By Tim Pallesen
The controversial nine-story Archstone apartment complex is expected to get final approval this month so construction in downtown Boca Raton can begin.
A procedural move allows the developer to avoid a citizens protest that stalled the project after Archstone was first approved by the City Council last year.
“All this effort by the citizens is for naught,” Golden Triangle Homeowners Association president Andrea O’Rourke said after the city’s Planning and Zoning Board unanimously recommended approval on Feb. 7.
“The very developer-friendly leadership in this city is hell-bent to approve this,” said O’Rourke, who expects that the City Council sitting as the Community Redevelopment Agency will grant final approval on March 11.
The mixed-use project has 378 apartments and shops. “It will be great for Palmetto Park Road, which needs an infusion of life,” developer attorney Charles Siemon told the advisory board.
But opponents say Archstone has too many small one-bedroom apartments and not enough retail. They also fear it will create traffic congestion on Palmetto Park Road.
Fred Bogart, who lives east of the Intracoastal Waterway in Chalfonte, told the advisory board that traffic already backs up to Ocean Boulevard when the bridge goes up. “How are people ever going to get over that bridge?” he asked.
Opponents were able to block the project last year by filing a lawsuit to overturn an ordinance that the City Council drafted specifically for Archstone. A circuit court judge granted their request in October for a voter referendum on whether Archstone should be built. The city and developer have appealed that ruling.
The developer returned this year with a second application under the city’s regular regulations for development.
The second proposed project is almost identical to the first. “The reality is that the project hasn’t really changed,” Siemon told the advisory board.
Architects added a few balconies and terraces to the design. The square footage decreased slightly and some open space has been added. Siemon described the changes as modest.
“I was shocked that the Planning and Zoning Board never addressed any of our concerns,” O’Rourke said after the hearing.
The city, meanwhile, is working with state lawmakers to strike language in the city charter that allows voter referendums to overturn city development approvals.
The Florida Legislature prohibited such referendums in 2011. But Palm Beach Circuit Judge Lucy Chernow Brown exempted Boca Raton last year because the city had allowed referendums before the state law was passed.
“We’re trying to close that loophole,” said state Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, the bill’s sponsor.