Mayor Susan Haynie highlighted 8,000 new jobs, recovering property values and other signs of progress like a busier downtown and more corporate headquarters in her recent State of the City speech.
But residents worried about building heights, density and traffic had their say at the June 2 meeting of The Federation of Boca Raton Homeowner Associations.
Haynie revealed new initiatives, including a joint meeting with Florida Atlantic University to create a college town off-campus. A new rental registration will give the city authority to regulate chronic code offenders who pack college students into single-family homes. Disruptive behavior in family neighborhoods has been a longstanding complaint.
“Most of these people are from out of town,” she said about the landlords.
The city will construct the additional sports fields in the Spanish River Athletic Facility/de Hoernle Park, instead of cementing a long-awaited agreement with the Greater Boca Raton Beach & Park District, which built the park and had planned to build Phase II. The city owns the land “so we said, why don’t we put them in ourselves,” using artificial turf, Haynie said. [A joint public meeting on turf vs. grass is 4 p.m. June 9 in the Boca Raton Community Center].
With the Office Depot headquarters on Military Trail, the city is monitoring that proposed merger with Staples. Even if it goes through, “Staples is a much larger company and has pledged to have a sizable presence here,” she said, noting it wouldn’t be their headquarters.
Crocker Partners purchased the Boca Center, adjacent to the planned second Tri Rail Station on the old Kings Market site on Military Trail, Haynie said. With $18 million in funding in place, “we’re looking to Crocker to develop land,” she added.
The city has only annexed land three times since Haynie has been on council, she said, adding, “I don’t prescribe to bigger is better” but people living on the fringes of city limits can use city services but don’t necessarily pay for them.
A parking garage downtown is also in the offing, she said, but no immediate site was announced. Meanwhile, the Downtowner shuttle carts are helping alleviate traffic and parking. Creating a plan for all the city’s waterfront properties will mean taking another look at the county’s Lake Wyman project, among other projects, which could bring in eco-tourism, she said.
The city’s top priority is hiring a communications director and devising a plan to make resident input a two-way street, Haynie said. “People don’t know what’s going on,” she said, adding that all projects and background paperwork is now posted on the city website.
The city is also re-staffing after cuts during the Recession, and just hired a new economic development director and a development services director, she announced.
“We want to make the development process more user friendly,” she said.
A clue to the controversy over replacing two Boca Raton Airport Authority members with Deputy Mayor Robert Weinroth and Deputy City Manager George Brown came in her comments. Haynie noted the airport’s plan to install a U.S. Customs facility, which is already in the works. The new airport administration building is off-premises, because “they sold their last piece of land to the Tilted Kilt,” a restaurant on Airport Road, she said to answer a question by Lenore Wachtel, a Federation executive committee member.
The city is taking another look at the pattern book since the Mark building didn’t turn out as expected, she said. The timing for that reassessment was planned earlier.
Building heights and density came up several times, the first by Grace Pertile, who said later she was a 47-year resident concerned about public safety. Firefighters don’t have the ladders to reach new 100-foot buildings, she said in the audience. “I like the old Boca better,” she said.
“We do hear you and you will see some changes,” Haynie promised the detractors.