Buildings taller than any others currently finished in downtown Boca will be allowed on smaller lots, the City Council decided last Tuesday.
In a 3-2 vote, the City Council decided that parcels must be at least 1.2 acres to qualify for downtown high-rises that reach 140 feet, plus 20 feet for decorative elements. Before the decision, the pieces of land eligible for high-rises needed to be larger: At least 2 acres.
The decision means that six new parcels in the downtown area are eligible to have buildings that rise to the maximum height, according to Jim Bell, acting deputy development director for the city.
The council held meetings Monday and Tuesday where many residents stepped forward to urge the city to reject allowing bigger buildings on smaller lots. Residents raised concerns about traffic and parking and said they feared construction-related problems.
Barbara Stone, a downtown resident for the past 3 1/2 years, said she prefers the current skyline. “I came here to enjoy the sky, the trees,” she said.
But City Council members said they believed the residents’ concern grew out of a fundamental misunderstanding of what dropping the minimum acreage for taller buildings would mean.
Councilman Mike Mullaugh said dropping the acreage requirement down to a 1.2-acre-minimum will allow buildings to rise higher. But that will come with other required features, such as bigger sidewalks and beautiful architectural details.
He cited an opinion from the city’s design consultants, Urban Design Associates, that other requirements for the taller buildings also would prevent inappropriately large buildings on small lots. “I personally accept … what UDA said, and we don’t need” any acreage requirement, Mullaugh said.
The new code approved Tuesday represents a compromise from what Urban Design Associates suggested: It said the city should have no minimum parcel size for taller buildings.
That suggestion was considered Monday by the City Council, meeting as the Community Redevelopment Agency. But the council ultimately agreed that parcels must be at least 1.2 acres for the taller buildings.
“We’re doing this with a view to what is good for our city,” said Councilman Robert Weinroth. “The 1.2 (acre minimum is) a number that we’ve discovered would allow us to have everything we’re looking for, the kind of architecture we are looking for.”
Residents at Monday’s meeting said they were concerned the city is opening the door to taller buildings in more places at the center of downtown — without knowing the potential outcome.
The first downtown building to be built taller than 100 feet in the past two decades is the Mark at CityScape. That apartment building, which sits on a lot bigger than 2 acres, is expected to be completed in March.
Construction also has started for a new apartment development, Via Mizner, to reach 140 feet, plus 20 feet for decorative elements, on a lot bigger than 2 acres.
Approval has been given for the Hyatt Place Hotel Boca Raton to also reach 140 feet, the new maximum height. It also is on a parcel bigger than 2 acres.
Dropping the minimum acreage requirement for taller buildings was considered a “housekeeping item,” according to the Urban Design Associates. That’s because taller buildings also are governed by rules that the buildings must not be built close to the street. And that required distance from the street is a way of ensuring that inappropriately large buildings aren’t built on small pieces of land.
City Council members agreed the 1.2-acre requirement, in addition to the setbacks, will give residents some assurance that not every parcel has the potential to be the site of a 140-foot building.
“We can mitigate some concerns,” said council member Scott Singer.
Mayor Susan Haynie on Monday warned against the “unintended consequences” of dropping the minimum parcel size requirement. On Tuesday, Haynie and City Councilwoman Constance Scott voted against the smaller, minimum lot size.
Ann Witte, a downtown resident, said she was glad that the City Council appeared to be listening to the citizens — somewhat. “This was better than what they were originally proposing,” she said.