*By Karen Lustgarten
The Separation Model
The suburbs were for residential; the urban core for commercial/industrial. Historically, urban planning was based on this separation of functions model. It became a great model for commute traffic. As the suburbs grew, so did clogging main roads and highways and the rise of “rush hour” that increased in time by number of vehicles on the road.
The City of Boca Raton was no exception to the separate functions planning model. For example, the once forward-looking Arvida Park of Commerce built in the 1970s was based on an industrial and business park model, no residential. One third is office space and two thirds warehouses. The model was to provide minimal impact of traffic on surrounding roadways. “If you’re warehousing a lot, you don’t have many employees,” said Palm Beach county Commissioner Robert Weinroth. The original IBM/T-Rex campus (now Boca Raton Innovation Campus), also fits the old model.
The Planned Mobility Model
With the additional pressures on commuting and land development, Boca Raton approved the model for urban planning called “planned mobility” in 2010. It is based on the premise of rather than two separate areas–one developed for a business district (industry and retail) and the other for residential–they are merged into a single area zoned for mixed use.
“The Boca Raton City Council made the decision several years ago to infill the all-business Arvida Park of Commerce with residential units now under construction,” said Commissioner Weinroth. It is being developed and re-branded by the Crocker Group as The Park at Broken Sound, a 700-acre planned mobility commercial/residential hub optimized to fulfill the popular work/live/play concept.
“Planned mobility has been in place for 10-15 years but hadn’t been implemented until 2012 because of the financial downturn,” the Commissioner explained. “Housing values dropped dramatically so the tax base went down and the influx of dollars dropped. It was a painful time for the City. When the CRA originally planned out the downtown, they envisioned it as mostly businesses. With the financial downturn in the early 2000s, all that stopped,” he said.
The redevelopment of downtown Boca Raton was originally contemplated as a business concentric urban core. “But government officials decided they needed to change that dynamic,” said Commissioner Weinroth. “Our downtown is a redevelopment area now. When the CRA was created, they set up a matrix with so many square feet of office and they had equivalents—hotels, condos, apartments—based on impact on the area such as traffic, sewage, miles of lanes.”
By the time the economy picked up, the move was toward residential and mixed-use development. “That’s why now we are seeing Tower 155 and Alina luxury condos and the Mandarin Oriental Hotel and Residences.” said the Commissioner. “So it has evolved into a more residential downtown verses a business downtown.”
This is good for traffic. “When we look at traffic, we look at not only how many trips per day we look at peak trips—how many in the a.m. and p.m. commute because that’s where you get the most pressure,” he said. Peak trips tend to be reduced when an area includes residential properties.
At the time Weinroth became a county commissioner, projects that had been moth balled were finally being constructed. “The Hyatt Place downtown developed by the Kolter Group went back and forth about being commercial or residential before making the hotel decision. The same indecision was about the property on Military and Spanish River, which became apartments. So you see a lot of movement toward residential and much-needed hotel space,” he said. “With the Hyatt and Mandarin Oriental, they are going to have enough of a synergy to attract bigger groups and give West Palm Beach a run for its money.”
The residential development under planned mobility had a cap of 2500 units, which has now been met. Zoning attorney Bonnie Miskel secured city approval of approximately 65% of those residential units, either free standing or added into office parks. “When the City of Boca Raton approved the planned mobility land use in 2010, the intention was to bring employment and housing closer in order to change the direction and type of traffic on the roads,” she said. “And it has worked.”
In addition, residential infill has revitalized dormant parts of the city. “You see a lot of foot traffic, biking and life in corporate parks that were once dead when people left each night and weekends,” she said. Another advantage, notes Miskel, is the interest in businesses wanting to open near the revitalized office parks, such as Fresh Market that opened next to the Park at Broken Sound. “Planned mobility encourages commercial building as well,” she notes.
“At the Boca Raton Innovation Campus, you see some residential on the periphery right now, and you’ll see more as they develop that property recently purchased by the Crocker Partners,” said the Commissioner. The developer will be going before the City Council seeking permission for additional residential rights.
Planned mobility is something people are demanding, as well as demanding smaller units says Commissioner Weinroth. The 88-acre University Park was the last large parcel of undeveloped land in Boca Raton. The developer, Penn-Florida, will be creating a self-contained city of sorts, similar to Mizner Park only bigger, says the Commissioner. “The hope is that traffic will be alleviated–people will stay close to home and live/work/play in the community rather than commute on Spanish River Blvd. and other major arterials.”
The plan is to have smaller residential units for people not looking for 3,000 square feet. “They may be satisfied with 1,000 square feet with the idea that they will go to a Starbucks, or to a business environment with an open workspace where they can meet and work on computers.”
“You’re not going to live in your house anymore,” he says. “They’ll live downstairs in the city. That’s the new model. Walkable. We want walkable cities. If you can walk somewhere rather than getting into a car, that’s the way to go. Walkability is a companion to this concept. Urban planning and transportation planning are going in the same direction.”
“There’s still an interest and demand for added mixed-use and residential units but the city needs to re-allocate them.” said Miskel. Ultimately the Boca Raton City Council will have to make a decision whether the planned mobility model is successful, thus to continue it by adding in more residential areas which were heretofore only commercial.
*Karen Lustgarten is president of Multi-Media Works, a multiple award-winning media company specializing in video, PR, print and social media with offices in Broward and Palm Beach Counties. She founded a newspaper in Washington, DC, was a syndicated columnist and a bestselling author. www.multi-mediaworks.com