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.

 

 

 

Waterfront tower plan gets hearing; two commissioners ask for other options

One Flagler (artist’s rendering)

City staff pressed its plan to rewrite downtown zoning to accommodate Related Cos.’ proposal for a 25-story tower at the First Church of Christ, Scientist site.

Addressing the commission and a polite crowd of 200 packing the city hall auditorium, Development Services Director Rick Greene countered arguments that the proposed creation of an Okeechobee Business District, allowing Related’s One Flagler project, would turn West Palm Beach into another jam-packed Miami. “Apples and oranges,” he said.

Mayor Jeri Muoio also sought to address concerns that allowing Related’s tower would open the door to other towers blocking off the city’s waterfront. “As long as I am mayor, we will not let that happen,” she said.

The city’s existing handful of office towers bring in millions in annual property taxes but they’re full, so major companies are going to Boca Raton, Greene said. He also insisted that the proposed reworking of zoning districts would not lead to more waterfront towers, currently restricted by a voters’ referendum to five stories.

But commissioner Shanon Materio and Commission President Cory Neering said they wanted city staff to explore and the commission to discuss other options to preserve the church and the waterfront.

“Is (creating the Okeechobee Business District) the only way to achieve that? Neering asked afterward. “I feel boxed in with that as the only option. Not that we don’t eventually get there, but I’d like to think of other options.”

Materio said Related’s plan amounted to “spot zoning” and she recommended another option: Have the city buy the church site for a public use other than a skyscraper, perhaps selling some of the land for a smaller development, to recoup the city’s money.

Christian Science churches, many of them in historic buildings like this one, are being re-purposed all over the country, she said. “There are so many other things we could do with that site.”

City commissioner Keith James argued that the city could be putting itself in legal jeopardy by interfering with Related’s contract to buy the property. Related’s attorney, Harvey Oyer agreed.

But attorney Gregory Kino, representing Trump Plaza Condominium Association, disagreed.

“The City could put an end to this discussion immediately by telling Related that they are not going to support such an extreme proposal and they need to go the Quadrille Boulevard corridor where they built the last successful Class A building in the City or other places that the City’s Master Plan consultant recommended and the City agreed when it was last updated in 2009,” Kino said. “The City has every right not to entertain this proposal initiated and backed by Related solely for their own gain. The contract would go away on its own.”

CHECK BACK WITH THE PALM BEACH POST LATER THIS WEEK FOR A MORE DETAILED STORY.

Transit Village deal fails to win West Palm support

Artist’s rendering of the proposed Transit Village development, at the corner of Tamarind Avenue and Banyan Boulevard.

An office/apartment/hotel project linking Tri-Rail, bus, trolley and car commuters while promising 4,000 jobs, educational programs, local business incentives and home ownership help to abutting poor neighborhoods crashed and burned Monday, with city commissioners squeamish about the developer’s request for a subsidy from property taxes generated by the project.

Developer Michael Massanoff and his team sought to make a full presentation to the mayor and city commissioners, who were gathered as the Community Redevelopment Agency, to explain how he’d revised the plan and reduced the requested tax subsidy in response to criticisms they made in January. But Mayor Jeri Muoio, though complimenting the project itself, sharply limited his time to explain the proposal and the numbers. Two motions to approve the deal didn’t even get a second.

Massanoff is left to try renegotiating a deal for city staff to again present to the board. Or, the disappointed developer noted afterward, since the land is owned by the county, he could just work out a development deal with the county and leave the city out of the loop.

City officials noted that the $25 million in tax increment financing he was willing to accept was 12 times more than the previous highest amount given a developer. Massanoff countered that his transit-oriented project would create public benefits that others do not.

We’ll have a more detailed story this week in The Palm Beach Post, on the deal and what went wrong.

West Palm in code name mode as companies shop the city

The city is considering dishing out about $100,000 to attract two unidentified firms, one in aerospace/aviation, the other in life sciences.

City commission votes are scheduled for July 17 for “Project Falcon” and “Project Cell,” respectively.

According to the commission agenda, Project Falcon is the code name for an aerospace or aviation firm that wants to relocate to the city with 450 jobs and create an additional 200 over the next five years.

The jobs would have an average salary of about $66,000.

The state would pay the biggest part of the incentives package, $640,000, while the county would match the city’s $80,000.

The same company was recently shopping locations in Palm Beach Gardens, as well.

Project Cell, meanwhile, is the code name for a life sciences firm that would move seven jobs to West Palm Beach and add 15 more over the next year, with an average salary of $76,000.

The city would pay $18,000 in incentives for Project Cell and Florida would pay $72,000.

