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Wizards Control The City’s Hands

by Alan Neibauer

We already know that there are wizards at work behind the curtain to get developments approved. See The Wizards of Boca. The wizards are mainly architects and land- use lawyers who work for developers. They use their influence to pave the way for the projects they represent. The trojan horse is a favorite tactic.

The most recent example is the massive Aletto Square project threatening to loom over Sanborn Square. The professional city staff has been toiling over this proposal for almost two years. That’s because the developer has been evading or ignoring major issues, and using tortured logic to excuse problems. The process, as one architect once explained, is “small design improvements incrementally and grudgingly given by the Applicant in the hopes that the reviewer will tire, give up and approve.” So what’s a wizard to do when that fails?

This massive building across from Sanborn Square

Blame Staff and Call City Council

When it reaches the point where the wizards can no longer get away with it, they blame the staff and call City Council. With Aletto, even before the final staff review is completed, a letter to City Council gets it fast tracked to be presented to the Planning and Zoning on May 18th. The hearing will be at 6 PM at 6500 Congress Ave. Please join us there to fight this Sanborn Square- busting project.

Why the delay? Staff has to make the same comment over and over again to get an adequate response

A miracle happened after this project was fast tracked by City Council at the request of the developer. The issues with a deficient open space plan and the non-conforming alley suddenly became acceptable. The wizard’s strategy did the job. The applicant’s self-serving justifications and excuses overcame logic and City policy. What was reported as a too narrow alley in all of the review cycles became a non-issue. And corrections to the open space plan disappeared with a wave of the wizard’s wand. The developer’s push to City Council went a long way.

This is only one example of how these wizards try to get their way. All development is controlled by city ordinances. And many of these ordinances have been written by, or for, developers, architects, and land use lawyers. There is nothing illegal about this. Each amendment just needs to have a city council member to sponsor it;  they can always find one. Many provide a legitimate improvement, but others are just to make their life easier and more profitable. They seem to have unusual influence on what gets approved.

Who’s Running the Show?

Recently an amendment to modify the main  development code, Ordinance 4035, was presented to the Planning and Zoning Board. We don’t know who wrote it, but one architect who spoke about it openly referred to it as “our ordinance.” “Our” as in belonging to them. “Our” as in for their benefit.

The ordinance provides for some changes to the way buildings are allowed to be designed. These changes, and the ones that are guaranteed to be introduced in the future, have one purpose: to change the look and direction that Boca is going. The way the architects want it. The Mizner look is being phased into oblivion, dragged out to sea like an abandoned beach chair.

 Not too long ago, an ordinance was approved that allowed automated garages but only  downtown. It wasn’t disclosed until after it was passed by City Council that it was written by the architect who just happened to design the first such downtown  project that would require it.

Behold! A Trojan Horse

 That seemingly innocuous amendment has been a Trojan Horse, however. You are going to see proposals come up that want that technology. In fact, it was recently proposed to physically force four large condos into a micro-sized lot on a street without parking. The address is 343 East Royal Palm Road. Read Dear Boca CRA.

The developer set aside one guest parking spot, but only had room for seven more. Seven is actually the required number. But selling an expensive three bedroom condo without a guarantee of two spots could be difficult. To get more parking in the tiny lot, they tried to use the amendment to stack cars on top of each other. The amendment, they said, allowed them.

Planning and Zoning approved the plan, but the CRA had some misgivings. In the end, the CRA actually voted twice on the proposal. The first vote, using mechanical parking, was defeated. They second vote, without mechanical parking and just seven parking spots, passed.

Many of these amendments are Trojan Horses. They get the authority to roll the amendment in on unsuspecting residents. Residents who only find out later the damage is done and can be duplicated elsewhere.

One of the most famous Trojan Horses is the Interim Development Guideline’s, or the IDG. That and later amendments to it, now allow much taller buildings on smaller and smaller lots. A special Trojan Horse amendment was made to allow Tower 155 to be constructed. Now that same builder is trying to use it again for the proposed Aletto Square; which will create six times the current traffic around Sanborn Square. 

If you care about downtown, sign the Stop Aletto Square petition, and come out on May 18th.

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