In the most brazen land grab request to the City of Boca Raton, a land use “lawyer-lobbyist” attorney wants Boca Raton to abandon a public street, one entire alley and half of another and give them to her. Don’t be confused. It’s not that she wants it for free (which she does), it’s that she wants to take it away from us; We are the city.
The landowners in this case are Dunay, Miskel and Backman LLP (DMBK), the law firm of land-use attorney Bonnie Miskel, and Compson Associates. ICYMI, a Sun Sentinel investigative report discovered that Miskel was found to be referring clients to a Delray commissioner.
Anyway, a clear and cogent rationale against the city abandoning streets and alleys was given by Planning and Zoning board member Larry Cellon in the lone dissenting vote to put the project up for approval. If, after listening to Larry Cellon’s argument or reading this article you are also against erasing the city grid for developers, use the link at the end of this article to send an email to the Boca Raton CRA chairman Marc Wigder and members Singer, Nachlas, Drucker and Mayotte.
What’s driving the land grab?
Look, there’s good redevelopment and bad. FYI, Compson happens to be the developer of Tower 155, and the developer behind the massive Aletto Square proposal. So good or bad? You decide.
But in the same way Palmetto Promenade (aka Archstone) created the long concrete expanse of empty unaffordable commercial spaces along Palmetto Park Road, the gigantic Aletto Square proposal will plunge Sanborn Square into a dark pigeon hole. Now this newest project, “The Residences of Boca,” seeks to erase more of the city’s grid. In this case from SE 3rd to SE 5th. Just because the area was built in the 60’s doesn’t mean anything is better than nothing. Again, think good redevelopment vs bad.
At present, DMBK owns the properties on north and south sides of SE 4th Street highlighted in red above. Those three properties are completely separated from each other by city owned alleys running east-west parallel to SE 4th Street, and SE 4th Street itself, as shown above. And, they are bookended by The Arbor office buildings on the west end of SE 4th and nine small businesses to the east.
World-class chutzpah in play
DMBK wants to construct a 12 story project, from SE 3rd Street on the north to SE 5th Street. It would be called the Residences of Boca. Astute readers will notice that SE 4th street and an alley happen to be in the way of the plan. So with world-class chutzpah (extreme audacity) DMBK are asking the City to abandon them and give DMBK the street and alleys. So the block ownership map would transition as illustrated below.
The deletion of the streets and alleys from the grid along with DMBK’s 12 story project was approved by Sevell, Da Rocha, Snowden and Whitney at the March 16 meeting of the Planning and Zoning Board with only Larry Cellon voting against it. As of this time, it has not been scheduled to appear before the CRA.
The land grab doesn’t sit well with neighbors either
Let it all sink in. DMBK wants to take SE 4th St. and the alleys bordering its property on the north and south so they can build one massive building spanning two blocks instead of individual right-sized 4035 compliant buildings. That is, they want to take chunks of our city so they can build yet another monster pile of concrete on a postage stamp lot leaving less and less room for alternative ways for people to get around. We’ve seen this movie before when 3′ of a public alley was given to Compson for Tower 155 with ordinance 5293 by Singer, Mullaugh and Weinroth:
The small business owners surrounding the proposed project argue they have an inferred right of access to Federal via SE 4th which is the property’s front entrance. They feel:
- Miskell’s proposal forces congestion and roundabout vehicular traffic on alleys that previously didn’t have it
- The City already decimated the Dixie Hwy access using eminent domain and made their property substandard for safe access from Dixie
- That the publicly owned SE 4th street and the access it provides as their main vehicular entrance, should not be taken away from them to increase the value of DMBK’s property at the expense of surrounding properties.
Other landowners spoke against the project pointing out the special treatment being given to DMBK:
Let’s just hand over the keys to the city
The abandonment of the street is most significant, but the alleys are also a loss to the public. While Boca hasn’t done much with its alleys yet, other cities, such as Savanah, have used them to establish character and open spaces for non-vehicular traffic. They are an important tool for developing alternative ways to move non-vehicular traffic in any kind of Vision Zero plan to eliminate traffic fatalities and injuries such as what happened at Federal and Palmetto on March 3rd.
In the hands of creative urban designers, alleys and low intensity streets like SE 4th are the cornerstone for turning around Boca Raton’s old fashioned car-centric city grid. As a voice for current and future residents and for improved quality of life, we feel the land grab for DMBK’s “The Residences of Boca” will handcuff city attempts to make Boca safe for non-vehicular mobility. Erasing the city grid by giving away streets and alleys means more will die on Boca’s archaic vehicle-centric grid.
Feeding the unquenchable thirst for a land grab
DMBK are also asking to build more residences than what was set as the limit for that area in Ordinance 4035. How would all the new Boca residents to get around? On Federal Highway’s measly little sidewalks? Anything else DMBK wants? Are the keys to the city next?
What you need to know is that Ordinance 4035 sets limits of development downtown. However addendums written by developers in the Whelchel/Haynie/Scott/Weinroth/Mullaugh years were incorporated into the code that create loopholes in the ordinance that allow developers to build beyond the limits. The most famous of these was, of course, Ordinance 5289 (by Singer, Mullaugh, Weinroth) that reduced the minimum lot size required for buildings to to go above the ordinance 4035 height limit. See We’ve Been Played to learn how developers take advantage of these loopholes.
Of course, in their presentation, DMBK present a great deal of “justification” for getting the street. They talk about using alleys, SE 3rd and SE 5th to solve the traffic problems they are creating by taking SE 4th St away from the city and surrounding land owners. Absurdly, they make much that they will rehabilitate the west alley that runs between their properties and The Arbor.
But truth be told, their section of the alley is the worst section of the alley and that “rehab” is code for taking away a calm, clean, shaded pedestrian and cycle path from the grid and turn it into a zig-zag road for vehicle traffic to get to the Arbor and other properties served by SE 4th St. We doubt any walkers and bicycle riders will find mixing it up with two way vehicle traffic in a narrow alley appealing or safe. Take a ride down the alley here:
What you can do
For DMBK and Compson, SE 4th St and its alleys are .46 acres of land they want to take away from the city to add value to their land at the expense of the greater public good and other landowners around them. Allowing it is the same mindset that Singer, Mullaagh and Weinroth had when they allowed Compson to widen Tower 155 into a public alley. And Compson is trying to do the same with Aletto Square; asking to gobble up alley space in the grid. But no matter how they try to justify it, there is one fact they cannot change. The City should not give away its streets and alleys to a private developer. Period. [edited]
If this land grab is approved by the CRA, the taking of our public streets, alleys and lands will continue to feed bad development’s unquenchable thirst for land to the detriment of everyone else. They are asking the City to give away parts of itself. This kind of bad development will have the City feeding on itself, cannibalizing it until nothing remains but concrete and glass.
We think this project sets a bad precedent regardless of how you feel about the project itself. It’s not about architecture. We must let the City know that we, the residents, oppose giving away city property, at any price, to private developers. But what do you think? If you think it’s a bad idea, tell your elected City Council to not abandon SE 4th St and/or alleys. Tell them it’s time to conserve and preserve the grid for alternative ways for pedestrians and other non-vehicular traffic to safely navigate the city. Include your name and be nice. Here’s a button to create a pre-addressed email:
4-9-23: Edited to correct statement on The Promenade and NE 3rd and 4th Ave.