Welcome Back! Same old, same old?
By: Al Zucaro
This past week the City Council/ CRA members came back together after summer break with a tone and tenure suggesting little change in attitude and even less change in approach. After observing comments made from the dais, one wants to buy gift certificates to a Dale Carnegie course on how to win friends and influence people.
The City Council’s session outlined operating and capital budgets prepared and presented by the city manager. These budgets are well thought out and set the priorities necessary to guide Boca Raton through this next fiscal year. Kudos is deserved for these efforts, excellent.
The Fox and the Chicken Coop….
Earlier that same day, at the CRA workshop, a different but familiar picture was painted. Three intense development projects were brought forward by staff on behalf of developers requesting the CRA to expedite the approval process for these projects and arguing that negative economic consequences will happen if the projects are not approved by October 31. To accomplish this timeline, shortcuts are necessary. The suggested shortcuts will diminish the time for public review and comment on the impacts of such projects. Déjà vu one can say…Archstone revisited.
Three CRA members strongly supported this abbreviated approval process of the documents and text language drafted by the developer. Let me reiterate…this language is written by the developers and will set in motion guiding precedent for future land use legislation governing the city of Boca Raton and brought to the legislative body by staff without a recommendation yet requesting direction to go forward.
And if that is not enough, the suggested language provides the elected officials only a general approval of the developers’ conceptual master plan with subsequent individual elements within that plan being approved by an unelected group of individuals appointed to the Planning and Zoning Board. I leave to your imagination who, in the future, will dominate that board….
Of the three CRA members voting in favor of moving this process forward, the Mayor was most vocal. Her comments argued that these projects have been in the pipeline for some two years now; that the delay was due in part to staff not being able to complete the city’s own text language; and, that because of the projects extended time within the system there can be no legitimate complaint that this is a ‘rush’ job; to wit: Archstone.
She could not be more wrong….and here is why….
The fact that these items have been in the system for near two years is irrelevant to the issue of public comment and input. There has been no public viewing of these projects; no recommendation by staff; no community dialogue and certainly no community participation.
The only essential element that will be diminished by an expedited process will be the public’s opportunity to continue the dialogue started with Archstone; to wit: the dialogue on density and intensity, on congestion and growth, and on what this city will look like as it moves into the future.
A fly in the anointment…
Internal city memorandums exist that contain interesting revelations between high level city administrators and the developers’ agents. These documents reveal that the deputy city administrator in charge suggests to the developers that approval by October 31 is doubtful but if it were to be accomplished it would need to follow a very specific path. He outlines the process and seemingly ushers the paperwork thorough as if an agent for the developer. Very curious to say the least!
These items are then brought forward to the CRA for consideration of the submitted documents and text changes verbatim and exactly as the developers’ have requested. This action is conducted by the same deputy administrator who should be held accountable for the delay of the city’s own text changes which, now, coincidentally, are ready for review and are being submitted to the P & Z board in September with legislative action anticipated in November; of course, just beyond the developer’s requested deadline.
So here are some observations for thought:
1) If the developers’ items can be expedited then the staff’s text changes can be expedited as well. This would eliminate the questionable economic hardship offered as justification for the abbreviated process;
2) If, as suggested by the Mayor, the reason for delay is due in part to staffing cuts and extenuating circumstances then expedited treatment of these three items may have a domino effect on other developer items in the pipeline;
3) If these three items are granted the requested expedited process then one can expect to open the proverbial flood gate for other developers to want similar treatment for their individual projects.
Expedited processing on a selected basis is a very bad idea. City staff should not be the messenger for developers. Elected officials should not short circuit the established process. Citizens should not be deprived of their opportunity to view these proposed projects, formulate opinions and voice those opinions at the appropriate time in front of their elected officials who are accountable to the citizens and not to the developers or the developers’ agents.