FOR MORE DETAILS….http://www.mypalmbeachpost.com/news/why-west-palm-considering-paying-100k-lure-two-new-companies/Px13TGtUOuukCYCeHSGrbJ/

Hot-button waterfront plan to be discussed by West Palm reps

Materio smiles after being appointed to the commission

UPDATED:

Word that Mayor Jeri Muoio’s staff was moving ahead with a plan that could put an office tower near the waterfront sent city commissioners’ phones ringing this week.

Commissioner Paula Ryan said she’d fielded 700 emails on the hot-button issue. The mayor said she also had a folder filled with inquiries.

Problem was, the commission hadn’t been filled in so there wasn’t much they could say on the matter — the mayor’s Development Services staff had been treating it as an administrative matter* at this stage and planned to bring it to the commission in the months ahead, after going through the Planning Board and Downtown Action Committee.

That’s going to change.

At Commissioner Shanon Materio’s request, Muoio this week agreed to schedule a mayor-commission work session on the plan, which would allow developer Related Cos. of New York to build a 25-story office tower on a site near the waterfront now limited to five stories.

It was Related that came up with the idea, but the city took the ball and ran with it, citing a shortage of first-class office towers with which to attract employers.

Since spot-zoning —  changing the zoning to favor a specific parcel, even if at odds with current zoning — isn’t Kosher, Related proposed that the city create a whole Okeechobee Boulevard business district that would include its site near the First Church of Christ, Scientist.

Materio said the point of her request was to slow the approval process down a bit, so commissioners, the city’s policy-making body, can have a better sense of where the administration is headed before the plan goes to the other boards.

“We have no idea right now of what is being put together,” she said.

*Note: The Mayor’s Office objected to this characterization. Here’s what spokeswoman Kathleen Walter said in an email Wednesday:

“Your blog post states, ‘the Mayor’s Development Services staff had been treating (the Related Cos. project) as an administrative matter.’ That’s not accurate. To clarify, the City has not been treating it as an administrative matter. The City’s Development Services Department stated from the very beginning that the changes that the City was going to require were the creation of a new zoning district and a comprehensive plan change. Neither of these requirements is an administration matter, and public input is required. The matter requires a formal review by the Downtown Action Committee, the Planning Board, and two public hearings with the City Commission. In an effort to publicize and receive input on these proposed changes, the Development Services Department  held a workshop on April 12, 2017 with the Downtown Action Committee and on April 18, 2017 with the Planning Board. Both of these meetings lasted approximately four hours, and the City received a lot of public input. The meeting agendas are publicized and shared with board members and commissioners to inform everyone of what is being discussed in each of these meetings.”

Who’s running for office in West Palm Beach?

Sylvia Moffett

It’s that time of year when campaigns grind into gear for the March 18 city commission races.

Three of the five commissioners are up for re-election: Sylvia Moffett in District 1 in the North End, Paula Ryan in District 3, which stretches roughly from the El Cid area to the Northwest, and Shanon Materio in District 5, in the South End.

Ryan

So far only Moffett faces a challenge, from pastor Martina Tate Walker, who ran unsuccessfully against her in 2016.

Martina Tate Walker

Materio is holding her campaign kickoff at 5:30 p.m. today, June 28, at the Palm Beach Zoo, 1301 Summit Blvd.

 

How do you want West Palm Beach to spend your money?

Mayor Jeri Muoio and City Commissioners are inviting the public to participate in a series of Community Budget Workshops, as they make decisions about which projects and programs get how much money.

The new budget year starts Oct. 1 and the planning process has begun. Time for the public to weigh in.

The workshops will be hosted by Mayor Muoio, Chief Financial Officer Mark Parks, and Budget Manager Linda McDermott. They will be held in each of the City’s five districts:

  • July 24, 6 p.m.: Fire Station #3, 5050 Broadway (District 1).
  • July 26, 6 p.m.: Fire Station #5, 500 N. Congress (District 2).
  • July 27, 6 p.m.: Flagler Gallery at City Hall (District 3).
  •  Aug. 1, 6 p.m.: Fire Station #7, 8011 Okeechobee Blvd. (District 4).
  • Aug. 2, 6 p.m.: Location to be announced, in the Northwest (District 3).
  • Aug. 3, 6 p.m.: Fire Station #2, 4301 S. Dixie Highway (District 5).

    For more information, contact Budget Manager Linda McDermott at 561-822-1342.

A rite of passageway for Subculture Coffee

Sean and Natalie Scott at Subculture Coffee. (J. Gwendolynne Berry/The Palm Beach Post)

News the Downtown Action Committee approved a landscaped, illuminated walkway connecting Banyan Boulevard with the 500 block of Clematis Street brought cheer an ocean away, where the co-owner of West Palm’s Subculture Coffee, Sean Scott, was traveling in — of course — Scotland.

