Boca Raton: Crocker sues city in bid to save Midtown plan

By Mary Hladky

Developer and landowner Crocker Partners is making another attempt to keep its proposed Midtown development alive, this time by filing a lawsuit that accuses the city of treating Crocker Partners differently from other property owners and not following its normal procedures for project approval.

The lawsuit, filed May 23, seeks to have a judge compel the city to write land development regulations for Midtown. It also asks a judge to rule that the Boca Raton City Council’s delay in adopting those regulations and its Jan. 23 vote to develop a “small area plan” for Midtown instead are illegal and invalid.

It takes aim at requirements the city imposed on Midtown, which Crocker Partners has long claimed are unconstitutional and create an impermissible building moratorium.

They include a mandate that a new Tri-Rail station be built and operational, all street infrastructure be completed, and improvements to Military Trail finalized before the proposed construction of 2,500 residential units would be approved.

No similar requirements were put in place before the city established regulations for the Northwest planned mobility development in 2015, the lawsuit states. Midtown also is a proposed planned mobility development.

The lawsuit amounts to asking the city “to do its job” by approving the regulations for Midtown that would allow Crocker Partners to submit development plans to the city, said Crocker Partners managing partner Angelo Bianco.

“They were supposed to do this in 2011. We are asking a judge to get them to do it,” he said.

A city spokeswoman said May 24 that the city is reviewing the complaint.

Crocker Partners told the city in April that it planned to file a lawsuit seeking $137 million because the approval delays left it unable to redevelop three properties it owns in Midtown — Boca Center, The Plaza, and One Town Center.

Bianco said if he prevails on the most recent legal action, he would abandon plans to seek that compensation.

“The last thing I want to do is hurt the taxpayer,” he said.

Crocker Partners originally joined with other landowners in the Midtown area in an ambitious plan to redevelop about 300 acres between Interstate 95 and the Town Center mall. They envisioned a “live, work, play” transit-oriented development where people would live in up to 2,500 new residential units and walk or take shuttles to their jobs, shopping and restaurants.

But delays in the city’s creation of land development regulations caused the group to break up, and some are moving ahead with individual redevelopment plans. They include mall owner Simon Property Group, the now-closed Sears building owner Seritage Growth Properties and Glades Plaza owner Trademark Property Co.

Even so, Bianco thinks he can create a smaller version of Midtown, with fewer residential units, on about 80 acres that Crocker Partners controls, provided the city sets parameters for what can be built in area.

The city showed no signs of moving quickly before the lawsuit was filed. In what appears to be a move back to the starting gate on what Midtown should be, it has hired two consultants, Community Marine and Water Resource Planning and LARCH Design Plus, to help it create a small area plan. The contracts total nearly $50,000.

The city now expects to have a small area plan crafted no later then December, which would then be formally adopted by the City Council, a city spokeswoman said.

The consultants held a “public visioning session” May 23 to let city residents offer their thoughts about how Midtown could be redeveloped. About 120 residents attended the session at the Spanish River Library.

They split into groups, and each came up with general ideas on what Midtown should look like. Each plan was different, but they shared many similar ideas, such as low density, low- or mid-rise buildings, pedestrian friendly, lots of green space and improvements to Military Trail. Residential units would number no more than 1,250, and many attendees wanted fewer than that.

Jim Anaston-Karas, principal of Community Marine and Water Resource Planning, said another public session would be held in September and a final plan would be ready in October. 

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