Transit Oriented Development in Boca Raton

I’ve lived in Boca for over ten years and I’m convinced it’s one of the best places to call home, but I’m concerned about our ability to grow sustainably.

A little bit about myself: We now live just west of Town Center mall in Paseos and my wife and I used to own a home in Paradise Palms. I have a typical corporate job and I take my two kids to Verde Elementary school every morning. One thing I do a little differently is that I commute by bike, and I’ve done so for more than two years … yes, even through the summer. And my kids? They ride with me to school. Many of you probably rode your bikes or walked to school as kids but today, this is not very common.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying get by without a car. We own a Toyota Rav4 and depend on it for most of our miles traveled, but by taking the bike for some our daily trips, we are trying to be the change we want to see in our surroundings.

There is a national trend toward more bicycle and pedestrian friendly infrastructure with New York, Chicago, Portland, and Minneapolis leading the way. Even Atlanta has approved a $1 billion plan to make the area safer for cyclists and pedestrians.

The way I see it, Boca is the perfect place to capitalize on this movement toward human-scale, urbanized development. Urban ‘burbs, if you like. Walkable, vibrant areas with cafes, restaurants, convenience stores and entertainment are attractive to millennials and retirees alike. To grow sustainably, we need to embrace Transit-Oriented Development. Google that term, I bet you’ll like it! It all boils down to two mandates:

1. Transportation Connectivity. Some trips must be made without the car. The infrastructure has to be so convenient and inviting that people prefer alternatives to the car for some of their trips. Not all, of course. Some.

2. Mixed Development. Residences must be in close proximity to businesses that provide daily services and conveniences.

Unfortunately, the plans we have seen so far do not properly implement these mandates and there is no local example of a successful Transit-Oriented Community to date. Mizner Park is on the the right track, but it lacks the cornerstone transit station. A new housing project was just completed next to the Sheridan Tri-Rail station in Hollywood, and it certainly checks the transit box, but the required mixed-development is still missing. In the case of the MidTown developement, there is a vague promise of a new Tri-Rail station but unless that comes to fruition, we’re not talking about Transit-Orientation, we’re simply looking at higher-density development to the benefit of developers and the detriment of surrounding communities.

The code of ordinances provides a great deal of flexibility “to encourage innovative design solutions,” but the code explicitly states that “height, density, intensity, floor area ratio, and total square feet of development shall not be modified.” In fact, there is a scoring matrix required for approval of a Planned Mobility Development but as soon as soon as the Council met resistance from developers to the threshold for approval of a project, they chose to lower the required score to “[…] simplify processing for future projects.” We need to hold the members of the Council who lowered the standard for Planned Mobility accountable for allowing such a change.

Let’s make this an election issue and continue demanding that our City Council and Mayor stay on top of developers and truly deliver on the promise of Planned Mobility by staying within city ordinance requirements. We are no longer in a recession and can afford to put pressure on developers to make sure we see true Transit-Oriented Developments in our city. Done right, Planned Mobility can improve the liveability of our city, and maybe one day we can see more kids riding or walking to school again– it’s so much nicer than being stuck in a car line.