The committee, in approving a 348 micro-unit apartment called Banyan Place, OK’d plans to turn a 20-foot-wide alley between the east side of the proposed building and a city parking garage into an attractive cut-through to downtown’s premier street, by way of Subculture’s courtyard.

“We’ve always wanted to activate the whole passageway since we licensed the front part,” he wrote in an email before boarding a plane home.

“When we were told it was going to happen, we were thrilled! It’s such a unique space that could just add another dimension to the flourishing 500 block. I look forward to helping program events whenever it’s finished.”

Scott, with a couple of entrepreneurial friends, has been working on a plan to turn the side of the five-story city garage into an urban climbing wall, which received city approval several months ago but has yet to materialize. “We hit some snags with financing it,” he wrote. “Not a dead project but still trying to work through it.”

Artist’s rendering of proposed urban climbing wall.

Minority opinion: Commissioner says hold off on building on key site until downtown traffic is addressed

The most prominent downtown parcel owned by the city, the Tent Site, has been offered up for development proposals again, despite the fact that it’s ground zero for West Palm’s burgeoning traffic problems.

On May 8, the city commissioners, acting as the Community Redevelopment Agency, voted 4-1 to ask staff to draft a request for development proposals for the site, at the intersection of Okeechobee Boulevard and South Dixie Highway.

Those voting in the majority said that, with a consultant’s traffic study under way and a favorable real estate cycle in progress, they should not wait to solve the congestion problem before getting the ball rolling on a development play for the high-visibility site. The site, on a major gateway to downtown, has been vacant for years, as the city and developers fumbled one proposed project after another.

We received the following letter May 29 from the one opponent to the request for proposals, City Commissioner Paula Ryan. What are your thoughts?

 

Letter to the Editor of the Palm Beach Post

May 29, 2017

 

On Monday May 22nd there was a “Summit” held at the Palm Beach County Convention Center organized in large part by my fellow City Commissioner, Shanon Materio.  (Palm Beach Post 5/23/17 “Leaders Seeking a Better Boulevard”).  The intent of the summit was to bring together stakeholders to discuss the problems drivers of vehicles and cyclists as well as pedestrians face on Okeechobee Boulevard every day between the CSX Railroad tracks and the Middle bridge to Palm Beach. (“Road Segment”)  It is clear to even the casual observer that this Road Segment has become and will continue to become more congested and more dangerous unless the City takes action to address the many and complicated issues.

 

The City, prior to and during the recession, provided significant traffic generating entitlements to the properties located along this Road Segment, including the City owned “Tent Site”.  All entitlements are allowed within the City’s Downtown Master Plan.

 

There are now over 7000 residents living in our downtown, and as our City grows we are seeing and feeling the pressure on all the stakeholders.  It is the responsibility of the City to manage growth and the impacts of growth, particularly traffic and bicyclist and pedestrian safety.  We, along with the County and the State, must use our resources to formulate the best strategies to make the Road Segment functional and safe for residents and non-residents of the City, including our many seasonal visitors.  This may include roadway reconfigurations, improved signage, and better turning movements to improve safety and traffic congestion.  This will require coordination among the City, County and the State, as well as private property owners and other stakeholders including residents and business owners.

 

The City has commissioned a “Mobility Study” of which a major component is a study of the Road Segment in recognition of the problems begging for solutions.  It is critical that the City keep the City owned Tent Site (2.4 acres centered between Okeechobee Boulevard and Lakeview Avenue on the west side of Dixie Highway) unencumbered and free of contractual entanglements.  This is necessary for the authors of the Mobility Study, the City, County and State and all other stakeholders.   The solutions must include all of the possibilities to solve problems that all stakeholders admit exist.

 

I, along with many stakeholders, was dismayed and confused when the CRA and my fellow Commissioners, including Commissioner Materio, voted to proceed with a “Request for Qualifications  Proposal” (RFQ”) from prospective developers for the development of the Tent Site.  This decision is more than counter intuitive; any development of the Tent Site will only exacerbate the problems.  The City must look at the benefits of reducing some of the entitlements of its own property, as a way to mitigate many of the safety concerns.. This decision also creates doubt and confusion over the availability of the site to be a major component of solutions to problems that have been identified and acknowledged by everyone.  The Mobility Study Consultants, City Staff, the County, State and other stakeholders need a clear and consistent message that the City is willing to use all or large portions of the Tent Site to solve our problems.

 

I will continue to share a clear and consistent message by opposing any legislative action that would lead to an RFQ or other legislative action to put the Tent Site in play, specifically prior to a recommendation from the professional team working, in conjunction with all stakeholders, on a Mobility Plan.

Paula Ryan

West Palm Beach

District 3 City Commissioner