Crocker Partners: City of Boca Raton Unfairly Restricting Development

Developer Sues for Right to Build Midtown Boca Project


Courtesy: Crocker Partners
Crocker Partners, a prominent developer and landlord, is accusing the city of Boca Raton, FL of imposing what amounts to a building moratorium.

Last year, the Boca Raton-based real estate firm unveiled plans for Midtown, a 270-acre, pedestrian-friendly community near Military Trail and the Town Center Mall. Crocker and three other land owners were planning a few hundred thousand square feet of retail and entertainment options and up to 2,500 apartments.

But in a lawsuit filed last week in Palm Beach County Circuit Court, Crocker maintains that the city acted contrary to its own policies by not putting state-mandated land development regulations in place for Midtown. Instead, the city council voted 4-1 to have a “small area plan” for Midtown, a process that could take at least a year, the suit said.

“That basically destroys the idea of a Midtown Boca,” said Angelo Bianco, managing partner for Crocker.

Crocker, which owns 60 acres in the Midtown corridor, previously notified the city of its intent to file a separate lawsuit seeking $137 million in damages for not being allowed to build.

Chrissy Gibson, a Boca Raton spokeswoman, said in an email that the city is preparing “an appropriate and timely response” to the lawsuit.

Gary Singer, a Fort Lauderdale, FL-based real estate lawyer, said it's not uncommon for developers to sue local governments. He said the suits often are used as negotiating tactics and typically end in some sort of compromise.

Crocker's suit comes more than a month after the firm bought the Boca Raton Innovation Campus, a 1.8 million-square-foot office park built in the city by IBM in 1970.

And it was Crocker that developed Boca Raton’s Mizner Park, a signature outdoor shopping and entertainment venue that opened nearly three decades ago.

BIANCO

Bianco said that while Mizner Park remains a relevant destination today, it’s more self-contained than he envisions for Midtown Boca.

“Midtown integrates neighbors with the outside,” he said. “It’s a village within a city, a new urbanism that is in demand throughout the country.”

Crocker and other Midtown land owners say they all want the development, but are not formally working together on the project.

One of the four land owners, Cypress Real Estate Advisors, has held its 10.2 acres for seven years and is hoping to build 60,000 square feet of retail and 204 luxury apartments.

But residential isn’t allowed in the area, and it’s unclear if it will be anytime soon, said Nader Salour, a representative of Cypress Real Estate in Texas and founder of Jupiter-based Cypress Realty.

Salour said he’s evaluating whether to stay with his mixed-use Midtown plan or pursue a strictly commercial development.

He insists residential is needed to complement the existing commercial. It also would allow thousands of Boca Raton employees to live near their work, eliminating their commutes from outside the city and reducing traffic concerns in the area, he said.

“Residential is the obvious and smart thing to do,” Salour said. “Those would probably be the most popular 204 units Cypress has ever built.”

Another land owner, Trademark Properties, has holdings that include Glades Plaza and surrounding properties. J. Michael Marshall, Trademark's lawyer, said his client would like to include residential as part of a renovation and redevelopment of the plaza. But Marshall said his client is ready to move forward with a commercial-only plan.

"They're not in a position to sit around and see what happens," Marshall said.

A lawyer for the fourth land owner, Simon Property Group, said she was not authorized to speak about Midtown on behalf of her client. Meanwhile, residents of the Via Verde Master Homeowner’s Association, in the heart of what would be Midtown, say they support responsible development of the area.

“We think the city of Boca Raton has taken great leadership by advancing the small area plan, and we look forward to seeing what Midtown Boca becomes, as well as how it enhances the lives of the families, students and senior residents who live here,” Jerry Ruderman, president of Via Verde, wrote in an email to CoStar News.

Ruderman added that Via Verde is having “continuing, congenial dialogues” with Midtown developers, though Crocker isn’t one of them. Ruderman said the association would welcome further discussion with the company.

Even if a judge sides with Crocker in the lawsuit, Midtown plans likely will have to be scaled back, Bianco said, adding that a revised proposal would be only about 70 acres and contain 1,400 apartments.

He insists the lawsuit was a last resort.

“Clearly, suing my city is terrible,” Bianco said. “It’s lose-lose for everybody. If I win, I hurt my community. If I lose, I hurt my investors.”


Paul Owers, South Florida Market Reporter  CoStar Group