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Will Boca Blow Its Cap?

Will Boca Blow Its Cap?

by Alan Neibauer

Boca Raton has an ordinance numbered 4035 that details how things are built in downtown. In an effort to supposedly control development downtown (please hold your applause until later) the city declared that only 8,043,440 square feet of building should be constructed downtown. This is called the “Office Equivalent CAP”. In this article, I pull back the curtain on how this number does not represent the actual square footage allowed. If you also think it’s outrageous that raising the CAP is on the table, ask every candidate seeking election this March if they favor keeping the CAP.

CAP as in total, a limit, the maximum, the ceiling, no more than.

After establishing the CAP, the city divided downtown into 7 zones and allocated the CAP (8,043,440 square feet) among them. They further divided the CAP into a number of different types of uses, such as one million square feet for high traffic retail and 185,800 square feet to medium traffic retail, and allocated portions of each type to each zone.

Typical “Mizner-esque” building designed to the Ordinance 4035 standards. Photo by Les Wilson.

Office Equivalent CAP: The Boca New Math

The ordinance also sets limits of 634 hotel rooms and 1346 residential units. Simple, right?

But then things go sideways. Square footage was allowed to be transferred from one zone to another. But most confusing, the 8,043,440 square feet CAP is not the actual square feet allowed to be built. It is something called “office equivalent square feet.”


At this point, don’t worry about the details, like how the CAP is really all about traffic. We’ll explain them in later articles. WARNING: Don’t try to look this up on the internet. You won’t find anything about this concept anywhere outside of Boca Raton. This is purely “Boca new math”.

In essence, the actual square feet of a project might be more or less than the office equivalent subtracted from the CAP. Based on some recently proposed projects however, the actual development could be twice or even three times larger than the amount applied to the CAP.

In theory, this office equivalency makes sense. Retail stores that generate high amounts of traffic reduce the CAP by some three times their actual square feet. But retail stores that generate low traffic reduce the CAP by less than the actual square feet.

Dec 2021 Office Equivalent Status Chart
Dec 2021 Office Equivalent Status Chart

But it gets tricky here.

Every 2.4 residential units counts as just 1000 office equivalent square feet, regardless how large the units are. A recent proposal, for example, included a 93-unit apartment building. The office equivalent of the 93 apartments subtracted from the CAP was just 38,750 square, or just 416 square feet for each apartment. In fact, the whole apartment building was 145,899 actual square feet but only 50,402 office equivalent square feet applied to the CAP. So the building was three times larger than what residents would imagine.

Garage structures are not included in the CAP. Another recent project included two buildings and a parking garage. While the total actual square feet of the entire proposal was 385,216 square feet, just 202,366 would come off the CAP, a full 182,851 square feet of construction not counted in the office equivalent calculation.

The City chart above shows that at the end of 2021, there were 1,160,000 ”office equivalent square feet” remaining in downtown. It is difficult to visualize how that equates to actual buildings because it’s expressed in the “Boca new math” scale, where only office equivalent square feet are counted. But roughly speaking, the remaining square feet is equal to adding one of the following to the downtown:

  1. About eight “The Mark” buildings
  2. Almost eleven Bank of America buildings
  3. Fourteen plus Tower 155 residential buildings
The square feet remaining before hitting the CAP is enough to build 8 more "The Mark" buildings downtown.
The square feet remaining before hitting the CAP is enough to build 8 more “The Mark” buildings downtown. Graphic by Les Wilson.

Remember I told you to hold the applause? You’ll be glad you did.

There is a move afoot to raise the CAP, to allow more than 8,043,440 office equivalent square feet to be built. This would mean more building downtown, denser and taller projects. And since ordinance 4035 can be amended, as it has many times already, even more can be built just by changing the office equivalent ratios.

Between raising the CAP and adjusting the office equivalencies, there may never be an end to development downtown.

Still feel like applauding?

If you care about downtown Boca, and don’t like the density and intensity of construction, along with the traffic it causes, you should be very concerned that the CAP might be raised. We need city officials to know that we’re very happy where the CAP sits right now.

To learn more about the beginnings of the downtown, check out our Boca Matters video interview with then CRA Chairperson Jorge Comejo “The Making of Mizner Park“. And, keep an eye out for future BocaFirst articles about office equivalencies and runaway development.


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