A woman walks through Boca Center, near where the city is proposing improved lighting, crosswalks, trees and roundabouts. (Sun-Sentinel)
Instead of a massive mini-city designed by developers, Boca Raton is proposing its own changes for Midtown, a square mile off Military Trail near Town Center Mall that the city has been working for years to revitalize.
The city wants to create public gathering areas, add medians, trees and lighting and make the area pedestrian-friendly, even though walkers would have to cross six-lane Military Trail in some spots.
“There are ways to make it less scary and less dangerous,” Brandon Schaad, the city’s planning director, said of the north-south route, known for its traffic jams and long stoplights.
The city is not recommending any residential development in Midtown, Schaad said. The proposal is the city’s counter to a developer’s plan that had envisioned shops, restaurants and up to 2,500 apartments or condominiums. But as the plans became public, residents complained the development had too many apartments and new buildings.
The City Council rejected the development in January and later called for the study that was unveiled on Tuesday at the Spanish River Library. Crocker Partners, a real estate and management firm that had proposed Midtown Boca, filed suit in October, asking for $137 million in damages.
Crocker owns several buildings in or near Midtown, including The Plaza, 5355 Town Center Road; One Town Center, at 1 Town Center Road; One Boca Place, 2255 Glades Road; and Boca Center, 5150 Town Center Circle, which consists of two office buildings, a retail center and Marriott hotel.
After residents protested the proposal, the city asked for ideas on what they would like to see in Midtown, currently home to office buildings and restaurants, a bowling alley and a former Bally’s health club that has been closed since 2009. The consensus, according to Schaad: They want incremental changes that make the area prettier, safer for pedestrians, and accessible for community gatherings.
“They don’t want to see too much change too fast,” he said.
He said the city is looking at improving sidewalks and adding trees on several Midtown streets, including Northwest 19th Street, Butts Road and Military Trail. He said officials also are researching roundabouts that would slow traffic, bike paths and grass- and tree-filled medians. A survey will explore how employees in the office buildings commute to their workplaces.
He said moderate changes would take place over the next five years.
Residents in attendance on Tuesday said they liked what they heard.
“I’m glad to see the Midtown project is being well thought out and planned,” Bill DeAngelis said.
Resident Jack McWalter said he would like to see a development similar to Mizner Park, developed by Crocker, a retail-residential center in Boca Raton with many public gathering spaces that offers a “sense of place.”
“That’s what a lot of people in the community visualize,” he said.