By Steve Plunkett

City leaders approved 208 more rental apartments for downtown Boca Raton but also questioned how many residential units the area needs.

The 12-story building will have 22 studio apartments, 70 one-bedroom apartments, 16 one-bedroom units with den, 74 two-bedroom apartments, 17 three-bedroom units and nine two-story lofts. Rents will range from $1,300 a month to $3,400 with an average of $2,000, said attorney Charles Siemon, representing developer Palmetto Park at Federal LLC.

“I do want to emphasize that these residential units are being built to condo-quality, to preserve the opportunity that they might be sold as future condominiums,” Siemon said.

The building, facing Plaza Real just south of the Merrill Lynch building on Palmetto Park Road, will have an interior eight-level parking garage, a 7,000-square-foot restaurant and 23,299 square feet of retail. The ninth floor will feature a spa, pool and clubhouse.

All four sides of the building are different and provide a varied skyline, city senior planner Susan Lesser said.

Consultant Urban Design Associates, which devised the design guidelines that govern downtown development, “believes that the project is a beautifully designed project and a most positive addition to the downtown,” Lesser said.

Siemon said downtown apartments command rents almost 30 percent higher than suburban units and boast a 97.4 percent occupancy rate. “That’s about as tight as it can be,” he said.

Siemon said there are 79,000 primary jobs in Boca Raton but only 12 percent are held by city residents, leaving more than 69,000 to commuters. He said 27,000 of the out-of-towners earn enough to afford a quality rental unit but the housing does not exist.

“We’re talking about real incomes. We’re not talking about affordable housing,” Siemon said.

CRA Chairman Constance Scott said the under-39 Gen-Y generation is much more driven by careers and by living around people in an urban environment.

“They’re not interested in big-box space to live in, and they’re not interested in shopping in big-box space,” Scott said.

Siemon said the overall site previously was approved for an office tower at Palmetto Park and Federal Highway, a hotel and a smaller number of apartments. The changing economy forced the developer, an offshoot of Ram Realty, to proceed only on the residential part, saving the corner property for a future project.

CRA Vice Chairman Anthony Majhess called for a market study to determine the final number of rentals in downtown, but Deputy Mayor Susan Haynie said there was no need to spend additional money.

“Every major project that’s come forward, they have studies,” she said. “Calling all market studies for the downtown. Anyone that has one in their possession, if they would like to share with us I think we should just take a look and evaluate the data that’s already out there.”

Earlier in the month Ann Witte, a professor emeritus of economics at Wellesley College who now lives in Townsend Place, projected only 400 new renters coming to Boca Raton based on the city’s growth rate.

“As an economist, I am very concerned about the rapid approval of multiple and similar projects involving small rental apartments with emphasis on one-bedroom units,” she told the Federation of Boca Raton Homeowner Associations.

Boca Raton already had approved 1,641 residences downtown that are not yet built, including Archstone apartments on Palmetto Park Road. The City Council ordered a public education campaign about Archstone in May after opponents submitted a petition with more than 1,000 signatures seeking to overturn their approval of the project.

The city attorney is asking the courts to rule that she was right in saying development orders cannot be overturned by a citizen petition.

The city anticipates $175,000 in additional property taxes once the Ram development is finished.      Ú


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