Boca Raton Faces Two Midtown Suits

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Staff report

The City of Boca Raton is facing two lawsuits involving the proposed Midtown Boca project, which would rejuvenate an outdated commercial complex with residences, shops, restaurants and offices.

The suits both allege the city has improperly delayed proposed plans of redeveloping the area from moving forward.

One is a Bert Harris Act suit filed by Boca-based Crocker Partners, which is seeking $137 million in damages from the city.

The Boca Raton commercial real estate company officially filed the lawsuit on Oct. 23. The suit follows a 150-day notice period that is required before a Bert Harris Act suit can be filed.

Three years ago, the company spent almost $300 million acquiring three properties, including Boca Center, with a plan to work with other landowners in the area to redevelop the site into a project known as Midtown Boca.

The suit is seeking damages relating to the city’s failure to put new land use regulations in place and delay action, according to the suit.

“Due to the fact that the City has taken an obstructionist, non-cooperative approach, we are left with no choice but to move forward [with the lawsuit],” Managing Partner Angelo Bianco said. “We are saddened that the City has forced our hand in this matter and is endangering the financial health of our community and placing a tremendous burden on its citizens and our neighbors.”

A second suit was filed by CRVII Boca TC LP, which owns property along Military Trail currently leased by Strikes and Nippers, on Oct. 12.

The suit alleges the city has illegally refused to move forward with review of redevelopment plans.

Circuit Court Judge Jeffrey Gillen issued an order for an expedited show-cause hearing on Oct. 29.

CRVII acquired the property in 2011 and has since submitted several site plan applications, most recently in 2015. Its plan calls for residential and retail space.

According to the lawsuit, the City has been stonewalling efforts by the landowner to take its plan through the development approval process, refusing to schedule CRVII’s site plan application for review by the City’s Planning & Zoning Board.

The suit focuses on the city’s failure to timely enact updated land use regulations for the property, despite its clear statutory duty to do so, according to the lawsuit.

The CRVII parcel was annexed from the County in 2003 with strictly commercial land use. By state law, that County zoning remained valid only until Boca Raton adopted a Comprehensive Plan amendment for the Midtown Boca area in 2010, with a one-year deadline to put its own regulations in place. To date, the City has failed to do so. As a result, CRVII’s property is un-zoned, the suit states.

“The City’s inaction is unconscionable,” Nader Salour, a principal of CRVII and of Jupiter- based Cypress Realty of Florida said. “It seems the only way you can do business with Boca Raton these days is to file a lawsuit. That’s not the way it should be. In the seven years we’ve owned the property, we’ve cooperated with the City in good faith, despite their repeated, intentional delays. We now find ourselves in an untenable situation and a classic Catch-22. The City won’t schedule our site plan application for review without regulations in place. Yet, they refuse to put the regulations in place.”