How did 2003 memo change plan for downtown Boca?

Posted at 7:12 PM, Jan 11, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-11 19:45:46-05

Boca Raton residents want to know if they've been cheated out of public space downtown.

The question came up as some people called on the city manager to resign.

It all revolves around how a 12-year-old memo interprets a city rule.

In particular, it deals with the term "Open Space." City Ordinance 4035 was adopted to set standards for building in downtown. Part of the ordinance requires new buildings to set aside room on the ground level for benches, landscaping, fountains, gazebos, areas open to the public.

For example, a project of 75ft or more needs to set aside 40 percent of its property for these open spaces

But the 2003 memo told city staff to measure open space in proposed projects by including balconies, pool decks, alleyways, and other areas not necessarily open to the public.

Al Zucaro wonders if that 12-year interpretation has led to too much building in downtown and not enough open area. 

"If [buildings] come out of the ground as they are proposed, we are going to have canyons for streets.That is not Boca Raton," he says.

The city manager told the council his staff is looking at all the projects approved  downtown to determine if any benefitted from the memo's interpretation of Ordinance 4035. Although he worked at the city in 2003, he could not remember what sparked the then CRA director to write the memo.

"Nothing unsavory is going on, no one is trying to hide anything," explains Deputy Mayor Robert Weinroth, who was not on the council in 2003.

He says the memo was part of a game plan for redevelopment downtown, but said the plan may need to change.

Zucaro runs a website dedicated to Boca politics. He says someone needs to be held accountable for what he calls a misinterpretation of the ordinance. He wants the city manager to resign.

"If you're gonna take a corrective action, you gotta cut off the head of the snake," he explains.

City council members say the city manager is the right man to fix any issues. Leif Ahnell did not resign.

The city will hold a public workshop on the topic at a later date. For now, council members are waiting for staff to report back to them with an analysis of buildings built downtown using ordinance 4035 since 1988.

All council members agreed open space should be included as a way to enhance the public's experience downtown.