Awake all you ghosts and goblins…Trick or Treat
After 4½ hours at city chambers for the Planning and Zoning marathon this week, everyone left the room glazed, hungry and ready to go. Listening attentively and taking decisions on such complex subjects is, at best, difficult and without visuals, one cannot even begin to see the ‘treats’ resulting from the ‘tricks’ hidden within the technical language.
Like ghosts lurking to prey on the innocent who believe that all is good and evil does not exist……incredible.
So what was the first order of business…?
“Planned Mobility” to implement regulations for 78.62 acres east of the El Rio canal between Spanish River Blvd. and Interstate 95, a project that anticipates 2.5 million square feet of development with density to allow almost 1600 residential units next to a single family area without the benefits of traffic studies, economic impact analysis or visual sightlines describing the cityscape after the developer is long gone and the citizens are left with managing the outcomes.
The first request by the developer was to remove this item from the agenda and postpone to the next meeting. I guess the dire economic consequence for not meeting their deadline is more a trick then a treat…..Happy Halloween!
Next was a presentation from staff about proposed zoning changes followed by a developer request for 10 amendments dramatically changing to the impacts and the look of the city. Very intense, very complex language again presented without the benefit of economic impact studies, traffic studies or even sightlines to provide visuals of the end results….
A picture is worth a thousand words…
Citizens, in the past few weeks, have voiced negative opinion over the Levitz Plaza development on North Federal Highway. That project, a mere babe in the woods compared to those being recommended now, consists of 20 units per acre, a fifteen foot setback from the road, four stories in height with a total of 384 units. With that project out of the ground, one can only now visualize what will dominate the sightlines of that area forever.
Can you see the Caldwell????
Begin to imagine the look that will dominate if projects with a density of 54 units to the acre and 85 feet in height are approved. That is the height and density being recommended to the city council and the council seems ready to accept these outcomes without the pictures necessary to see the developers’ vision for the city of Boca Raton.
Present in chambers were all the usual suspects and then some. The developers were there in full force. Also present were citizens expressing concerns that these plans are inconsistent with Boca Raton’s low density directive and its passive and peaceful lifestyle. Two very different, competing views.
What became apparent was how the argument was formulated. Staff argued for language with proscribed limitations. Developers argued that their requested amendments are small in nature and will have a negligible impact. That is a false argument.
Staff’s changes are a major deviation to the existing look and feel of the city. The incremental difference from staff’s position and the developers request is not the measurement. What is the measurement is the difference from the current code to the considerable demands the developers suggests is necessary to make a project viable.
Developers will push to get maximum density always. They will not act in the best interest of the citizens or the city. They will only act in their individual best interest believing that collective individual interests will somehow equal the common interest. This is false and this is exactly why there is representative government, a city council that is elected to act in the best interests of the people.
The citizens’ argued effectively that Boca Raton is a low density place; that the citizens’ interests come first; and that the city council is not the voice of the developers but rather the voice of the community. They are exactly right. This is not to say that the common interest is necessarily different from the collection of individual interests but it is to say that there is currently no community buy-in to these massive changes.
There has been little effort by the elected officials to go to the citizens and make the case as to why these changes are good. The threat of higher taxes and fewer services is not valid until the people have a reason to accept the facts as truth. There is little evidence that the elected officials have taken their case to the people and there is growing dissatisfaction throughout the city by citizens that are uninformed within the process.
I have argued this before. The city council needs to get out of its ivory tower and go out to the people. Make the case. Make the developers make the case. Do not simply accept the notion that that there is only “modest” changes being asked for. These changes are anything but “modest” and the elected officials act at their peril to overlook the common good, the voice of the people.
Like the ghosts in the night, the true choice is a ‘treat’ of a willing and informed citizenry or the ‘trick’ of more petition driven challenges, more angst among the people and an elected body irresponsive to those that they serve.