This time, the City Council — meeting as the Community Redevelopment Agency — gave the proposed 209-unit building its seal of approval, but not before members debated what direction the downtown redevelopment needs to take.
Architect Derek Vander Ploeg, who is working with Compson Associates on the project, said Tower One Fifty Five should break ground sometime in the fall to be completed by the end of 2015.
“It’s always good to get a unanimous vote,” he said, noting that the project has encountered no opposition at any of the layers of city review.
It could have been a tough sell in Boca, where the renewed interest in development has also spawned neighborhood opposition and even a court battle over a rental development called Archstone, now heading to the state’s 4th District Court of Appeal.
One Fifty Five, on the northwest corner of Mizner Boulevard and East Boca Raton Road, will be high density: 165.9 units per acres. And the developer, Compson Associates, was allowed to plan for 22 fewer parking spaces than city codes require. They predict the units, ranging in size from 643 to 1,475 square feet, will sell for between $350,000 to $650,000.
Councilman Anthony Majhess said he admired the project because it did not present a wall of vertical development and preserved a feeling of open sky for pedestrians. But he said he was disappointed it did not include any retail space.
“We missed an opportunity,” he said, noting that too many of Boca’s downtown streets are uninterrupted walls, without any features to attract pedestrian traffic.
But Councilwoman Constance Scott said Robert Gibbs, author of the book, “Principles of Urban Retail Planning and Development,” had looked at Boca’s situation and said that the city needed 10,000 residents to sustain its current level of retail businesses.
“We currently have 4,000 people living downtown,” she said.
That had Majhess shaking his head: “Ten thousand people downtown, that would be a tough stretch for me to support.”
Ann Witte, a downtown resident who runs an economic consulting business, said Boca’s residential development has already exceeded the proportion in the Downtown Development Order the city laid out for itself in March 1988.
“You are not going to have the vibrant, mixed-use downtown that was envisioned,” said the Wellesley College economics professor, predicting the project would not sell as condominiums.
Glenn Gromann, a land use attorney who has worked with developers, said he thought it was a terrific complement to streetscape improvements recently completed — a very good sign for Boca’s future.
“The downtown is coming back and this is proof positive,” he said.
Councilwoman Scott, who is chairwoman of the CRA, cited high-end rentals in the city that have a year-long waiting list.
“There is a demand for this and this is a very strong price point,” she said.