By Mary Hladky
One month after Boca Raton City Council members rejected a proposal to build a luxury adult living facility in the downtown, landowner Robert Buehl announced he plans to file a lawsuit seeking as much as $100 million in damages against the city.
The council’s 3-1 vote on July 23, with only Deputy Mayor Jeremy Rodgers supporting the project, was unexpected since developer Group P6’s previous condo projects in the city were easily approved and the council unanimously supported a separate downtown luxury ALF project last year. Council members have praised Group P6 for following the city’s development rules.
But in considering the proposed $75 million Concierge, council members, sitting as Community Redevelopment Agency commissioners, expressed concerns that the facility would overburden the city’s fire-rescue services and lacked adequate parking.
Council members Andrea O’Rourke and Monica Mayotte also questioned whether another ALF was a good fit for the downtown. Speaking of the city’s vision of a vibrant downtown, O’Rourke said she was not sure how much the Concierge’s residents would be engaged in the community since the ALF would provide many services, such as dining.
In an Aug. 24 release about his intentions, Buehl said the comments amounted to discrimination against elderly people.
“The statements made by elected officials regarding our city’s elderly residents were absolutely discriminatory and shameful,” Buehl said. “… The council members should be embarrassed of their remarks against these important and vital members of our community.”
Another basis for the litigation, Buehl said in an email, is that council members “inordinately burdened, restricted or limited Robert Buehl’s property rights.”
Two days before Buehl’s announcement, Group P6 headed to court to appeal the city’s decision without seeking damages.
A city spokeswoman declined comment, citing city policy of not commenting on pending litigation.
These actions mark the second time that developers have pushed back against denial or delay of approvals for their projects since O’Rourke and Mayotte won election on platforms of being “resident friendly” and opposed to over development.
Developer and landowner Crocker Partners filed suit May 23 after the City Council in January postponed a vote on ordinances that set a framework for how its proposed Midtown project could be built. The massive project, on land just east of the Town Center mall, would have included up to 2,500 new residential units.
That lawsuit seeks to have a judge compel the city to write land development regulations for Midtown and to rule that the council’s delay in adopting them, and instead voting to develop a “small area plan” for Midtown, are illegal.
In a separate action in April, Crocker Partners told the city it planned to file a lawsuit seeking $137 million in damages because it has not been able to redevelop three properties it owns in Midtown — Boca Center, The Plaza and One Town Center.
Crocker Partners filed its notice to the city under the state’s Bert J. Harris Jr. Private Property Rights Protection Act, which gives the city and developer 150 days to reach a settlement. If that doesn’t happen, the developer could file the claim for damages in circuit court.
Buehl also intends to file his notice under the Bert Harris Act.
In his release, Buehl said he had been approached by “special interest groups that defend the rights of seniors” that he thinks will file their own legal actions.
Asked the identity of the groups, Buehl said in an email “we can’t speak for them but are confident that the city will hear about them.”
Buehl and Group P6 had proposed a nine-story ALF at 22 SE Sixth St. that would have included 53 independent living, 37 assisted living and 20 memory care units.
Its plans had the support of the city staff and the city’s urban design consultant and had been unanimously approved by the Community Appearance Board and by a 5-2 vote of the Planning and Zoning Board.
But city staff and Fire Chief Tom Wood did express concern that the project would result in increased calls for ambulance service.
Adult living facilities, they said, have 15 times as many calls for service per bed as does a typical multifamily development. The annual cost of a rescue unit, including the vehicle, equipment and staff, is about $2 million.
Speaking at the July 23 meeting, Wood said his department is on the verge of not meeting time standards for responding to emergency calls and is asking for an additional rescue unit.
The city’s proposed 2018-19 budget includes $600,000 for adding staff to the medic unit at Fire Station 6, at 1901 Clint Moore Road, although that is not enough to fully staff the unit. A full-time medic unit is needed at Fire Station 8, at 190 SW 18th St., a city spokeswoman said.
Concierge’s representatives disputed the city’s statements that its ALF would strain rescue services.
They said nurses would be on duty around the clock and could handle many problems, such as when a resident falls. They also noted that about half the Concierge’s units are for independent living, and those residents would be less likely to need ambulance services.
They also contended senior housing facilities have less need for ambulance services. Concierge attorney Ele Zachariades based that on a letter received from the American Seniors Housing Association, a not-for-profit trade association. She did not respond to a query about whether the Concierge team had solicited the letter.
“Based on my experience of running the American Seniors Housing Association for more than 25 years, I believe senior living communities do not increase but actually reduce the number of fire rescue runs,” wrote association President David Schless.
City staff raised the issue of impacts on fire-rescue services last year when the council was considering a 193-unit luxury assisted living facility at 375 E. Royal Palm Road proposed by Boca Raton-based Penn-Florida Cos.
Council members, including O’Rourke, approved that project, agreeing with the developer that the facility is badly needed because of an aging population and would be a welcome addition to downtown.
But council members said the city needed to develop a policy that would make all ALFs bear some of the cost of increased city services. As of July, that had not been done.
To arrive at a cost figure for ALFs, the city’s Fire Rescue Services Department compiled the number of calls from five ALFs in the city and compared that with calls from the five-building, 190-unit Casa Del Rio condominium at 450 NW 20th St.
Calls from Casa Del Rio, with 380 beds, totaled 144 between 2010 and 2014. The five ALFs, totaling 784 beds, produced 880 calls over one year.
The city calculation shows that the condo had .076 calls per bed, while the ALFs had 1.12 calls per bed.
The city also said 84 percent of calls from ALFs result in transport to a hospital, while only 50 percent of calls from a multifamily property result in the need for transport.