By Sallie James
One resident wanted the city to build outdoor pickleball courts. Another complained about crime, and a third grumbled about traffic.
All three spoke last month at a town forum moderated by the city’s Community Advisory Panel, an entity tasked with collecting ideas on how to improve life in Boca Raton and reporting those findings to the City Council.
Those in attendance deemed it a resounding success.
“I thought it was good. It was relaxing and it wasn’t intimidating. At City Council meetings it is so formal,” said eight-year city resident Sarah Crew, who asked about cultural events. “I think this panel is a very good idea to be a liaison between citizens and government.”
The city created the 11-member panel a year ago with the hope of tapping new ideas from residents who might feel more talkative in an informal setting. The Oct. 20 forum at the City Hall Annex marked the panel’s first community meeting. Nearly 30 residents attended.
Longtime resident Raul Travieso, Boca Raton’s former assistant fire chief, said the venue was perfect to discuss the city’s need for more outdoor pickleball courts. As a volunteer ambassador for the USA Pickleball Association, he promotes the sport, which is played on a tennis court with a small paddle, a Wiffle ball and a net. When played, it resembles a combination of badminton, tennis and table tennis.
“I’m just happy to get the opportunity to get the support of the panel,” Travieso said. “I think it’s wonderful. I’ll be here for other issues in the future.”
Resident Alan Friederwitzer told panel members the city needs to do something about the rush-hour traffic that makes it difficult to get to classes at Florida Atlantic University.
“The traffic we have in the city it is really insane,” he said.
Friederwitzer suggested a flyover of some sort to alleviate the problem, only to learn that an Interstate 95 interchange at Spanish River Boulevard is slated to open in about 300 days.
“I think that’s already being spoken to in a big way,” chuckled one panel member.
Resident David Kohlberg advocated for less development.
“There is a broad feeling — that is what I hear from pretty much everyone I talk to about it — [that we need] less greed and less economic growth,” and that there is “development for the sake of development,” Kohlberg said.
Representatives from the American Red Cross and YMCA of Boca Raton also spoke at the event, telling the panel about their array of services.
Resident Jo-Ann Landon, who lives near East Palmetto Park Road and Fourth Avenue, urged the city to consider the long-term effects of so much new construction downtown.
“I think of the importance of green space,” Landon said. “It seems some of these projects being built are creating a wall [that stops eastern breezes] and I think it’s very important we think about these things. I think it’s important we work together to make a greener, friendlier city.”
Panel member Jon Carter, the former student body president at Palm Beach State College and a college junior, dubbed the night a great success.
“I think it was incredible being this was the first time we’ve held a meeting [with the public],” Carter said. “I think we had a good turnout and I think people had a lot to share.”
City Council member Scott Singer said he thought the event went well.
“I’m excited to see residents staying engaged,” said Singer, who has held his own series of town meetings for two years.
Boca Raton Mayor Susan Haynie also attended.