Boca Raton, Florida

January 1, 2018

LOOKING BACK–LOOKING FORWARD

As I recap 2017, it is also a review of my first nine months as an elected official. Serving the community has been an honor and privilege.
 
Here are my picks of important issues…of 2017-2018
 
SCHOOLS
There are a couple of issues on the forefront: The first being the rebuild of Addison Mizner Elementary School (AMES) and Verde Elementary; The second issue is how to deal with the growing problem of overcapacity at other Boca Raton schools which threatens the quality of education that our ‘A’ rated schools now enjoy.
 
Let’s start with AMES:  The Palm Beach County School Board would like to expand the school to grades K-8.  The question Is; do we rebuild on the current location or do we move it and rebuild on Sugar Sand Park property?  It is a complicated issue for several reasons…
Obstacles at Sugar Sand
1. The City does not own the Sugar Sand property. It is owned by the Beach and Parks District.
2. There is a deed restriction for recreation that would have to be lifted (legal implications would have to be addressed).
3. The Beach and Parks District would have to be willing to sell or trade the land with the Palm Beach County School Board.  Disposition of the current site and its impact on the surrounding neighborhood would then have to be determined.
4. The parcel of Sugar Sand suggested for an AMES rebuild is a designated conserved area. The city could potentially trade that conserved area for other land within Sugar Sand that would then be designated as a new conservation area within the park. There are undeveloped areas within Sugar Sand that are not currently reserved for conservation.  In that event, an environmental impact study would have to be performed.

 Obstacles at AMES current site
1. The current Addison Mizner site is much smaller than typically required for a K-8 school.
2. Traffic congestion on SW 12th Avenue during school days is already a concern.  Expanding the size and grade levels will only exacerbate the situation.
3. If we rebuild, students will have to attend Verde Elementary during construction, which is a burden to that location and a disruption for students and parents.


The best answer is to have a long-term view as to what will best serve our children, both now and in the future. To get to the final decision, it is necessary for us to have an impact study on alternatives that includes community input.  


Over Crowding:  To add to the complications, is the recent awareness that many of our schools are at, or over-capacity. Calusa Elementary, Boca Middle and Boca Raton High School being at the top of this list. At this time our schools are A rated, however we must pay close attention to how we move forward and maintain excellence in education in Boca Raton. Boca Middle will be alleviated when the two renovations at AMES and Verde El are changed to K-8. At this time the only solution offered for Boca High is to expand Spanish River High School, which has room for growth. That would entail changing boundary lines. It’s time to get creative regarding the possibility of land acquisition to accommodate our growing student population.

TRANSPARENCY
The City Council recently agreed to the idea of seven initiatives that will ultimately be finalized into an ordinance 5431.  This will serve as a means of promoting greater transparency regarding councilmember’s procedures for requests for advisory ethics opinions.  I am proud to have initiated the open discussion at a public meeting that benefits residents in the form of a more transparent government. This conversation came as a result of recent controversial articles in the Palm Beach Post shining a light on our city.  The new ordinance should be in place early in the new year and improve our quality of government.

MIDTOWN
Redevelopment of this area, consisting of more than 240 acres, will have far reaching impacts on our city and its residents.  Close scrutiny of all details is a must.
City staff presented a proposed Ordinance to the Planning and Zoning Board on November 9th.  Essentially, this proposal would require infrastructure improvements prior to development.  So far so good.  Following the P&Z meeting, the potential of this property was discussed at a City Council Workshop in early December and then presented at a City Council meeting for introduction. If you would like details click on link to the Ordinance 5432, 5433, 5435.  I have several ideas on the issue. 1) Begin with a Master Plan.   2. I believe there should be an in-depth market study conducted by an outside party.  This would include looking at impacts regarding residential, schools, business, retail, traffic, transportation, walkability etc.

