Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Boca Proposes Changes to Longtime Downtown Design Rules

Boca Raton is proposing changes to design rules for downtown development. It’s the latest attempt to encourage what the city calls “iconic architecture.”

Development Services Director Brandon Schaad detailed the changes in an April 7 memo. The proposal will go to the planning and zoning board next Thursday, then to the city council and finally to the council acting as the community redevelopment agency, which oversees downtown.

To my reading, the changes aren’t radical. Schaad writes that the goal is to “update and expand” architectural standards. Because the current ordinance is 31 years old, the city wants to “reflect current design trends and allow additional flexibility.”

City leaders for decades have wanted downtown to reflect the Mediterranean look made famous by Addison Mizner, whose former offices are near the old train depot at Camino Real and Dixie Highway. But I’ve heard regular complaints that adhering to a century-old style is unrealistic.

The new rules drop the requirement that downtown projects rely on clay tile roofs—a big feature of Mediterranean design. They also drop the requirement that no more than 40 percent of a building’s exterior can use glass. But the rules also would prohibit the use of reflective glass on the ground floor.

Architects also could use different window treatments. There’s a new push for “active street facades,” in keeping with the existing demand for pedestrian-scale development. Boca Raton no longer would require only “light and pastel colors” for downtown buildings.

Schaad notes that downtown redevelopment has “matured” over the nearly four decades since Boca Raton formed the CRA to combat blight. Mizner Park long ago replaced the Boca Raton Mall, even if the efforts to connect Mizner Park with Palmetto Park Road have failed. City officials have talked for several years about such a “rewrite” for this portion of Ordinance 4035, which governs downtown building.

One important rule would not change. Boca Raton still would allow projects roughly an extra 40 feet above the 100-foot downtown height limit if the developer adhered to certain architectural guidelines. That incentive has provided mixed results, depending on individual perspectives.

Boca Raton limits downtown development to eight million square feet of “office-equivalent” space. Office use generates the most traffic, residential the least. Using that traffic formula, city planners determine how much of that eight million limit a project would take up.

After Camino Square, the apartment project under construction on the southwest edge of downtown, roughly 15 percent of that space remains. These proposals come amid discussions about how to calculate the impact of each project and how much development the city should allow in different regions of the downtown.

The design proposals will generate a lot of discussion at the planning and zoning board meeting. I’ll update after that.                                          

Update: Condo on Royal Palm

Speaking of downtown projects in Boca Raton, there has been progress but no resolution of differences over a proposed condo on fast-developing East Royal Palm Road.

Last month, acting as the CRA, the city council seemed ready to deny the application for a four-story, five-unit project on the lot at 343 Royal Palm Road. Residents of an existing condo on the west side of the lot argued, through attorney Neil Schiller, that the project would be too big for a site that is less than one-fifth of an acre.

This dispute comes as that part of downtown is changing. Just to the east, two other high-end projects—one of them a senior living facility—have received approvals.

Rather than vote, the council asked the two sides to talk. Schiller told me this week that the developer, a Delray Beach-based entity, has made changes but that his clients still object to the planned use of a mechanical parking garage. The device would allow 10 parking spaces rather than the required seven.

Ele Zachariades represents the developer, who, she said, has made 11 “concessions.” Those include reducing the number of windows and painting the west side of the building white.

Schiller, though, said his clients worry about what would happen if the mechanical system failed. This would be the first such garage—which can hold more cars than self-parking structures—allowed under the ordinance that the city approved roughly a year ago. “They don’t want to be the test case,” Schiller said of his clients.

Zachariades rejected the characterization. The maker, she said, has installed many mechanical garages that have good performance records. The garage would have four separate systems, which she said would make the likelihood of complete failure basically impossible.

“I don’t understand it,” Zachariades said of the garage issue. She and Schiller agreed that the council will have to decide the issue at its May 8 meeting.

Billie Jean King Cup                                          

Delray Beach is excited to be hosting this weekend’s qualifying match for the Billie Jean King Cup, the self-proclaimed World Cup of women’s tennis. But elected officials aren’t happy about the cost.

According to the staff estimate, it will cost $402,000 to stage the event at the downtown tennis center. About 60 percent of that amount will be in-kind services, mostly for expenses by the police, fire and parks department.

When the commission authorized the spending at last week’s regular meeting, Mayor Shelly Petrolia complained that she saw that estimate only at the last minute. Commissioners expressed similar sentiment. There was general agreement that notice for special events cost should come sooner.

The match pits the United States against Austria. Highlighting the five-member American team is homegrown star Coco Gauff, fresh off a doubles championship at the Miami Open and ranked sixth in the world in singles. Gauff’s teammate is Jessica Pegula, ranked third in singles.

With 18, the U.S. has the most titles since the event began as the Federation Cup in 1963. Delray Beach is giving out 250 tickets to each of the Friday and Saturday sessions. Tickets will be available at Pompey and Catherine Strong parks between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. each day.

Menin applies for amendment to luxury condo plan

Earlier last Tuesday, the city commission allowed Menin Development to apply for an amendment to its project in Pineapple Grove but gave no assurance of approval.

The company is building a luxury condo on Northeast Second Avenue north of The Ray Hotel, which Menin also owns. Menin wants the city to waive the requirement for retail on the ground floor, citing the amount of retail in the area.

Commissioners Angela Burns, Adam Frankel and Rob Long voted to let the staff process the proposed amendment. Frankel said he liked the idea of additional residential in the area as opposed to another restaurant or bar. Burns was more reserved. “I would like to learn more.”

Petrolia and Commissioner Ryan Boylston voted no, though not emphatically. Boylston wondered whether Menin could put office space on the first floor. Petrolia suggested some sort of “hybrid.”

Menin President Jordana Jarjura, a former city commissioner, said the company would attempt to “address those concerns.” She understands the wish to make Northeast Second Avenue more of a “24/7 street.” On nearby Atlantic Avenue, Frankel said, “It’s like Bourbon Street” after 10 p.m.

Menin bought the property that includes The Ray and the condo in 2016 for $25.6 million.

Coleman named police chief in Riviera Beach                                           

Michael Coleman, who once ran Delray Beach’s Neighborhood and Community Services Department, is the new police chief in Riviera Beach.

The city manager chose Coleman last week. Coleman spent 20 years with the Delray Beach Police Department before moving to an administrative role. Coleman sued the city after an interim city manager forced him out in 2019 for allegedly violating rules about the awarding of grants. Coleman denied that he had done so. The city commission recently approved a settlement of that lawsuit.

Paradise—with a few pitfalls                                          

Some South Floridians like to say, “We live in paradise.” Wednesday, though, brought another reminder of how much peril paradise faces.

The Florida Department of Health issued a health advisory because of high bacterial levels in the ocean. Boca Raton and Delray Beach closed their beaches to swimming. That will limit visitors to the beach, where seaweed is piling up.

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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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