In The Mag: Madam Mayor

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As she approaches the one-year mark as mayor of Boca Raton, Susan Haynie looks back on the city’s past and weighs in on issues that will impact its future.

When asked about the difference between serving a term on the Boca Raton City Council (this is her fifth) and sitting in the mayor’s chair (to which she was elected last March), Susan Haynie admits that it’s a matter of making the city’s most wanted list.

“It’s busy! It’s very busy. But I’m enjoying it,” says the longtime resident of Boca (40-plus years). “Everybody wants the mayor to come to their event. Everybody wants the mayor to come cut their ribbon. Everybody wants the mayor to come speak. So I’ve been very popular lately.

“I think that’s one of the greatest parts of being a locally elected official—being out in the community. I enjoy helping people and connecting with people, so I try to attend as much as I can.”

Haynie’s involvement with the city dates back to 1974, when she worked for the engineering department. During her 10 years there, she recalls, “the city was really evolving into more of the community that it is today.”

When her five children were older (her husband is Neil Haynie), she returned to civic life by serving on city boards. “I served on the Planning and Zoning Board for five years,” she says. “There was a time when every council member had come through the Planning and Zoning Board.”

In 2000, Wanda Thayer was term-limited off the council, and Haynie decided to run. “When I saw the individuals that stepped up to run for that open seat, I thought, ‘I’m more qualified and more well-prepared than they are,’” she says.

Fourteen years later, Haynie became the fourth woman in city history to occupy the mayor’s chair. She sat in that seat, inside her City Hall office, while addressing a variety of issues with Boca Raton.

What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in the city in the past 14 years?

Probably the downtown. Mizner Park came out of the ground pretty quickly, but then nothing much happened. It wasn’t really until six years ago that the downtown started to build some momentum to finalize the vision. What’s happening down there now is the construction of residential, which is what’s missing. We need that critical mass of people in the downtown to patronize the other retail and to really make it work. But it comes with concern.

Some residents complain that Boca Raton has approved too much downtown development. What is your response?

The original Downtown Development of Regional Impact (DDRI) entitled the downtown with 8 million square feet of buildable [space]. And\ that happened well before I came on the scene. We’re bound by that. It was a very structured approval—the creation of the Community Redevelopment Agency [whose boundaries are considered “the downtown”] and then the approval of the DDRI. That set out the regulatory framework and the entitlements for downtown. So we’re just executing a plan that was set in motion many years before.

(Editor’s note: According to the city, just 17.1 percent of that 8 million square feet remains to be approved for development.)

But what about those fears?

The overwhelmed aspect is because now that the real estate recession has turned around, suddenly we’ve got all this construction at the same time. Over the last 10 years, we had maybe one building a year, and now we have several under construction simultaneously.

I think the citizens in our community don’t understand, or we haven’t done a good job of communicating the difference in the downtown versus the rest of the city. It’s a more intense model, more intense structures than we permit anywhere else in the community, and that we need to communicate. A lot of people’s fear is that they see these buildings in the downtown and are concerned that the whole city is going to turn into a lot of intense, tall structures, and it’s just not going to happen.

For more from this story, pick up the February issue of Boca Raton. You can also subscribe here.