By Mary Hladky
Tri-Rail officials have chosen their preferred location for a second station in Boca Raton, but can’t yet guarantee it will be built.
The preferred site is the former King’s Deli property along the CSX railroad tracks at Military Trail and Northwest 19th Street, officials said at a sparsely attended June 20 public meeting at the Spanish River Library.
A runner-up site is just to the south, but it is not as attractive to Tri-Rail officials because it is not directly on Military Trail and so is not as easily accessible.
But at least two obstacles must be cleared before the station becomes a reality.
Tri-Rail needs to get funding to build the station and acquire land. Officials peg the station’s cost at $17 million.
The commuter rail had about $8 million from the Florida Department of Transportation and the Palm Beach Transportation Planning Agency to evaluate potential station sites and to design the station. On June 5, the Federal Transit Administration approved the location, clearing the way for Tri-Rail to seek local, state and federal money.
Its ability to build on either of its preferred locations is uncertain. Developer and landowner Crocker Partners owns both parcels.
Crocker Partners managing partner Angelo Bianco, now in a legal dispute with the city over his proposed Midtown development, said he would not sell either one.
“We have a plan for a development,” he said in late June. The preferred station location “is smack in the midst of that.”
Bianco did not divulge details of his new plan for land his company owns, except to say it is an “extensive redevelopment.”
Tri-Rail spokeswoman Bonnie Arnold said she could not comment on what effect that will have on agency plans.
“We have not even discussed it,” she said June 29.
Communication between Tri-Rail and Crocker has been scant.
Tri-Rail officials said they could not contact Crocker about the land until the FTA approved its preferred location for a station, and had not done so as of the June 20 public meeting.
Bianco said he called Tri-Rail officials after they announced their preferred station site. He said they confirmed the location, but did not ask if he would be willing to sell the land.
Litigation between Crocker Partners and the city further muddies the waters.
Crocker Partners led a coalition of landowners proposing a “live, work, play” redevelopment of about 300 acres in Midtown, between Interstate 95 and the Town Center mall.
Crocker Partners originally supported the second Boca Raton station as a complement to its transit-oriented development where residents of up to 2,500 proposed apartments would walk or take shuttles to their jobs at nearby office buildings or retail stores, and to restaurants and nightlife. Its representatives had hinted they might consider donating land for the station.
More recently, Crocker Partners said the station, while desirable, was not necessary to make Midtown a success.
But momentum for Midtown came to a halt in January, when the Boca Raton City Council delayed voting on two ordinances that spelled out how Midtown could be redeveloped and instead voted to create a “small area plan” for the area that would not be completed until the end of this year.
Crocker Partners sued the city in May, saying its actions created an impermissible building moratorium. By then, other Midtown landowners had started moving ahead with their own redevelopment plans.
If it’s ever built, the station would have two parking lots with 75 spaces, and a drop-off area for passengers getting rides to the station. Buses and shuttles could access the station and bicycle parking would be available. The current scheduled opening date is in 2023.
A 2016 Tri-Rail study found that about 1,000 riders were projected to use the new station on weekdays, enough to support construction. But Tri-Rail also expected that to rise if Midtown landowners built residential.
Several residents attending the public meeting voiced objections to the second station.
Bobbye Miller questioned why Boca Raton needed two stations. “Everyone in my neighborhood is not for this,” she said.
Anthony Catalina, director of planning and capital development for Tri-Rail’s governing agency, said the Yamato Road station is Tri-Rail’s busiest, and rider surveys showed demand for a station in the Midtown area because it would be a more convenient location for them.