LIVABLE CITIES AND PLACEMAKING CONFERENCE
In early October I had the opportunity to attend the “Annual Conference International, Making Cities Livable“. It was three days of valuable, eye opening information from successful cities around the country and the world. City staffs, including their Urban Planners, Designers and Architects shared the latest ideas and trends that lend to making successful cities for people.  It is hard to capsulize so much information at once. Current planning trends in cities large and small is now focused on building for people as opposed to maximum profit for the developer or land owner. This approach has led to greater creativity and positive impacts on the economic health for cities that follow this path.  Additional benefits include; health and wellness of the residents, encourages community engagement, values historical and cultural sensitivity, creates connectivity within the environment and places, lends itself to civic pride and identity. Data shows that the outcome of proper planning builds a greater sense of community because residents and visitors are energized, create memories while at the same time are more relaxed, healthier, happier and inspired. Check out a review of what makes cities livable.  And here’s one of my all time favorite topics incorporated into livable cities…

ART IN PUBLIC PLACES
I am so proud to be part of the movement that is now bringing Public Art to Boca Raton. The idea of what art and beautiful architecture does for a community has been sadly overlooked for much of Boca.  However, this idea of a ‘sense of community’ and “place making” has been an inspiration to me…and will soon be part of our City.  A new ordinance is currently underway which means Boca Raton will now be added to the growing list of cities that recognize the importance of culture, and building for the public.  To get an even deeper understanding, I encourage you to watch this less than 3 minute  video from the PB County Cultural Arts Council.  During the Livable Cities Conference (referred to above), Professor Nancy K. Rivenburgh, University of Washington, spoke to this topic. This is how she summed up Art in Public Places and its economic impact on a city: Brings people to uncommon spaces; Introduces elements of play; Creates unexpected associations; Adds humor, elements and interactivity; Activates the brain.  Bottom line, these art elements throughout a city or as part of architecture attracts people, weaves social interaction and creates community identity.  Therefore, people linger, make memories and return.  When this happens, creative solutions are found for all sorts of other things… and the economic growth prospers as an outcome.
Stay tuned for the Tunnel Art Mural Project at Spanish River Park.

BOCA’S WATERFRONT
The city has hired renown landscape designers EDSA for consulting on the design/upgrade of 13 waterfront parks.  After gathering information at a community outreach meeting back in July,  EDSA returned to make a presentation to the City Council Workshop on Monday, December 11th.  The focus was directed toward the Wildflower and Silver Palm properties, as an integral part and connector of our community.  This would include the connecting of all of parks along the Intracoastal “blue way”.  Wildflower/Silver Palm can facilitate the connection of other parks and the beaches to our downtown.  It is important for all to be involved in the future decisions…this includes oceanside residents, downtown residents, business owners, boaters, as well as the community at large. This is a great “Placemaking” opportunity.  Hundreds of residents and visitors took advantage of the great viewing area the Wildflower property offers during the Holiday Boat Parade. The site is now open to the public from dawn to dusk.

2020 VISION
Thanks to the efforts of a community resident volunteer Margaret Fitzsimons, who is also an architect and planner, an exciting new concept creating connectivity from our beaches to our Intracoastal waterway, to our downtown and college campuses has been introduced. With the support of many community leaders and visionaries she presented this idea to City Council.  The initial goal of ‘2020 Vision’ is to be an idea generator and inspiration for EDSA (mentioned above as the consultant of our waterfront plan). I worked directly with Margaret, Scott Singer and several other local architects in 2016 regarding visionary concepts for the Wildflower property.  With that vested interest, I look forward to making Boca Raton a more livable community.  The possibilities present an extraordinary opportunity to include open green space with recreation, public interactive art and bringing our Blue Way alive.

DOWNTOWN
Traffic and parking have been an ongoing problem…not easily solved. A presentation was given discussing the possibilities of creating one-way directional on both Dixie Highway and Federal Highway, similar to Delray.  If the city chooses to go in this direction (pun intended), full implementation would not occur until 2024 due to; planning, engineering, the involvement of multiple government entities, and the possibility of eminent domain proceedings.  This deserves further consideration.


Round the Town Rides-electric cars 561-303-9173 and Boca Bike Tours-Pedi cabs 561-288-4511 have both been welcomed additions to help connect areas of downtown without the worry of traffic and parking. Call from your home or park near downtown and call them for rides or more info.


CITY GOVERNMENT CAMPUS
Song + Associates are the consultants hired to take a comprehensive look at the potential of the future of our city campus.  Our main buildings are undersized, worn out and in need of an update.  The campus would include city hall, community center, police station, parking, outdoor public space, recreation and a potential entertainment center.  Song presented a report in November to City Council as to the wants and needs of the public. Look for more recommendations from Song + Assoc. as to the future of our government center.

