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Q&A with our local Real Estate Expert
Developers that are suing the city of Boca Raton over Midtown, a district near Town Center Mall, say officials continue to stymie building efforts.
BOCA RATON — Developers in the throes of expensive lawsuits against Boca Raton say a new city study is the latest effort to stymie private property rights.
An 11-month city study that wrapped up this week recommended no housing in Midtown Boca Raton, a commercial district south of Glades Road along Military Trail. Landowners want to build high-rise apartments and transform it into a walkable live-work-play district.
The recommendation will be a major roadblock for Midtown landowners, two of whom have filed lawsuits against the city, accusing officials of illegally thwarting and delaying development efforts.
Nader Salour, principal of Cypress Realty of Florida, which filed suit in October, said the city’s new study baffled him. Cypress Realty bought 10 acres of land along Military Trail, including the buildings that house bar Nippers and bowling alley Strikes, in 2011 to build apartments.
“We never would have bought the land if we knew it was just commercial,” Salour said. Land is generally more valuable when builders can erect high-density homes than commercial plazas like the ones that already exist in central Boca Raton.
“I just do not understand what the city is trying to do here,” Salour said.
At the crux of the legal arguments: Midtown Boca Raton is designated in the city’s comprehensive plan as a “planned mobility district,” or areas where homes may be built near shops and offices to cut down on traffic. Landowners anticipated and spent years planning for a rezoning, according to court records.
In January, developers asked city officials to allow up to 2,500 apartment units in high-rise buildings. The city council instead called for a small-area plan to inspect the request.
The small-area plan concluded, after lawsuits were filed, that the area can’t sustain housing and a special tax should be levied against commercial landowners to offset the cost of desired street improvements.
Cypress Realty, which asked a Palm Beach County Circuit Court judge to force Boca to allow housing, will push back against any special taxing district, Salour said.
“I would imagine there would be huge pushback from any existing property owners for that,” he said. “Unless it is a true mixed-use project, which is what the city envisaged happening, I don’t see that there’s enough of a benefit to the existing landowners to warrant a special tax.”
Angelo Bianco, a principal at Crocker Partners, which is suing the city for $137 million, said the new study reveals the “true intentions” of Boca Raton officials.
“At a minimum, it shows an attempt to frustrate and delay property owners’ rights,” he said. Crocker’s lawsuit makes similar allegations. Boca Raton officials did not require other planned mobility districts to await small-area plans, but took aim specifically at Midtown, the lawsuit argues.
Councilwoman Andrea O’Rourke, who suggested the small-area plan in January, declined to comment because of ongoing litigation. Mayor Scott Singer could not immediately be reached for comment. Councilwoman Monica Mayotte, who attended the Tuesday meeting when the city released the study’s findings, also declined to comment.
While the study’s recommendations came as a blow to developers, the news was welcome to some Boca Raton residents who argued that apartments in Midtown would exacerbate traffic problems in the area.
When Brandon Schaad, the city’s development services director, announced that the study called for no housing in Midtown, a resident turned to him and said, “Can I hug you?”
“I’m glad to see Midtown is being well-thought out and well-planned,” said Bill DeAngelis, who lives in one of the suburban neighborhoods that border Midtown.