By Mary Hladky

A proposal by Mayor Scott Singer to limit the authority of a key city board has sparked an outcry, with board members saying they were blindsided and two members resigning.

The first public indication that Singer and other City Council members wanted to change the Community Appearance Board’s duties came at the Nov. 13 council workshop meeting when it was noted that Singer wanted to revise its roles and responsibilities.

The CAB, consisting of seven unpaid volunteers who must be either an architect, landscape architect, engineer, contractor or a businessperson, is the first city body that reviews the aesthetics of proposed projects other than single-family homes. Members examine the architecture, landscaping, signs, paint color and proposed exterior changes.

Its mission is to ensure that projects look good and will enhance the city’s appearance.

Once a project passes muster with the appearance board, it goes to the Planning and Zoning Board and then to the council for final approval.

CAB members have worked for years outside the limelight. Members attended four meetings a month that lasted late into the night until a few years ago when city streamlining reduced the number of meetings to two a month and the matters that needed review.

Council members and city staff now say that they have heard complaints about the CAB, although they have not specified who made them.

“We have gotten concern from property owners, businesses wanting to move here, residential communities that sometimes CAB exercises more artistic discretion than I think was originally envisioned,” Development Services Director Brandon Schaad said at the November meeting.

At the Feb. 26 workshop, Singer said large businesses, community associations and property owners “complain about the process,” adding that some say they should be able to paint a building any color they want.

The council directed staff in November to propose changes to the CAB’s duties and the approval process to improve efficiency.

But CAB members said they were not told that this would be discussed at that meeting and their input was not sought. They learned the scope of what the council and staff had in mind only when the subject appeared on the February meeting agenda. A memo City Manager George Brown sent to the council said that staff proposed reducing the appearance board’s role in approving paint colors by allowing staff to make more color decisions.

Staff wanted the council at a later date to consider eliminating CAB landscaping and architecture design reviews, thus stripping away two of the CAB’s other major responsibilities.

The board would continue to review building signs, although it has done less of that since a master sign code was approved several years ago.

Yet the CAB would become an appeals board for developers or architects who want to challenge staff decisions.

CAB Chair Tiery Boykin, an architect, and John Kronawitter, a contractor and architect, resigned their board positions days before the February meeting.

In their resignation letters, both said that the appearance board had not been notified about the proposed changes in advance and were not invited to participate in the process.

Boykin urged the council at its Feb. 26 meeting to reconsider what appeared to be the elimination of the board.

“If you look at the beauty of Boca Raton, you’ll see what this board has been doing,” he said.

Council members denied they were doing away with the CAB. They thanked Boykin for his service. None asked him to return to the CAB.

“I do disagree with the direction the city is going in,” Boykin said in an interview. “I think it is an effort to be too friendly to developers. It takes away from the check-and-balance system our city really should have.”

The council, he said, was reacting to secondhand rumors rather than facts. He noted that developers and architects can appeal a CAB decision to the council, but he is unaware that anyone has done so.

When Boykin watched a video of the November meeting, he was astonished to hear Schaad say that if city staff took over evaluation of building aesthetics, it would be necessary to hire an architect. At the time, four architects were CAB members working at no cost.

“I hope the city will realize it will be difficult to replace the CAB,” he said. “No one wants their building critiqued, but there is a lot of times a better solution” resulting from the process.

When Kronawitter, president of HDAI Construction, saw Brown’s memo, “I felt like we were under-appreciated, we really weren’t necessary,” he said in an interview. “They could hire someone to do this rather than get all the free help of the architects on the board.

“I thought, what was the point of being on the board. You are not going to be effective,” he said.

The CAB, Kronawitter said, “provided a good service to the city. We had qualified people reviewing these things.”

Boykin said at the end of the February meeting that “misinformation got out of hand and everyone on the CAB felt they were sandbagged.” He suggested that staff meet with the CAB to “talk this out.” Singer agreed.

At that March 19 meeting, the remaining CAB members voiced their concerns to Erin Sita, the city’s deputy director of development services.

Michael Goodwin, the owner of Crazy Uncle Mike’s restaurant and brewery, who was promoted to CAB chair at the meeting, said he was unaware of any architects or landscape architects who work for the city.

“This is taking away aesthetic reviews and giving it to (staff) people who are not qualified to do aesthetic reviews,” he said. “You are asking CAB to become an appeals board for bad-looking projects. Honestly, I don’t think this board is interested in any of that.”

Sita denied that the city wanted to do away with the CAB, but said that she understood the board’s frustration. “It feels like criticism of the job you have been doing. You are not feeling valued,” she said.

While the city does not have architects on staff, it does have people with degrees in architecture “who have expertise,” she said.

“I hope you see this as an opportunity for continued discussion, and we are not cutting you out but are reinserting you in a different place,” Sita said.

The city’s plans are not final, Sita said, and she promised more conversations with CAB members.

And yet, “this change is going to happen,” she said.

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