By: Diane Emeott Korzen Contributing Writer
The shopping center at the end of Camino Real that once held a Winn Dixie and a Tuesday Morning may continue to remain vacant for some time longer.
In contrast, just two days earlier, on Tuesday, Jan. 16, Boca Raton Community Appearance Board (CAB) gave the requested Individual Development Approval, voting 5 to 0 “for” Camino Square Parcel 1 development – with two conditions.
Revise the elevations of building 1 and 2 and revise the landscaping plan.
Revise the landscaping plan.
The project still has to go before Boca Community Redevelopment Agency Board.
The overall 9-acre Camino Square site plan has been divided into two parcels: the 4.59-acre east parcel (slated for Residential development – Parcel 1), and the 4.54-acre west parcel west parcel (slated for Retail development – Parcel 2).
FCI Residential (whose parent company is Florida Crystals sugar cane) proposes putting into Parcel 1 a 350-unit rental apartment complex comprised of two eight-story residential buildings with parking garages. The project is anticipated to generate $800,000 in net annual tax increment revenue.
Discussion at the January P & Z meeting centered on the east parcel only. City of Boca Raton Senior Planner Susan Lesser said the west parcel [Parcel 2] had been reviewed, but was not yet scheduled for a hearing for final platting.
A Simpler time VS. development
In its heyday in the 1970s, ‘80s, and ‘90s, the then-busy shopping center at 171 W. Camino Real also contained a barber shop, a beauty shop, a postal shop with gift items, Whistle Stop bar & lounge, Chinese take-out, and George’s Italian Restaurant, according to 30-year Boca Square resident Melba Hebert.
“There was a little dog named Ruffles [that greeted everyone] at the postal shop. Everyone adored Ruffles, who was very popular in the shop…
“They’ve taken our sleepy little city, and now all this development!” Hebert said.
Senior Director of Development for KIMCO Realty Peter Flint of Wilton Manors said his firm has owned the shopping plaza for over 50 years. He said they’ve spent the last four years trying to decide how to develop it.
Flint said he has worked with quite a few retailers, and has had at least four retailers submit plans and pull out — in his effort to bring retail development to Camino Square.
“Retail is in trouble. There have been a lot of bankruptcies, store closings. [The location] is too far out from the city center. The visibility is terrible,” he detailed his challenges. “Once we get a decent retailer in, it will bring in more business traffic,” he said of trying to find an anchor store.
He said the old Winn Dixie could possibly be retrofitted as an organic grocer, which he called “the highest and best use” for the property. “We don’t want to get rid of this [shopping] center. As soon as we have something to sell to the retail community, we’ll be back here [before P & Z] with a site plan,” he added.
City of Boca Senior Planner Lesser presented the applicant’s plans for Residential development in Parcel 1, consisting of Building 1 (410,577 sq. ft.) with eight floors and 199 units, and Building 2 (321,045 sq. ft.) with eight floors and 151 units.
Additional features would include a pocket park, pool, deck and dog park.
Unit size would range from one-bedroom (700 sq. ft.) to three-bedroom (1,500 sq. ft.).
Code requires 619 parking spaces. 631 parking spaces were provided, with five additional parallel parking spaces on Camino Real, Lesser said.
Regarding the already-congested bottleneck on Camino Real, which merges with Camino Gardens Boulevard while approaching Dixie Highway (a major thoroughfare with its own heavy traffic), traffic analysis expects the 350-unit residential project to result in an increase of 779 daily trips, with an increase of 152 trips at a.m. peak time, and 14 trips at p.m. peak time.
Staff concerns included the lack of pedestrian-friendly design, and no sidewalk provided along the south side [finding the design inconsistent with the Amended Downtown Plan’s Urban Design Policy and Architectural Design Policy.]
South Florida External Affairs Manager for FCI Residential Caroline Villenueva said parent company Florida Crystals has a history of six generations of agriculture and employs 2,000 people. The company has chosen FAU Research Park in Boca to locate its Research Center, where it employs 22 people, she said.
Attorney Ele Zachariades of Dunay, Miskel and Backman, LLP said of the Camino Square site, “While we are part of the downtown, we are somewhat isolated – one of the slum and blight parcels.” Zachariades said the people she talked to are sick of looking at it as it is now, and want it redeveloped. She said the only businesses currently located in the vicinity are a Sober House, a Quick Stop [and a Valero gas station].
Architect Beatriz Hernandez Beatriz of MSA Architects in Miami called Camino Real “a road to nowhere, a dead-end road.”
In her drawings for Camino Square – Parcel I, she said she created a series of arcades, sidewalks, with none of it fenced in. “Residents can meander through the project to the leasing center, and can keep going with the colonnade.” She spoke of a fitness center, clubroom, and gated FOB access for residents to walk through. “At street- and second floor-level are open spaces, arcades and loggias (a covered exterior gallery or corridor with an outer wall open to the elements, usually supported by columns or arches.)
“We feel we’ve created a very pedestrian-friendly environment,” said Hernandez.
P & Z concerns
P & Z Board Member/Secretary Larry Cellon asked why the two buildings in the residential development were designed so tilted to the street. Rather than running parallel to Camino Real, they appear at an angle, with a diagonal orientation, he noted.
Cellon and others asked how they could move forward with an incomplete plan—saying the applicant had broken up the site and not provided for consistent approval. (No drawings for the west parcel were yet available for P & Z Board review.)
Regarding addition of a possible roundabout to mitigate traffic at the intersection of Camino Real and Camino Gardens Boulevard (something Camino Gardens residents spoke in favor of at the meeting), P & Z Board Member Janice Rustin said a roundabout “seems to be something Camino Gardens wants. I don’t have enough information whether this is good for the city.”
“Why would they bring this project forward with three denials?” she asked.
In the end, the Boca P & Z Board followed the recommendations of City Planners, the Traffic Engineer, and outside consultant Calvin Giordano & Associates – all three of whom recommended denial of the Camino Square Parcel 1 project.