By Mary Hladky
Over residents’ strong objections, City Council members have approved the first Class A office project to be built downtown in more than two decades.
Boca Raton needs more Class A space near residential and retail that employers and their workers now demand if it is to avoid falling behind West Palm Beach and other cities that are providing it, they said.
“I have been talking about the need for Class A office space for a year and a half,” said Deputy Mayor Monica Mayotte. “I am excited to see this project come to fruition.”
The Aletto at Sanborn Square, located between Palmetto Park and Boca Raton roads just east of Sanborn Square, will create “a true downtown environment” where workers can ditch their cars and walk from their downtown condos and apartments to offices, restaurants and cultural venues, she said.
“I appreciate your concerns, but I don’t share them,” Mayor Scott Singer told project opponents, including many residents of the Tower 155 condo which sits immediately north of the project site. “There are a lot of benefits here.”
But objectors, who jammed the May 18 Planning and Zoning Board and May 22 Community Redevelopment Agency meetings, disputed the rosy vision of a project that would help transform the downtown.
They contended it is too massive for the 1.3 acres on which it will sit, and said it would increase traffic on already overcrowded downtown streets and harm Sanborn Square.
“We aren’t against revitalization,” said Victoria Milazzo, who along with her husband, Alan Neibauer, led the opposition. “We are against too big of a place in too small of a space.
“Aletto Square, simply put, will increase traffic six-fold. That is undeniable,” she said.
As of late May, 1,741 people had signed an online petition opposing Aletto.
The Aletto principals, including Carl Klepper, vice president of developer Compson Associates, proposed two office towers and a garage. A 10-story tower would face Palmetto Park Road and a six-story tower would be on the corner of East Boca Raton Road and Northeast First Avenue near Sanborn Square.
The complex will include four restaurants, including one on the roof.
A 550-space garage will be located north of the 10-story building, with two levels underground and six levels above grade. Office workers and the general public will share the garage. Valet parking attendants will use 94 spaces in the garage that are “double stacked” and operated by mechanical lifts.
A plaza in the middle of the site will have a valet parking station and space to accommodate ride-sharing vehicles.
To reduce traffic, the developer will offer tenants a 50% subsidy for Palm Tran and Tri-Rail monthly passes, and a 20% subsidy for a Brightline monthly pass. A Palm Tran bus stop is in front of the property on Palmetto Park Road. A shuttle will bring people to and from the Brightline station.
All buildings on the seven-parcel assemblage will be demolished. The historic Mediterranean Revival Cramer House was torn down last year.
When proposed two years ago, the project contained both office space and luxury apartments. It also had a fully automated parking garage which would have been the first of its kind in the downtown.
But the automated garage drew heated complaints from residents, who said drivers would clog roads waiting to get into the garage and warned about potential problems tied to the garage’s technology.
In a project overhaul last year, the apartments were eliminated in favor of more office space, and the automated garage for the most part gave way to a standard one. In an effort to appease opponents, the building near Sanborn Square was downsized by one floor and the 12-story building on Palmetto Park Road was reduced by two floors.
In addressing the planning board and City Council, sitting as the Community Redevelopment Agency, Klepper said he was meeting the city’s call for more Class A office space “in a big way.”
He also touted the project for giving the downtown a needed garage, increasing the tax base and drawing companies that would pay good salaries.
But fresh outrage was spawned by an April 10 letter the development team sent to CRA chair Marc Wigder, requesting that the project be considered by the Community Appearance Board, planning board and CRA on three dates in May.
That fueled charges that pressure was being placed on city staffers to cut short their review of the project and that it was being fast-tracked.
Shortly after getting the letter, Wigder pressed for the project to be placed on meeting agendas. Two weeks later, he said fast-tracking claims were “false and largely political in nature” but said the city needed to streamline the development review process.
Singer, speaking at the May 22 CRA meeting, also denied fast-tracking. “It is not a fast-tracked project when it has taken two years to get here,” he said.
Speaking after the CRA meeting, Klepper said the claims were “absolutely inaccurate.”
The purpose of the letter, he said, was to find out the project’s status with city staff members. If they were ready with their recommendations to city boards, he hoped they would consider the project before the summer months when the city has fewer meetings. That would likely mean the project wouldn’t come up for a vote until sometime in the fall.
After the unanimous City Council vote in favor of Aletto, a disappointed Neibauer said simply, “We tried.”
Asked if opponents would challenge the decision in court, Neibauer said they would now have to make a decision. Although he didn’t consider litigation likely, “I am not ruling it out.”
In other business:
• Council members on May 23 unanimously voted in favor of changing the ordinance that governs downtown development to reduce the influence famed architect Addison Mizner has on building designs.
With little discussion, the council approved 10 changes to the ordinance’s architectural standards that would provide architects with more flexibility to forgo reinterpretations of the Mizner vision. The city will now “encourage” architectural treatments that are “appropriate to the overall architectural character of the building.”
The changes, requested by Singer, were unanimously approved by the Planning and Zoning Board on April 20.
This is a first step in an eventual overhaul of the massive downtown development ordinance.
Deputy City Manager George Brown told planning board members that the intent is not to eliminate Mizner’s influence on building design but to give architects more leeway.
• City Council members have approved plans for a luxury condo at 343 E. Royal Palm Road two months after they urged the developer and project opponents to reach a compromise.
They did so just days before council members, sitting as CRA commissioners, met on May 8. Judith Teller Kaye, who lives in the next-door 327 Royal Palm condo, called the resolution a “settlement” that left both sides “a little unhappy with the outcome.”
The developer, 343 Royal Palm LLC, made 11 concessions that satisfied most of the neighbors’ objections, even though they still contend the project is too big for the 0.17-acre parcel on which it will be built.
The neighbors’ most critical demand was eliminating mechanical parking that would have provided 10 spaces, three more than now will be in a regular garage.
The developer also agreed to eliminate almost half of the building’s west-facing windows to provide more privacy for 327 Royal Palm residents, added trash chutes to all units and removed mechanical equipment from the roof, placing it within the garage.
The five-story building will contain four condos of about 4,300 square feet. Each owner will have a landscaped rooftop terrace.