Plans in Boca Raton that eight years ago envisioned a walkable, live-work-play district have stalled, and one of the one leading property owners is suing the city over a move to scale back the potential development.
The City Council voted earlier this year to adopt a small area plan in place of the planned mobility designation that was originally envisioned, according to a Palm Beach Circuit Court complaint filed by Crocker Partners LLC, a Boca Raton-based real estate investment and management firm.
The exact boundaries of the proposed Midtown Boca district are vague. The city says it’s about 200 acres southwest of Interstate 95 and Glades Road and some city records described an area from Glades Road south to the Lake Worth Drainage District’s L-46 and L-47 canals and from St. Andrews Boulevard east to Interstate 95. In another city record, the westernmost boundary is Butts Road.
Crocker Partners owns assets on 63.7 acres in the area through different limited liability companies. Its properties are Boca Center, the mixed-use development at 5150 Town Center Circle that includes office buildings and a 256-room Marriott; One Town Center, an 11-story office building at 1 Town Center Road and surrounding acreage; and The Plaza, a 10-story office building at 5355 Town Center Road.
The offices are part of a $2 billion portfolio of trophy properties accumulated over two decades in the Southeast and Texas.
This is the second legal action Crocker has filed against the city in as many months over the issue. On April 10, it filed a notice saying the city owes Crocker $137.6 million under a Bert J. Harris Jr. Private Property Rights Protection Act claim. The state property rights law allows damages from public takings and lost property value due to government actions.
The three Bert Harris claims, one for each of the Crocker properties, give the city three to six months to respond to a legally required notice before a damages suit can be filed.
Crocker also filed a two-count lawsuit May 22 seeking declaratory relief claiming city actions in the Midtown area violate state law and the city’s comprehensive plan, code and land development regulations.
Weiss, Handler & Cornwell founding partner Henry Handler in Boca Raton filed the Bert Harris Act notices, and Handler, senior trial and appellate attorney William Berger and senior associate David Friedman filed the lawsuit.
The issue dates back to 2010 when Boca Raton approved the planned mobility designation for several areas including Midtown and added them to its comprehensive plan, which guides future growth, development, transportation and infrastructure, according to the complaint.
But zoning and other land development changes were needed so Midtown could be developed, according to the complaint and interviews with a Crocker representative and one of its attorneys.
Instead, the City Council on Jan. 23 voted unanimously to indefinitely postpone the planned mobility area land uses and voted 4-1 to do a small area plan instead, according to meeting minutes.
Crocker claimed the action in essence created a development moratorium.
“We and other property owners have made substantial investments into the Midtown Boca area based on the reasonable presumption the city would adopt regulations to allow residential development in accordance with the standards set forth,” said Angelo Bianco, Crocker managing partner. “Unfortunately, the city has acted in a manner to create a moratorium for the cessation for any development in the area due to concerns of politics rather than good urban planning and design.”
The city didn’t address specific allegations in the complaint but sent a statement by email saying, ”The attorney’s office is reviewing the complaint and will prepare an appropriate and timely response.”
Potential development envisioned for Midtown included 1,300 to 2,500 apartments and condominiums in an area that now is commercial, according to the midtownboca.com website created by Crocker.
Crocker’s lawsuit argues the city didn’t follow its own procedures because the Planning and Zoning Board should be voting to recommend development regulations, according to the complaint. It also argues adoption of a small area plan for Midtown violates the comprehensive plan, which calls for a planned mobility designation.
In the meantime, the city is seeking public input on what to do with the area. It held a workshop May 23 to ask property owners and others for their vision for a Midtown small area plan.
Council Member Andrea Levine O’Rourke called for creating the small area plan and postponing a vote on a planned mobility designation at the Jan. 23 meeting. She declined a request for comment.
For its part, Crocker would proceed with the Bert Harris Act claims if its civil suit fails, Bianco said.