Monday, September 25, 2023

Boca Grapples With Land Use in Beach House, Aletto and Park Square

The fight over a proposed oceanfront residential project in Boca Raton is entering a new phase.

On the agenda for tonight’s meeting of the Environmental Advisory Board is the request for a variance that would allow construction of a nearly 10,000-square-foot home at 2600 North Ocean Boulevard. It would be three stories tall and have a rooftop terrace.

Because the project would be east of what state law calls the Coastal Construction Control Line, it must get a variance; beyond that line, any building is generally considered harmful to the coastal environment. The Environmental Advisory Board will make a recommendation to approve or deny the project.

Three years ago, the city council denied a variance on this property for a 14,000-square-foot, four-story duplex on the same site. But the developer appealed, alleging that council members Monica Mayotte and Andrea O’Rourke had prejudiced themselves before the vote by publicly stating their opposition.

The court ruled against the city, saying that the council needed to hold a second vote without Mayotte and O’Rourke participating. Instead, the developer submitted this new application for a single-family home that would include an elevator and a basement—not the usual feature in South Florida—much less on the ocean.

According to the staff memo, “The reduction in the overall size, including the height of the proposed building, along with reductions in the percentage of the east, north and south elevations that consist of glass, work to reduce potential negative environmental impacts.

“At the same time, the applicant has chosen to refuse to provide necessary, crucial information to fully evaluate said impacts, and has explicitly chosen not to take mitigative measures the applicant included in the previous proposal, leaving staff no choice but to recommend denial.”

The developer contends that there are many “special” and “unique” conditions peculiar to the property that justify the variance. Boca Raton, the developer argues, has five miles of beachfront, nearly half of which is privately owned. Condominiums take up almost all of that land, and almost all include “amenities” that are east of the Coastal Construction Control Line. Some condos are west of A1A, with only the amenities on the beach.

Because this project is a home, the developer claims that he “has no opportunity to use the property as an amenity for a large condo project that would justify the use of the ocean side of A1A for a recreational amenity.” In other words, the house is the only possible use, and those unique conditions are reason to grant the variance.

The exchanges between the developer and the city get very technical on such matters as window glass. That’s because a key environmental element is the potential impact on nesting sea turtles and hatchlings. Light west of the ocean can lure turtles away from the reflection of the moon on the water and away from the beach.

According to the planning staff, “The project presents a highly probable adverse situation for nesting sea turtles because of the high likelihood of light trespass and light reflection from the east-facing building elevation that is predominantly made of glass, which also is highly likely to create sea turtle hatchling disorientations.” The city’s consultant agrees.

In a separate lawsuit, the developer alleged violations of the Sunshine Law, saying that city officials basically conspired to kill the previous project. Last week, the developer withdrew the lawsuit while retaining the ability to refile it.

At several points, the developer has proposed selling the site to the city and/or the beach and park district. City officials say the developer is asking an inflated price based on approval of the variance.

After the environmental advisory board, the project would go to the planning and zoning board and then the council. I’ll have more as the process continues.

Boca facing lawsuit over Park Square denial

boca square
Proposed ALF Property in Boca Square

Boca Raton faces a lawsuit over the city’s rejection of a controversial adult living facility in Boca Square on the site of a closed church.

Religious Science Unlimited, which owns the property just north of Addison Mizner School, disputes the city’s contention that the project—known as Park Square—would require a change to the comprehensive plan. Boca Raton-based Whelchel Partners had a contract to buy the 3.7-acre property from Religious Science Unlimited and have a third party build and run the ALF.

The project never got a hearing before any advisory board, much less the city council. In December, city planners said the application was deficient and could not be processed any further. Whelchel Partners would have to start over.

Nearby residents strongly opposed the three-story project, which would have had 128 beds. They argued that the ALF would generate too much traffic for the single-family home neighborhood. Signs opposing the project were in most yards around the school.

According to the lawsuit, city planners told Whelchel Partners that the project did not need a plan amendment. “After nearly eight months of diligently working with the city” toward approval, the lawsuit says, the developer was “blindsided” by a Dec. 23 letter stating that an amendment was necessary.

Such amendments require approval from four of the five council members, not a simple majority. Requiring it, the lawsuit says, “is focused not on broad public policy, but on blocking” the ALF.

Religious Science Unlimited wants to rule that the project does not need a plan amendment and to restart the review process where it was. I’ll have more when the city submits its response.

Aletto too large?    

aletto square
Aletto Square renderings from Compson Associates

Based on staff comments, the Aletto Square project is too large for the tight downtown Boca Raton space in which the developer wants to fit it.

Aletto Square would have three buildings. One would be 10 stories tall with mostly office space. Another would be 12 stories and include 93 apartments. Then there would be an eight-story automated parking garage with 357 spaces. The site is just east of Sanborn Square and south of the Tower 155 condo.

Without that mechanical garage, which could handle more cars than self-parking garages of similar size, the project would have no chance of meeting parking requirements. Even with the garage, according to city planners, Aletto Square would be 175 spaces short.

The third round of staff comments includes two pages of questions about parking. Essentially, the staff believes that Aletto Square is using unreasonably optimistic projections on how many spaces it could secure. The staff recommends that leases for the apartments inform tenants “that no parking spaces can be reserved or guaranteed.”

Critics believe that Aletto Square would overwhelm the low-rise atmosphere of the neighborhood. The project has not been scheduled for any hearings.

Boca high schools get high marks  

Spanish River High School (Photo by Christiana Lilly)

US News ranks Boca Raton’s two high schools third and fourth in Palm Beach County.

In its 2022 survey, US News placed Spanish River High third and Boca Raton High fourth. The website compiles the list each spring from among nearly 18,000 high schools nationwide.

US News bases the rankings on “college readiness, reading and math proficiency, reading and math performance, underserved student performance, college curriculum breadth and graduation rates.”

By “college readiness,” US News refers to “participation and performance on Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate exams, and underserved student performance focuses on students who are Black, Hispanic, or from low-income households.” Science performance was included for the first time.

Again this year, US News ranked Dreyfoos School for the Arts and Suncoast first and second among county high schools. But that’s a tough comparison with Spanish River and Boca High. Each has roughly twice as many students, and Dreyfoos and Suncoast are magnet schools. Suncoast has the county’s top International Baccalaureate program.

Statewide, Spanish River ranked 43rd, while Boca High was 55th. Nationally, each dropped. Spanish River ranked 765th and Boca was 979th.

Atlantic High in Delray was 10th in the county and 160th statewide. West Boca Raton High was fifth in the county and 67th statewide. Olympic Heights ranked ninth in the county and 145th statewide.

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Randy Schultz
Randy Schultz
Randy Schultz, a native of Hartford, Connecticut, has been a South Florida journalist since 1974. He worked for The Miami Herald until 1976 and for The Palm Beach Post from 1976 until 2014, where he served as managing editor and editorial page editor. Since 2014, he has written a politics blog, commentaries and other articles for Boca magazine. His writing has earned first-place awards from the Florida Magazine Association and the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors. Randy has lived in Boca Raton with his wife, Shelley Huff-Schultz, since 1985. His son, daughter-in-law and their three children also live in Boca Raton.

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