By Mary Hladky
The developer and architect for Aletto at Sanborn Square have overhauled their plans for a three-building downtown project that drew strong resident opposition.
Luxury apartments no longer will be part of the mix. Instead, two of the buildings will be devoted to Class A office space.
A fully automated parking garage, which would have been the first of its kind in the downtown, also has been axed, replaced by a conventional garage with nine levels, two of them below ground. The number of parking spaces has increased from 360 to 542.
The locations of two initially proposed buildings essentially have been swapped so that a shorter six-story building on Northeast First Avenue, one story fewer than first proposed, will be near Sanborn Square. The top level will have a fitness center and outdoor garden, with a restaurant on the ground floor.
The original 12-story apartment building has been shorn to nine stories of offices with a rooftop outdoor restaurant and two ground-floor restaurants. It now fronts East Palmetto Park Road.
“Due to an overwhelming demand for downtown office space in the surrounding markets and specifically downtown Boca Raton, we decided to re-frame the project and pivot,” Carl Klepper, vice president of developer Compson Associates, wrote in a Sept. 15 letter to a city official.
He and project architect Derek Vander Ploeg provided the city with additional information about their plans in October.
City officials have long said that Boca Raton needs more Class A office space with amenities now desired by companies.
Vander Ploeg said no Class A offices have been built in the downtown for at least 20 years.
As companies move to Florida, in part as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, he said executives want offices near where they live, and that often is in the downtown.
“The response has been more than overwhelming,” he said.
Residents mobilized against Aletto at Sanborn Square after it was proposed about 16 months ago, led by Alan Neibauer and his wife, Victoria Milazzo, who live in the Tower 155 condo directly north of the proposed project.
They have spoken out at City Council meetings and created an online petition on change.org imploring city officials to reject the development. As of mid-October, that petition had 716 signatures.
Their objections mirror those leveled against many of the large-scale projects proposed in the downtown during the building boom of the past decade.
Aletto, they contend, is too big for the 1.3 acres on which it will sit between Palmetto Park Road and East Boca Raton Road and will have a detrimental impact on the much-loved Sanborn Square. They also maintain it will generate too much traffic that will clog downtown streets.
The automated parking garage was a particular sore point. Opponents said vehicles would back up on the roads as drivers waited to enter the garage and they warned about potential problems tied to the garage’s technology.
Vander Ploeg declined to comment in detail why a conventional parking garage is now proposed, but did say one factor is supply chain problems first triggered by the pandemic that make it difficult to get parts when they are needed.
Neibauer is pleased by some of the proposed changes, including the shorter building near Sanborn Square and the elimination of the automated garage.
But more parking is needed for office buildings than residential, which means traffic woes won’t be eliminated, he said.
“Our feeling is, we won a battle but is this starting another one?” he said. “They haven’t done anything to reduce pedestrian and traffic impact. In fact, they made it worse.
“Our feeling is, it is still too big for the location.”