By: Marisa Gottesman Associate Editor
Boca Raton is going through some growing pains in its downtown.
And the city wants residents to know that all the ongoing construction has been part of a bigger plan to revitalize the core of the city. It’s a plan that has been in the works for more than 35 years.
To inform residents that have taken concern with all the development downtown, the city launched an online initiative that outlines three reports on how downtown Boca Raton got to where it is today.
“The downtown reports provide a history that includes the vision of the community and the Community Redevelopment Agency in the 1980s, the direction they wanted for the downtown and the implementation of a controlling development order that would authorize and regulate the growth over a 40 year period,” said city spokeswoman Chrissy Gibson.
The report explains what resolutions and laws have been approved by both city officials and residents to support what development is currently taking place. It was recently presented to the city’s council members, who were sitting as the city’s CRA board.
“This was a great walk down memory lane,” Mayor Susan Haynie said of the report. “It was eye-opening to see how the downtown has developed.”
Results indicate the city is where it is supposed to be in terms of downtown development. It also addresses and dispels concerns the city wasn’t following its open space regulations in new projects.
The first installment of the report discusses the legislative history of downtown, the second transportation issues and the third development. The reports can be found in their entirety on the city’s website.
Revitalizing downtown Boca
The first report addresses the status of downtown Boca more than 35 years ago.
It starts out explaining that the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency was created in 1980 to address the aging downtown. At the time, it was an independent special district, which consisted of 344 acres.
The agency set out to develop and implement laws to stimulate and regulate the redevelopment of downtown Boca, the report states. The city adopted a plan for downtown in 1982.
“The vision for downtown Boca Raton originated from a planning workshop of citizens, downtown property owners and downtown merchants who wanted a vibrant, live-work downtown,” the report states.
To do so, the city beautified Sanborn Square by expanding and refurbishing it. The idea of adding shaded areas with trees, decorative walkways, benches and streetlights for folks to enjoy downtown ended up becoming the city’s official “Beautification Plan” in 1986. The plan detailed what downtown should look like and helped renovate parts of downtown.
That plan led to the early vision of Arts Park, which ultimately became Mizner Park. To make sure downtown could handle new development, the city got help from the state to come up with regulations and limitations.
It outlined how much development could take place downtown and redefined the development approval process. The city also approved a financing plan dubbed “Visions 90.” It cost $45 million to implement changes with help and input from various groups.
One of the biggest projects that sparked change was the development of Mizner Park, which was approved by the voters in 1989 and used $68 million in bonds. It was completed in 1991.
As more development followed, new buildings replaced old ones and rules were updated. In 2008, the city reviewed the growth and adopted a design guideline.
The guideline was intended to improve projects by providing public spaces, pedestrian walkways and a variety of buildings. The first project to follow the guideline is the Mark at Cityscape, 11 South Plaza Real.
The project received mixed feedback from residents and the report states the city is working to create a “pattern book” that addresses downtown design.
Council members noted that the building boom happening now was planned out years ago and approved by residents through a referendum outlining development downtown.
As Boca planned for new downtown development, the city established the Visions 90 committee to manage traffic improvements.
The report states the Visions 90 capital improvement plan included 25 traffic projects to help with the planned development. Many of those projects were completed in the 1990s. They involved widening roads, improving intersections and beautifying the roads.
The city had planned for office space, which calls for heavier traffic than residential spaces. Over time the report states more residential space was built downtown than office space; therefore, there are “lower traffic peaks in the downtown than originally projected.”
A problem the city recognized in 2002 through a traffic analysis is that local roadways outside downtown were becoming congested.
The report states the city is monitoring traffic volumes and will make changes to improve traffic flow and council members reiterated they will look for ways to make traffic improvements.
The city planned for the growth of downtown by splitting it into seven subareas in 1988, according to city records. Each area was then given a plan, which included how much and what could be built in each subarea.
Since 1988, records indicate about 74 projects have gone through the approval process. Subarea “D” has seen the most activity with 20 approved projects followed by Subarea “B” with 17 approvals. Subareas “A” and “G” have seen the least activity with three and two project approvals, respectively.
Subarea “F” has 13 projects, Subarea “C” has 12 and Subarea “E” has seven. The most amount of development approvals given in a year totals six and it happened in both 2001 and 2013, according to city records.
In 2015, four projects received the OK to come to downtown.
The amount of development can’t exceed the total number of space approved by the city and residents.
The report indicates there is still space available to be built out under the city’s rules.
By: Marisa Gottesman Associate Editor