By Mary Hladky
Developer and landowner Crocker Partners filed its promised lawsuit against Boca Raton, seeking $137.6 million in damages on grounds the city failed to adopt regulations that would allow it to build its proposed Midtown project.
Cypress Realty of Florida, a landowner that partnered with Crocker Partners on Midtown planning, also has sued, saying in its lawsuit that the city has been “stonewalling” its efforts to develop 10.2 acres.
Crocker Partners, which wants to redevelop 67 acres it owns east of the Town Center mall, informed the city in April it planned to file the Bert Harris Act lawsuit. Such a lawsuit gives both sides 150 days to resolve their differences outside of court.
But Crocker Partners heard nothing from the city until September, when the city sent a letter denying Crocker Partners’ claims and declining to enter into settlement negotiations, according to the lawsuit filed Oct. 23 in Palm Beach County Circuit Court.
“Due to the fact that the city has taken an obstructionist, non-cooperative approach, we are left with no choice but to move forward” with the lawsuit, Crocker Partners managing partner Angelo Bianco said in a release. “We are saddened that the city has forced our hand in this matter and is endangering the financial health of our community. …”
The city, Crocker Partners and other property owners in the Midtown area worked together over several years to write land development regulations that would allow the property owners to move ahead with their ambitious plan to redevelop 300 acres into a transit-oriented development where people would live in as many as 2,500 new residential units and walk or take shuttles to their jobs, shopping and restaurants.
Boca Raton City Council members torpedoed that plan Jan. 23 when they postponed a vote on the land development regulations that set a framework for how Midtown could be built. Instead, they voted to have staff develop a “small area plan” for Midtown.
That “small area plan” has not yet been completed and no decisions have been made on whether residential units will be allowed in the Midtown area.
Bianco contended the delay created an impermissible building moratorium that took away his property rights.
In calculating the economic damage to Crocker Partners, the lawsuit said the three properties it owns in Midtown — Boca Center, The Plaza, and One Town Center — are worth $59.9 million.
If the company could build about 1,200 apartments on that land, as would be allowed under the planned mobility district designation the city had given the area, the properties would be worth $197.5 million, the lawsuit states. The difference is the $137.6 million in damages Crocker Partners is seeking.
Crocker filed a separate legal action in May, seeking to have a judge compel the city to write land development regulations for Midtown, and to rule that the City Council’s January delay in adopting them, and instead develop the “small area plan,” are illegal.
The lack of land development regulations also is at the heart of Cypress Realty’s Oct. 12 lawsuit.
The landowner has sought city approval to develop its property since 2015, and most recently filed an amended development application in August following the city council’s delay in adopting the regulations. It wants to build 204 high-end rentals and 64,000 square feet of retail space.
But the city has not acted, and has said it can not do so because the land development regulations have not been approved.
On Sept. 24, City Attorney Diana Grub Frieser informed Cypress Realty that the city does not intend to process the development application, the lawsuit states.
Cypress Realty is asking the court to require that the city process it.
On Oct. 29, Circuit Court Judge Jeffrey Gillen ordered an expedited hearing be held during which the city must demonstrate why it should not be ordered to process the application.
“The city’s inaction is unconscionable. It seems the only way you can do business with Boca Raton these days is to file a lawsuit. That’s not the way it should be,” Cypress Realty principal Nader Salour said in a release.
“We now find ourselves in an untenable situation and a classic Catch-22. The city won’t schedule our site plan application for review without regulations in place. Yet, they refuse to put the regulations in place.”
City spokeswoman Chrissy Gibson said Oct. 30 that the city had not yet been served with the Crocker Partners lawsuit. The city attorney’s office will review that lawsuit when it sees it and the Cypress Realty lawsuit “and prepare an appropriate and timely response.”
The city faces another development-related legal problem. In August, landowner Robert Buehl announced he also plans to file a Bert Harris Act lawsuit against the city, seeking as much as $100 million in damages, over the city council’s July rejection of a proposal to build the $75 million Concierge, a luxury adult living facility, in the downtown.
Group P6, the developer of Concierge, headed to court in August in an effort to quash the city’s denial of the project.
The city annexed the Midtown area in 2003. On Oct. 23, the City Council voted unanimously to replace the area’s county zoning districts with city zoning districts. The ordinances also change some permitted uses in the area that would, in part, help the city control excessive noise from bars and restaurants.