7960544876?profile=originalThis rendering of  ‘New Mizner on the Green’ was part of a mailer sent out by the developer to 12,000 Boca Raton residents.

Rendering provided

7960544890?profile=originalThe project, dubbed New Mizner on the Green, would sit on nearly 9 acres on Southeast Mizner Boulevard.

Rendering provided

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By Mary Hladky

    Four months after Elad National Properties announced plans to build 500 “ultra-luxury” condos in downtown Boca Raton, passionate debate still runs strong.
    While some residents herald it as a stunning addition that will boost the tax base and meet a demand for high-end residential, opponents contend the proposed four towers rising as high as 30 stories will transform Boca Raton into another West Palm Beach or Fort Lauderdale and ruin the character of their city.
    While these competing views ring out at city meetings and online, Elad is working to build support and win over detractors.
    For months, Elad representatives have been meeting with business owners and civic and homeowner groups to outline their plan, get feedback and, they hope, win support.
    In October, Elad brought Daniel Libeskind, the project’s prominent “starchitect” — whose long list of credits includes the original master plan for rebuilding the World Trade Center in New York and the Jewish Museum in Berlin  — to Boca Raton for a symposium called “The Language of Architecture” at the Boca Raton Museum of Art.
    And in early December, Elad sent out 12,000 glossy mailers to Boca Raton residents who live outside the downtown. The mailers highlight what the developer sees as project positives and include a return card on which recipients can register their support.
    “I am not trying to sell people,” said Bill Shewalter, senior executive officer for Plantation-based Elad. “My role is primarily informational in nature. I note the positive aspects of the project and people will draw their own conclusions.”
    While acknowledging some people will never be on board, Shewalter thinks he is making progress.
    “We see there is enough support to continue doing what we are doing — building awareness, talking to people,” he said. “We think we have won a lot of people over already.”
    Boca Raton has high-rises on the beach, capped by the 27-story Boca Raton Resort & Club. Resistance to importing such heights to downtown has been fierce over the years, where building height was long limited to 100 feet. The City Council edged that up to as much as 140 feet in limited portions of downtown in 2008 and expanded that to more downtown areas a few years later.
    Despite Elad’s efforts, the project, temporarily dubbed New Mizner on the Green on nearly 9 acres on Southeast Mizner Boulevard, remains only a proposal. City staff has not accepted Elad’s plans for review because the buildings exceed allowable downtown heights. To move beyond that impasse, the towers would have to be shortened substantially or the City Council would have to amend the height rules.
    “I am unaware of anyone (on the council) who is willing to sponsor such a change,” said Mayor Susan Haynie, who does not support the project as it exists.
     “Most of the opinion I am receiving is against the project,” she said. The height “is more than double what we currently allow in the downtown.Individuals are very concerned. If we allow (New Mizner), we would open up a Pandora’s box for many others wanting to have a similar height. It is a very valid concern.”
    Glenn Gromann, chairman of the Downtown Boca Raton Advisory Committee, has a different view of public opinion.
    “The people I speak to on a regular basis generally have a favorable outlook for the project.  Most people would like to see high-end condos downtown,” he said, adding there is a huge demand for them. But Gromann concedes that the project “probably needs to be toned down a little bit.”
    Among those receiving a visit from Shewalter and his team in November were officials with the Greater Boca Raton Chamber of Commerce.
    “It was great they wanted to educate us about the project,” said chamber president and CEO Troy McLellan, who said the presentation was “very well done.”
    “It is a beautiful project, everything else aside,” he said. “It is well thought out, but it is very tall.”
    The Elad team also paid a visit to Rabbi Ruvi New of the Chabad of East Boca Raton, who said they came with no hard sell. “I think it is informational, community outreach,” he said. “This is what we are proposing. We would love to have your support, if you are supportive.”
    The mailers have drawn the ire of BocaWatch, a watchdog website whose contributors include New Mizner opponent and financial and economic consultant Ann Witte.
    “It is outrageous,” Witte said of the mailer. “It has offended many in the community.”
    It certainly upset Helene Eichler, a Boca Raton resident since 1970 who showed up at a Dec. 8 Community Redevelopment Agency meeting to object.
    “I was offended,” she said, while holding the mailer. “That is exactly what the city does not need. I, for one, do not want structures of this magnitude in our city. … I am not against growth, but I am against building three times taller than city code allows.”
    Others chimed in as well, even though New Mizner was not on the agenda. Gromann, for one, complained about the “ongoing drumbeat” of “non-fact-based commentary” about the project.
    Opponents have made their views known on BocaWatch, and posted negative comments about the project and Libeskind on Boca Raton magazine’s website. But those commenting on the Elad-created Facebook page for the project were overwhelmingly positive, describing it as, among other things, as “awesome” and “gorgeous.” The page has more than 2,000 “likes.”
    All sides foresee compromise as the end game. What form that takes is anyone’s guess for now, and depends on the willingness of Elad and Libeskind to reduce the height and, therefore, to reduce profits.
    But the developer sees ocean views as critical, so Elad almost certainly will not accept the present nine-story, 100-foot-tall limit at the site.
    Haynie already has said she is willing to support 140 feet under interim design guidelines approved in 2008.
    Boca Raton architect Derek Vander Ploeg, who is not involved with New Mizner, sees the interim design guidelines as giving the City Council wiggle room to approve a project of about 12 stories.
    “I would guess they have a Plan B” that includes shorter towers, Witte said. Even so, she does not support exceeding the 100-foot limit.
    McLellen isn’t making predictions about height, but doesn’t expect any new proposal until after the March 10 City Council elections.
    Gromann said it’s not unusual for the scope of a project to change after negotiations. He is hearing that Elad already is “making some revisions to the project to make it more acceptable to city officials,” although he says he does not know specifics.
    Shewalter isn’t ruling out changes, but not now.
    “We will listen to the community,” he said. “At the appropriate time, we will talk to people about appropriate changes. Now is not that time. We are still in the awareness stage.”

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