OCEAN BREEZE
The defunct golf course in the Boca Teeca community has been the center of much discussion. At this time, the Greater Beach & Parks District is committed to the purchase, with the support of the city to back the funding.  The goal is to preserve precious green space and to “Keep Golf in Boca”.  We are in the process of an Inter-Local agreement to move forward and jointly complete this purchase of what will be Boca Raton National…a world class, 27-hole championship golf course.

MUNICIPAL GOLF COURSE SALE
In a 4-1 vote, with Council Member Jeremy Rodgers being the dissenting vote, the majority of City Council agreed to sell the Municipal Course, west of the turnpike, to GL Homes for $65 million. This property is outside the Boca Raton city limits. This is less than the $73 million originally bid for the course due to issues raised during the due diligence process by GL Homes. GL has a full eighteen months to pay for this sale. Full discussion will occur as to use of funds.

DEVELOPMENT
Ocean Palm Condo – A1A and Palmetto Park Rd.
This project was approved. The resident – developer collaboration sets an example for how development planning can be done with engagement of all interested parties. As a result, a new seven story condo project will be built at this prominent corner.
Winn Dixie Site – On Camino Real.
Possible redevelopment. Two separate developers with ½ marked for residential rentals and the other ½ for retail.  The developer of the residential portion spoke before the Federation of Homeowners showcasing 350 additional rental units in our downtown.
Hidden Valley – In Northeast Boca.  There is a possibility of rezoning a defunct golf course in this section of the city. The developers would like to rezone to allow for a housing community. This has not come before Planning and Zoning or City Council at this time, however it looks to be on the near-term horizon.
Train Depot – Historic site on Dixie Hwy.
This property owned by the Historical Society is up for sale.  The sale carries the caveat to maintain its historical value.  Stay tuned as nothing has come forward for approval at the present time.
Royal Palm Place – The Old “Pink Plaza”
This is in the Development Services Department for redevelopment. It has not moved past this stage.
MidTown – See previous report above.


The consequences of growth show us that there is the need for well thought out infrastructure and vision of what we see and desire for the future of our community.  If we continue to grow at a fast pace, we must first consider all impacts.


UPCOMING LOCAL MARCH ELECTION
All candidates running for office should be applauded for their willingness to serve their community. As I personally experienced this year, serving is a huge responsibility with important decisions to be made that effect our everyday life.  We’ve all been down this local campaign road before where opening our mailbox revealed personal attack mailers. My hope for this election is that campaigns stay on the high road and discuss issues that are important to the community.

AND FOR THE FUN OF IT…

GO OWLS!!!
Under new head football coach Lane Kiffin, our very own FAU football team rose through the ranks to claim the championship of Conference USA.  They were chosen to play at home in the Cheribundi Cherry Tart Boca Raton Bowl. The stadium was filled and our team was once again a scoring machine, with a lopsided victory over Akron, 50-3.  And to top off the celebration, Coach Kiffin agreed to sign a ten-year contract!  Oh what a night!  I’m proud of my alma mater and the Lane Train! Hoot! Hoot.  Here’s my full report of the the game.
 
BOCA HOLIDAY SEASON WAS HUMMING WITH ACTIVITY
If you were out and about this holiday season you could feel it. Tons of events were happening all over town. Speaking of events, the Holiday Tree Lighting was another major success which drew a tremendous crowd. It was great to see all the young families enjoying the festivities. The Holiday Street Parade, Boat Parade and the Menorah lighting drew large crowds of happy cheering people. It was a pleasure to be out in the community.

PROUD MOMENTS
I have had quite a few highlights this past nine months. However, two stand out as my very proudest moments that I would like to share. One was to be sworn into office as a servant to the citizens of Boca Raton. The second was to be included among others in our community as a “Game Changer” by Boca Raton Magazine.

SWEARING IN

 

GAME CHANGER

TO SUM IT UP
My purpose for serving our community is to be your voice. Please let me hear from you. I will always do my best to represent your needs. Our community is growing.  Baby boomers are retiring and anxious to be in beautiful Boca Raton.  Our local universities are thriving with the younger community looking to settle here.  Creating a future with a solid infrastructure, sustainability, and an approach to “growth with vision of our Boca brand” and the legacy we leave is my highest priority. For those interested here is a video of my ninth month view from the dais.

Wishing you and yours a Happy and Healthy New Year!  See you around town!

Best Regards,
Andrea

Andrea Levine O’Rourke
Boca Raton City Council Member
aorourke@myboca.us
561-393-7706 – office
561-962-5874 – cell