Saturday, April 20, 2024

University Village is up again and Delray’s sidewalk dining gets a new look

University Village debate

Final debate starts tonight on a plan to develop almost 80 acres of Boca Raton into another “lifestyle enclave.”

The term refers to areas that are part of a city but also seek to be self-contained. University Village would spread north and east from Spanish River Boulevard, and would include 829 homes—all in multi-family buildings—and a hotel, plus retail and office space. The most important feature of University Village, however, might be near the property, not on it.

That would be the Spanish River Boulevard interchange at Interstate 95, set to open in 2017. University Village is what the city designates as a Planned Mobility Development. Projects receive certain densities based on limiting traffic, such as greater reliance on public transportation and pedestrian/cycling alternatives to standard vehicle trips. Some people want to live and work in the same development.

Still, some residents would have to commute. The interchange, though, would enable University Village residents to reach I-95 basically after turning right from the development. That would greatly lessen the traffic impact.

Land-use lawyer Charles Siemon represents Penn Florida, parent company of Spanish River Development Partners. He said 70 percent of drivers leaving University Village would go west on Spanish River Boulevard. Of those, he said, 30 percent would make that short trip to the interstate.

Siemon and other representatives will tell the city council at tonight’s meeting that University Village’s traffic plan would work until 2035. Would the project be able to meet Boca’s Planned Mobility Development rules at its projected size without the interchange? “Probably not,” Siemon said.

Starting tonight, the developer will have to persuade the council that the project really would work. Expect to hear many references to a zoning term called floor-to-area ratio. Essentially, the figure details how much a developer can build compared to the size of the property. The higher the ratio, the higher the density.

Other Planned Mobility Developments in Boca have a floor-to-area ratio of 0.25. University Village would have a ratio of 0.40. That may not sound like much until you consider that it’s a 60 percent increase.

In an interview, Siemon said the city first designated the property for a ratio of 0.60 percent, but that in 2010 the council reduced it to 0.40. During this time, Penn Florida had a contract for the site with Boca Raton Regional Hospital, which had bought the land in 2005 with the idea of building a teaching hospital.

After many contract extensions, the sale to Penn Florida happened in September 2013. But when it became clear that the state would build the interchange, Siemon said, “plans accelerated.” A city study had shown the near-northwest to be still “hurting” after the near-complete departure of IBM.

The history of the project matters. Siemon will tell council members that while the ordinance before them is to create a new Planned Mobility District with that 0.40 floor-to-area ratio, city planners presumed the higher ratio from the start. It was contingent, Siemon said, only on the developer submitting a master plan. Which the developer submitted last year.

From the original version, there are more residential units and there is less office space; offices generate lots of traffic. Siemon said the current plan at the higher floor-to-area ratio would produce fewer car trips outside the development than the study that supported the lower ratio. The retail would be aimed at residents, to minimize the number of patrons coming from outside the project.

Council members may ask if the developer could settle for the lower ratio. Siemon said, “It just won’t work. You would not have the critical mass of residents to support a center like this.”

Aside from the density, council members may ask if there should be another entrance. Plans call for a single entrance on Spanish River Boulevard, with two entrances on the northeast side for emergency vehicles. It would be roughly half a mile from that front entrance to the farthest point of the project.

Regarding a back door to Yamato Road, Siemon said, “My client has done everything that’s possible,” though he didn’t rule out the possible of an exit-only opening to Yamato Road.

The other issue will be how University Village would affect single-family neighborhoods to the east. Siemon compares the project to Mizner Park—a large, mixed-use project that faces homes in the Golden Triangle.

University Village received a recommendation for approval from the planning and zoning board. Tonight is the first of two public hearings before the council. A final vote on University Village would come on Nov. 24.

Rodgers weighs in on Wildflower site

When I wrote last week about the breakdown between Boca Raton and Hillstone Restaurant Group over the Wildflower property, I used comments from Mayor Susan Haynie and three of the four city council members. I had not been able to reach Jeremy Rodgers.

After my Thursday post, Rodgers emailed to say that he supports “continuing to accept proposals and continue talks with Hillstone if that’s an option.” He has conveyed that sentiment to the Greater Boca Chamber of Commerce, which endorsed Rodgers in this year’s election and has been trying to get negotiations restarted.

The related issue is whether to open the property to the public. I called it a bad idea. Rodgers advocates doing so, saying the site has a “near-ready-to-use parking lot plus some overgrowth. . .having a $7.5 million piece of property closed down for years is even worse than letting this negotiation process take two years and get stale.”

According to a city spokeswoman, City Manager Leif Ahnell will brief the council at its Nov. 23 workshop on cost and other issues associated with opening the site.

Campus and City

Also on tonight’s Boca council agenda is an item that will be routine now but perhaps much less so in two years.

The council must extend the Campus Development Agreement between the city and Florida Atlantic University. The document enables the city and FAU to coordinate as the university expands. The extension would last through 2017.

At this time, City Manager Leif Ahnell wrote in his memo to the council, FAU does not plan to update its master plan or the amendment. But FAU is thinking big, which is why the FAU board of trustees should schedule the joint meeting with the city that the council has been seeking. Those with longer memories remember the unpleasant surprise Boca got when land for married student housing became University Commons.

Relations are better. The city is eager to work with FAU on a new student district. The trustees have no reason to keep delaying the meeting.

Sidewalk dining rules

Delray Beach was so successful at creating an Atlantic Avenue-based entertainment district that it became difficult to walk the avenue on busy evenings. Dining outside became so popular that tables blocked the sidewalk.

So the city began requiring restaurants to leave space for pedestrians to get by, even if that meant losing tables. In July, the city required at least a six-foot walkway, a foot wider than the Americans With Disabilities Act requires.

At tonight’s workshop meeting, however, the city commission will discuss whether to modify the requirement. Commissioner Shelly Petrolia said the city has heard complaints from property owners on Northeast Second Avenue in Pineapple Grove. So just a few months after Delray thought this issue had been settled for a while, it remains unsettled.

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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