To have a say in what’s going up in downtown Boca Raton, city residents might have to act faster.
A proposal is expected to come before the City Council shortly which would cut about six to eight weeks out of what developers say is a downtown development review process that takes six to eight months.
“It’s beyond complicated,” said Architect Derek Vander Ploeg, on the city’s downtown development procedures. “It’s byzantine.” The proposal is coming from the Downtown Boca Raton Advisory Committee, which is working with city staff on the particulars.
But Jim Wood, a downtown resident, said that speeding up things could curtail the resident input that has played a crucial role in Boca’s development. “This process is so fast that the normal people who have busy lives really can’t respond if there’s a problem,” he said, upon hearing of the plans.
Some of the changes in the works would streamline the behind-the-scenes review that happens in the first stages of a development. Traffic studies would be done much sooner in the process, for example. Smaller projects or modifications could be done with the approval of the city manager.
But there are also changes proposed that would shorten the amount of time between a downtown development’s first public advertising and final approval from the City Council, which meets as the Community Redevelopment Agency on downtown matters.
The way it is now, a development is advertised as being on the redevelopment agency’s agenda after the Planning and Zoning Board recommends it. As a result, there is at least a three-week lag between the planning board’s recommendation and its final city approval, developers say.
With this proposal, though, a development could be approved on Thursday and be in front of the redevelopment agency on Monday.
Glenn Gromann, chairman of the Downtown Boca Raton Advisory Committee, said that Boca’s complicated process, that also involves a third board, the Community Appearance Board, has already cost the city: “We missed part of the condo boom because we took too long and the projects didn’t get off the ground soon enough.”
George O’Rourke, another downtown resident who was part of the suit against the 378-unit Archstone Palmetto Park, said that the problem lies in the city’s permitting process, not its planning review. “There is no benefit to the community by taking away their time to have input” in development, he said. “Let’s never take away from the citizens’ proper right to be involved.”
The committee also wants to end some newspaper advertising for development proposals and instead put it on web sites. “I want more effective advertising and more transparency,” Gromann said. “Burying advertising in a newspaper that is not widely read in South County does not help the transparency process. I don’t even know what section it’s advertised in.”
But Arlene Owens, who lives in the downtown, said she watches for them. Boca Raton’s city advertising is in the Palm Beach Post. “I’m not one to be on my computer every day,” she said. “But I read my paper every day.”