking place in the courts. This past month the Fifteenth Circuit Court of Palm Beach County ruled against Crocker Partners. The ruling was with prejudice and in favor of the City.
Developers can be expected to ask for the world. They can be expected to maximize profit. It’s the City Government’s job to care for the City and its residents. They are supposed to do what’s best for the City. When they don’t, citizens have to step in. Witness the Wildflower referendum in 2016.
Apparently content to have more delays to develop Midtown, Crocker Partners announced that the company intends to appeal the decision. That’s a process that will take many months. It’s not how it’s supposed to work.
That Was Then and This is Now
When it comes to development in our city, 2019 is different than 2010 and 2014 when the idea of Midtown as a transit oriented developments was floated in Boca Raton with a special moniker “Planned Mobility District or PMD”. There is now a big difference in the minds and opinions of the residents of Boca Raton. There are also lessons that have been learned by residents and City officials. As new developments have emerged in other PMD areas and significant buildout has occurred in the downtown, residents have been sounding the alarm regarding traffic and density. The surrounding roads and schools were insufficient to handle the increased population density. These are valid concerns.
No matter how the development community likes to craft the story, more population creates more traffic, more school children and increased costs for fire, rescue and sanitation. The empirical evidence in our city is undeniable. For PMDs to work, the City should have been investing in PMD infrastructure so when PMD development projects come on-line the increased population will not degrade traffic and overcrowd the schools. Otherwise, we’re just building apartments.
The current City Council has shown themselves to be more sensitive to the voices of the residents and the issues of school overcrowding. They also appear to be mindful of a longer term view of what the City could, or should be. Along with commercial property landowners, personal property owners also have rights and concerns. The residents surrounding Midtown welcome new development. But they are wary of a large residential development located there due to concerns over the lack of infrastructure and the resulting loss of quality of life.
In Simple Terms
The lawsuits were filed against the City due to the City Council’s request that a “Master Plan” for the area be accomplished before final development details are approved. The term Master Plan was changed to “Small Area Plan” when developer representatives protested that Master Plan was not an appropriate description. That’s what City governments are supposed to do. But subsequent to the City approval to proceed with the Small Area Plan, Midtown landowners “lawyered up”. It feeds the obvious conclusion they are more interested in zoning changes that would suit their needs rather than working with the City to resolve differences and create a plan that suits both; the way it’s supposed to work.
In More Complex Terms
The Midtown area of Boca Raton spans between the Mall to Military trail just south of Glades Rd. It, along with four other areas, was designated as a Planned Mobility District. The common name is a Transit Oriented Development or TOD. Boca’s PMDs were added to the City’s Comprehensive Plan in 2010. Note the year. The country was in the midst of the Great Recession and economic development was a priority for many communities. Local land use attorneys crafted the Ordinance that was welcomed by a different City Council. By creating a different moniker than TOD, unique rules were crafted for Boca Raton’s special version named PMD.
But of the five PMD areas of Boca, Midtown is set apart from the others because it has operated under County Zoning Laws since that area was annexed into the City in 2003. Under County zoning, residential is not allowed in the area. Note also in the excerpt from the PMD Ordinance below, PMDs require roadway, school and other infrastructure to be built ahead of the PMD construction. The city has done none of that in Midtown so how could they approve a PMD at all?
In a bit of irony, railways are an important component to access transportation in the PMDs. In one chapter of this saga, the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority studied having a Tri-Rail station in Midtown. The Authority identified roughly two acres within the sixty seven acre site for a “Kiss and Ride” type station. Crocker Partners happens to own that particular parcel but refused to sell it to the Authority to enable the very thing needed at the center of a proper PMD.
Another bit of irony is the claim that the City has purposely created delays for their plans to develop Midtown. At this point, it’s the lawsuits that will create longer delays well beyond any delays that the developers claim were caused by the City doing its job.
Nothing! With the City forced to play defense on these matters, the issue rests with the courts. With a recent victory, it is unlikely the City will concede at this point – unless Crocker Partners presents itself as willing to negotiate on a plan for Midtown. It’s possible Crocker Partners will play a waiting game by focusing on the upcoming municipal election in March 2020, by offering financial support to a certain candidate of their choosing and funding friendly PAC’s to dramatically influence the vote and thereby put in place a council member that will do their bidding for Midtown. In Boca Raton, as the saying goes, “we have seen this movie before”.