By Mary Hladky
Boca Raton City Council members have demanded yet another redesign of the proposed Mizner 200 luxury condominium, giving developer Elad National Properties one month to complete the task before they reconsider the project Aug. 21.
Council members, sitting as Community Redevelopment Agency commissioners at a July 24 meeting, praised the design of the project, which would replace the 246 Mizner on the Green townhouses on nearly 9 acres along Southeast Mizner Boulevard.
But four council members said they want more design tweaks before they will give the project their blessing. Only one, Robert Weinroth, said he was ready to vote in favor of it.
“I personally feel this is a project that has come to the point it deserves to be embraced by the city,” Weinroth said.
Other council members recognized that Mizner 200 has been redesigned four times in an effort to win support of vocal critics who contend it is too massive. Even so, they want more space between three sections of the project to open up views toward the ocean, more landscaping along Southeast Mizner Boulevard, and developer meetings with critics in an effort to win them over.
“I think we are on our way. I think this is going to happen,” said council member Andrea O’Rourke, who then added, “It is important we reach out to the people concerned. Please get with the neighbors.”
“I don’t feel we are all the way there,” said Mayor Susan Haynie.
Elad chief executive Amnon Safran contended his team has met with critics, to little avail.
“We negotiated for a year and a half with everybody. They would never agree to anything,” he said.
Elad is unwilling to start over on the design, Safran said, noting that the developer and architects GarciaStromberg/GS4Studios already have cut the size of the proposed 384-unit condo by 60,000 square feet to decrease its density.
Other changes included increased setbacks, additional green space, varied roof heights and increasing the distance between the project and the neighboring Townsend Place condominiums.
After a brief huddle between the Elad team and city staff, Elad agreed to meet again with critics and make additional changes.
“As quickly as we can, we will reach out to interested parties and talk to them about our ideas,” said Elad attorney Bonnie Miskel.
Within days of the meeting, architects for Mizner 200 and architects hired by project critics were working to make design changes acceptable to all by the first week of August to meet a city deadline to place the project on the Aug. 21 agenda.
The changes will be presented to two city consultants for their review before going to the City Council.
The strongest criticism has come from Townsend Place unit owners, who complain Mizner 200 will block their eastward views and sunlight, reducing their property values.
“The residents of Townsend Place are against this project in its present form,” said Townsend Place president Craig Sherman. “We are not against development.”
Investments Limited, a prominent city developer which is planning a makeover of its Royal Palm Place shopping and dining destination on the west side of Southeast Mizner Boulevard, joined them.
The views from Royal Palm Place, whose residential component would compete with Mizner 200, also would be partially blocked and its representatives contend the condo project does not comply with the city’s architectural guidelines.
Architects Doug Mummaw, who has designed several downtown projects, and Derek Vander Ploeg, who is on the Downtown Boca Raton Advisory Committee, and former Boca Raton CRA executive director Jorge Camejo support Investment Limited’s objections.
The meeting was punctuated by the spectacle of Mizner 200 attorney Robert Sweetapple employing a little-used procedure that allowed him to cross-examine some of those who spoke against the project.
Sweetapple questioned other attorneys in sometimes testy exchanges.
“I felt I got to witness Law and Order, Boca Raton edition tonight,” quipped Deputy Mayor Jeremy Rodgers, referencing the TV show.
Sweetapple’s intent, in part, appeared to be to show that some opponents had been recruited to the cause by Investments Limited, which had paid at least one of the opponents to review the project.
Elad has struggled for three years to get approval to begin construction. The tide began turning in its favor this year when two city consultants reviewed plans for Mizner 200 and determined it complies with the city ordinance that governs downtown development.
In May, the Community Appearance Board and Planning and Zoning Board voted in favor of it. City staff also has recommended that the City Council approve it.
At nine stories, Mizner 200 meets the building height limit for that part of downtown. It also meets the city’s requirements for setbacks, parking and open space. It incorporates a reinterpretation of design elements that appear in architect Addison Mizner’s signature buildings.
The building has supporters, including a number of downtown residents who would love to see the old Mizner on the Green rental units replaced with a more visually appealing project.
The City Council has been lobbied intensely on the project. At the start of the meeting, Weinroth and Haynie held up thick binders filled with emails they have received.
Regardless of whether the council gives the project the go-ahead or nixes it, a court battle is likely to follow. Elad’s legal team now includes Sweetapple, a well-known litigator.
BocaBeautiful, a citizens group that opposes the project, and two residents of Townsend Place also have hired attorneys.