Notes From Boca’s Town Halls

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By: Councilman Scott Singer Special to the Boca Newspaper

This month’s column takes a look at what Boca residents have been discussing during three recent public forms – one I held as part of my ongoing outreach, and two organized by the City of Boca Raton on our downtown campus and waterfront parks.

Several weeks ago, I held the latest installment of my town hall series, Coffee & Conversation. To see more than 80 neighbors coming out on an ordinary Tuesday evening in the height of summer to talk about city issues is very gratifying – both as the people’s representative and as a resident. Greater partnership with and participation by the community remains one the goals I have for my regular series of town hall meetings, the first by a council member in many years. This latest edition also featured about one-third first-time attendees, including more younger residents, and a broader variety of topics than usual – all of which are strong signs of healthy citizen engagement.

In particular, residents had some thoughts and questions about long-term planning and some pending projects. As expected, many neighbors asked about the proposed purchase of the Ocean Breeze golf course at Boca Teeca by the Greater Boca Raton Beach & Parks District.  We at the city have a number of questions too, and have been asking the District for months to provide more information on its plans concerning the golf course acquisition and redevelopment. As of press time, a number of those answers had not been received, but we keep up the requests. Residents also inquired about the possible sale of the city’s municipal golf course, for which three offers exceeding $73 million have been received, and which has been moving apace with the District’s deal. Attendees also shared thoughts about varied topics such as support for education, new plans to help revitalize neighborhoods (like zoning for home-based professional offices), environmental planning, and downtown shuttles, to go along with more frequent topics of development, traffic, and taxes.

Earlier in June, the city held the first of its public outreach meetings to help develop a long range plan for our downtown city campus, which includes city hall, the community center, police headquarters, code enforcement/planning building, playing fields, tennis courts, and Children’s Museum. The open-house style meeting had about 70 residents – most of whom lived in or near downtown – offer informal feedback on some possible future uses. Residents expressed widespread support for a parking garage downtown, which would likely be echoed by neighbors who live in central and western parts of the city and would like greater parking in our downtown. The attendees also offered their feedback on different options for community center facilities, a possible open pavilion and public square, and a venue for performing arts. Boca families were very pleased with the variety of classes and programs the city offers and generally want to see them continue in whatever new space is created.

The third of the recent public meetings was the city’s waterfront consultants’ presentation of some new visions for the waterfront. This meeting attracted about 120 attendees, and nearly as many as a Waterfront Visioning Session I hosted last year with a group of architects and residents who volunteered to develop the program. The consultants, led by planning firm EDSA, presented some innovative and far-reaching concepts for more than a dozen parks, which incorporated ideas from a prior public input session. These concepts will be evaluated by staff and presented again for more resident feedback. We should think of them as more of a preliminary wish list than a concrete plan, but I eagerly look forward to firming up these ideas to create new waterfront amenities and park space that will last for generations.

While the city continues to refine further visions for the waterfront, we have gotten a jump on several major improvements to our parcels on the water. In 2015, the City Council approved the expansion of Hillsboro El Rio park and the remediation of a former garbage dump site. (Can you believe that well into the 1950s, our then-smaller city was dumping trash on canal-fronting land just west of Dixie Highway!) Last year, we approved plans to add two double boat ramps, boat trailer parking, and canoe and kayak trails to Rutherford and Lake Wyman parks. This year, the city began work to create a waterfront promenade connecting the Wildflower and Silver Palm Park sites, along with repairs to Wildflower’s pavement, parking, and sea wall areas.  These projects are continuing, and are part of the city’s long-term commitment to green space, a key attribute for Boca Raton. I’m proud to have worked for expanded public green space with these and other initiatives.

Even when the City Council doesn’t have a meeting, city staff and your public servants are hard at work in developing and implementing plans for Boca Raton’s future, in addition to daily operations for our city of nearly 100,000 inhabitants.  Huge thanks go out to every resident who has taken a few hours or even minutes to share your thoughts, concerns, or questions with me. The cornerstone of serving constituents is actually listening and responding to your concerns. As long as I serve, I’ll work even harder to be A Leader Who Listens.  Please contact me so I can do more of it!