By Anne Geggis | Sun Sentinel
Even before downtown Boca's tallest building is completed, four new projects that will equal it in size are in the pipeline.
The 12-story apartment building, the Mark at CityScape, is scheduled to open early next year near the southeast corner of Palmetto Park Road and Federal Highway.
Officially, downtown Boca's buildings are supposed to go no taller than nine or 10 stories that measure 100 feet, plus some height for decorative elements.
But under temporary rules, the city is allowing builders to construct taller buildings downtown if certain design guidelines are met.
The Mark at CityScape was approved in 2012 to reach 12 stories at 140 feet — or 40 feet taller than the official height limit for downtown. When the building opens next year, the city plans to re-evaluate whether such taller buildings are ideal for Boca Raton.
The other four planned or proposed downtown projects:
• Construction has started on the 366-unit apartment complex, Via Mizner, at the corner of Camino Real and Federal Highway. It, too, will reach 12 stories.
• The City Council in September approved a hotel for the southeast corner of Palmetto Park Road and Federal Highway. The plan calls for 12 stories. It will be next to the Mark at CityScape.
• Next month, a representative for the Tower One Fifty-Five condos will ask the City Council for permission to have the development rise three stories higher than the nine stories for which it has been approved. It will be in the 100 block of East Boca Raton Road.
• A fourth proposal, for another 200 apartment units, could reach 13 stories at 300 S. Federal Highway.
The city considers the Mark at CityScape a test case, of sorts. Specifically, when the building is finished, the city plans to examine how the plans materialized.
Councilman Mike Mullaugh said some people "can look at a plan on a piece of paper and visualize the building. I am not one of those people. Let's see what it looks like ... and see if we should adopt them [the new guidelines] permanently."
Still, some residents question whether taller buildings are being approved too quickly.
Downtown resident Ann Witte said she doesn't understand why Boca is allowing buildings to rise up to 13 stories — or 140 feet, plus 20 feet for decorative elements — without seeing how the Mark at CityScape first works out.
"It seems very odd to be approving other developments under a rule that is being tested, and the test [case] has not been completed or evaluated," Witte said. "The purpose of a test case is to see how things work."
Others, however, are thrilled with the prospect of Boca on the rise.
"Boca is a city, and to have that city, you need density to support a downtown," said Jonathan Kolbe, who works at a Boca architectural firm and lives just outside the city limits. "The suburban model of what was done in the second half of the 20th Century is proving itself not to be sustainable."
He started the Facebook page "New Boca" because of his excitement about downtown's new residential construction.
"What we've done in South Florida is expand by subdivision after subdivision," he said. "There are places for density and there are places for family-friendly, quiet neighborhoods. Downtown Boca, in my opinion, is the place for density."
City Council members said extra building heights aren't so developers can build more square footage, though. Instead, council members said, the greater heights should allow more graceful flourishes with varied building facades within a project.
Instead of buildings that rise straight up, the tallest parts of the new buildings will be set back far from the street. As the buildings get taller, the building widths will get skinnier, to give the effect of wedding cake layers, the reasoning goes.
Ram, the Palm Beach Gardens-based company developing the Mark at CityScape, said that the building will be getting more decorative elements and landscaping before the first tenant arrives March 1.
"When you're walking down the street, you won't feel like you are walking next to a building that's going 12 stories up," Councilman Robert Weinroth said. "You are only going to see four or five floors from the street. It's not going to block the light from the sun and you are not going to feel like you are going into this concrete cavern."
Still, in a city that prides itself for its unique "Boca" look, how high buildings should rise has become an urgent question.
Developers also want to build a set of four spired structures, with the tallest rising 460 feet, just outside Boca's downtown. But because Boca's codes don't even contemplate those heights, it has not started making its way through the city's approval process.
Jim Wood, a downtown Boca resident, said several people moved to downtown assuming buildings wouldn't rise more than 100 feet.
"The citizens should have the opportunity to weigh in on whether they want buildings at 100 feet or 160 feet," said Wood, who moved downtown in 1998. "The 100-foot buildings are already starting to block out the view of the sky."
But some say there are practical reasons for wanting to build higher.
"The views are better," said Derek Vander Ploeg, on why he was back in front of the Planning and Zoning Board this month to get permission for his development, Tower One Fifty-Five, to rise higher.
More properties for high-rises?
At meetings next month, Boca Raton city officials will discuss additional business that could further affect construction downtown. They'll consider whether smaller parcels should be allowed to have buildings that rise to Boca's maximum height.
Currently, only parcels that are 2 acres or larger are eligible for construction of buildings higher than 100 feet. But if the city were to allow high-rises on lots smaller than 2 acres, more than 150 additional lots would become eligible for such construction.
Dropping that 2-acre minimum requirement for taller buildings will be before the City Council twice next month, first when it meets next as the Community Redevelopment Agency, and when it meets as the City Council.