- By Lulu Ramadan Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
BOCA RATON — The plan to allow high-rise residential buildings in a 1-square-mile commercial district near Town Center mall in Boca Raton is at a standstill until the city creates a “vision” for the area with public input.
At the tail end of a five-hour discussion late Tuesday, council members agreed to an “area plan” for Midtown, a district along Glades Road just west of Interstate 95 comprised most notably of Town Center and surrounding commercial strips. The steps of an “area plan” haven’t been defined, but the plan will include at least two rounds of input from the public to craft a vision for a district that has been awaiting a renaissance for nearly a decade.
With standing room only at a Boca Raton council meeting, Midtown proved to be as divisive a topic Tuesday as it has been for the past two years.
Landowners within the district — Crocker Partners, Cypress Realty, Trademark and Simon Property Group, which owns the mall — have lobbied to transform Midtown into a work-live-play hub in central Boca Raton. That involves a large-scale rezoning that would allow high-rise residential buildings with up to 2,500 units in the commercial area.
But the plan’s many opponents say it will add traffic to the heavily-traveled east-west thoroughfare Glades Road, and cause unwanted urban sprawl in Boca’s quiet suburbs.
“I don’t want to live in an urban area … I moved to the suburbs for a reason,” said Kathryn Saurs, who lives in the Timber Creek neighborhood just north Midtown.
Before the developers can propose a plan for Midtown — which might include fewer than the maximum 2,500 units — they asked that the city change the zoning regulations to offer guidelines. But even a zoning change rubbed neighbors and some council members the wrong way.
“It’s important to have a vision ... We need to go about this the right way,” said Councilwoman Andrea O’Rourke, who suggested the area plan and public input sessions.
The plan didn’t bode well with the developers, who sparred with City Attorney Diana Frieser about legality of such a requirement.
“Respectfully, as a government agency, you’re supposed to treat all the people equally,” said Angelo Bianco, a partner at Crocker Partners, the same developer that built Mizner Park in the early 1990s. The city hasn’t required other residential-retail districts — called Planned Mobility Districts — to do area studies.
Frieser said the developers are “not entitled” to a rezoning, and she’s fully prepared to argue that on behalf of the city — something she might have to do, adding that the developers have sent the city letters threatening legal action.
Only one council member rejected the “area plan” — Mayor Susan Haynie.
Haynie did say that the council should “dial back” the 2,500-unit cap.
The plan presented Tuesday would not allow large-scale redevelopment until a Tri-Rail station is built at Glades Road to ease congestion at the nearby Yamato Road station.
The Glades Road station is expected to alleviate traffic congestion in the area, but neighbors rebuffed that idea too.
“In Boca, public transportation is just not desirable,” said Donna Mincuzzi, who lives in a neighborhood south of Midtown.
More details on the area plan are expected at a city workshop in February.