The three-building Aletto Square as planned has an automated garage with room for 360 vehicles and a rooftop pool. The completed Tower 155 condo is at right. Tower 155 resident Alan Neibauer says people from all over Boca have signed his petition against Aletto. Rendering provided
By Mary Hladky
An ordinance revision that gives greater certainty to developers that their plans to build downtown automated parking garages will be approved has won Boca Raton City Council support despite concerns that the council was bending to one developer’s will.
Discussion of the ordinance amendment spanned four city meetings, with council members conceding that they had not handled the matter well before passing it last month.
“This was not our best moment,” Mayor Scott Singer said at a Jan. 24 meeting, and other council members concurred.
At issue was an amendment to an existing ordinance governing downtown development that was sponsored by council member Monica Mayotte, who also chairs the Community Redevelopment Agency.
Developers already can build automated parking garages after getting city approval, but the amendment makes it easier for them by creating a presumption that they have a right to do so.
The amendment was general in nature, and not tied to any development project in the works.
But it came up for a vote just as Compson Associates is seeking approval for Aletto Square, a residential, office and retail project on 1.3 acres at 121 E. Palmetto Park Road that includes a fully automated parking garage.
Further, the amendment was written by Derek Vander Ploeg, the project’s architect.
Deputy Mayor Andrea O’Rourke said that while the amendment was not drafted specifically for Aletto Square, she is concerned about the appearance that it stands to benefit that project.
Vander Ploeg said he had intended to use an existing process, called a technical deviation, in seeking city approval for the Aletto Square garage. However, he was told by city staffers that an ordinance amendment was needed and they asked him to draft one, he said.
“We were asked to do it and we did it,” he said. “Was there a conflict (of interest)? No.”
He also spent a weekend responding to 86 operational questions posed to him by staff.
Such collaboration with the city is not unheard of, he said, citing other instances where city staff has asked developers and others for their assistance.
Staff submitted the amendment to the council without making any revisions or comment. That’s standard practice when a council member sponsors an ordinance or amendment.
Singer asked City Manager Leif Ahnell questions about the amendment a few days before the council was to take it up. In response, staff suggested a number of significant additions.
That created tumult when the council met on Jan. 24 as CRA commissioners and again at the Jan. 25 council meeting.
Mayotte and others had expected staff to offer input and improve the amendment before it was presented to the council. Since that hadn’t happened, they agonized over what to do before deciding to put the matter off until their next meetings.
Mayotte was incensed, saying she had submitted the amendment to staff at least two months earlier.
“I can’t even fathom how (high-ranking city officials) put this on the agenda without analyzing it,” she said on Jan. 25.
Mayotte said the amendment came to her for sponsorship because she chairs the CRA. She disagreed that staff members routinely do not weigh in when a council member sponsors an amendment or ordinance, saying they have done so several times since she was elected to office.
A strong environmental advocate, Mayotte said she favored the substance of the amendment because automated parking garages can hold more cars in less space, which means they can be smaller than traditional garages. And they help the environment because drivers aren’t burning fuel as they navigate up and down garage ramps, she said.
Automated parking garages have existed for decades and are becoming more prevalent with improvements in technology. But the Aletto Square garage, if built, would be the city’s first large, fully automated garage.
The amendment does not address all the questions council members had about potential problems with automated garages. Among them are how drivers could retrieve their vehicles in the event of a power outage and possible queuing of vehicles waiting to get into the garage that would inconvenience other drivers.
Yet the council on Feb. 8 approved the amendment by a 4-1 vote, with O’Rourke dissenting because she wanted city staff to have more time to improve it.
“My vote is not against progress, but it is for due diligence and writing the best law we can write,” she said.
The council did make modifications suggested by council member Andy Thomson. The most significant is a provision that the garages must have an attendant on duty full time.