Key vote set for controversial 25-story tower near waterfront

The city’s push to create incentives for a spine of downtown office towers leading to the waterfront gets a key hearing Wednesday before the Downtown Action Committee.

The plan to create the Okeechobee Business District, which would stretch down Okeechobee Boulevard from Rosemary Avenue to Flagler Drive, was prompted by Related Urban Development’s desire to rezone a property 300 feet from the Flagler waterfront to allow a 25-story Class A tower.

An analysis by city staff said jobs and other economic benefits of adding top-tier offices would outweigh the loss of nearby condo residents’ and office tenants’ views and would create open public space along the waterfront, while preserving the historic First Church of Christ Scientist, beside which the tower would rise.

The city’s Planning Board unanimously agreed at its July 26 meeting. The DAC approval represents a final hurdle before the city commission hears the matter at an as-yet-unscheduled date.

Opponents say creating the Okeechobee Business District amounts to poorly disguised spot zoning to allow the developer’s 25-story tower in an area that a 1996 voters’ referendum restricted to 5 stories. They say it would generate traffic at the already busy entry to the Royal Park Bridge and violate voters’ desire to keep tall buildings off the waterfront.

The DAC meeting starts at 9 a.m. in  the city hall auditorium.

Possible fixes for downtown West Palm parking aggravation

For months, West Palm Beach consultants have been studying how to make it easier to get around downtown. Now part of the same team wants to help you do the opposite — stop moving around and park.

A group from the Chicago offices of Sam Schwartz Transportation Consultants plans a presentation at 6 p.m. today in City Hall to solicit ideas from the public.

The firm’s projects manager for West Palm, Jane Wilberding, at a mayor-city commission work session this morning, previewed potential solutions to managing parking and reshaping public perceptions of what’s already available to downtown visitors.

The idea, she said, is to balance the needs of convenience parkers, “reasonable” parkers and “bargain” parkers.

Convenience parkers are first-time or infrequent visitors downtown for short periods, say to hop in and out to visit a shop. Reasonable parkers are those generally familiar with downtown, staying for a medium length of time, who could park on retail corridor side streets or in garages. Bargain parkers, Wilberding said, are those who come downtown for long periods, who could park on remote surface lots or peripheral streets.

It’s important to prioritize the convenience parkers and keep as many spaces as possible available for them because they’re contributing to economic development, she said. That could mean making meter rates higher in main shopping areas so that bargain parkers aren’t tempted to park close-in, she said.

Other suggestions for managing parking to improve downtown life:

— Unify rates among private and publicly owned lots.

— Create a parking benefits district, where money from meters is dedicated to beautification efforts downtown.

— Unify parking equipment, so that all garages have the same technology, and all parking meters have the same technology.

— Create a parking cash-out program, where employers offer employees cash to take public transit instead of using a downtown parking space.

— Add signs to help people locate the abundant spaces already available in downtown garages. “As somebody who has lived in New York City and Boston, I think the parking here is cheap and fabulous,” Mayor Jeri Muoio said.