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

‘Point A to Point B’ traffic forum set for Monday

(Thomas Cordy / The Palm Beach Post)

West Palm Beach City Commissioner Shanon Materio, Palm Beach County Commissioner Mack Bernard and Town of Palm Beach Mayor Gail Coniglio are hosting “Getting from Point A to Point B,” a public forum Monday, May 22, to address growing public concerns about traffic.

The event starts 8:30 a.m. at the Palm Beach County Convention Center, 650 Okeechobee Blvd. Doors open at 7:30 a.m. Attendees are encouraged to preregister.

The forum seeks to identify factors contributing to traffic in West Palm and the town with a collaborative, solution-based approach. The interactive discussions will include pedestrian safety, factors contributing to the growing traffic congestion and future development. The Florida Department of Transportation will join the workshop, as will the county’s engineer.

Many agencies are involved in West Palm’s traffic issue, from the state, which controls Okeechobee Boulevard, to the city which controls the lights, and roads north and south, the town, which needs access through the bridges, to the Coast Guard, which controls bridge openings, Materio said Wednesday. Then there are the trains, whose crossings affect traffic many times a day — and more, when Brightline service begins.

 

“We’re showing we can work in a collaborative effort and we’re encouraging community to be active participants, she said.

West Palm has hired a consult to undertake a mobility study of Okeechobee Boulevard and downtown, also to seek solutions in light of continuing development. The results of that study are due out later this year.

“The mobility study is just part of this and that’s just one piece,” Materio added. “There’s no one silver bullet.”

 

“As a community, we have seen an increase in traffic and congestion that desperately needs to be addressed,” Coniglio said. “Getting from Point A to Point B is about identifying and addressing the issues that are clearly impacting all of the surrounding communities as well as finding long-term solutions.”

“Traffic issues have been a rising problem along the Okeechobee corridor,” Bernard said. “The city can’t function during rush hour when a bridge goes up or a train goes by. There has been a growing voice from the public asking for local officials to take action to improve the traffic situation in West Palm Beach and Palm Beach. The county is proud to participate in what we hope will be a fruitful discussion resulting in realistic solutions to the complex traffic problems that plague our community.”

The public is encouraged to preregister for Monday’s event by visiting http://www.PBCtraffic.com. Attendees can also submit questions and concerns to be addressed during the workshop.

Building owner at fault for brick wall collapsing on office below

Workers build platform to be hoisted on top of William Price P.A. , before a crane will hoisting it onto the top of William Price P.A., law office next to Alexander Lofts on Fern Street downtown West Palm Beach, March 18, 2016. (Greg Lovett / The Palm Beach Post)

West Palm Beach lawyer William Price, whose downtown office was smashed by a cascade of bricks from the neighboring Alexander Lofts in 2016, has won a summary judgment against Lofts owner Sodix Fern, LLC.

Judge Meenu Sasser cleared the case to proceed to trial to determine damages.

The judge denied a finding of summary judgment against Ram Realty, which operates the apartment building next to Price’s office at 320 Fern St. Price says he plans to press on against Ram.

“Fourteen months and they have offered me zero,” Price said Monday. “They’re stringing me along. Delay, deny, do not pay.”

Sodix’s and Ram’s attorney, Jeffrey Paskert, could not be reached for comment.

A section of the brick skin of the six-story Alexander Lofts peeled off the 90-year-old downtown apartment building and crashed four stories onto the one-story law office March 3, 2016, causing minor injuries to four people and leading firefighters to close both buildings, block off a section of Fern Street and halt construction of apartments across the street for days.

City officials attributed the accident to rusted metal tie rods that attached the decades-old brick facade to the structure. An estimated 40,000 pounds of bricks fell on the law office, piercing the roof and smashing three skylights.

Since then, Price’s firm has been operating out of temporary offices around the corner, at 521 S. Olive Ave., while waiting to collect from Sodix and Ram to repair or replace his one-story building next to the Lofts.

Of the four people injured, three also sued Sodix and Ram, and those suits are pending, Price said.

The Lofts has long since been repaired, reopened to renters, and the mural on the collapsed wall was replaced with a new one.

West Palm Beach attorney William T. Price dons a yellow hard hat on Wednesday April 6, 2016, a gift given him after his downtown office building was smashed by tons of bricks falling off the neighboring Alexander Lofts building on Fern Street. (Joe Capozzi/The Palm Beach Post)

 

West Palm to seek developer for downtown ‘Tent Site’

Here we go again.

West Palm Beach is soliciting development offers for its Tent Site, the prominent piece of vacant land at the intersection of Okeechobee Boulevard and U.S. 1, a gateway to downtown at the heart of the city’s worsening traffic problems.

Unsolicited offers have been coming in, the most recent one from a major nationwide developer, Charles S. Cohen, who also has been hoping to redevelop the old Carefree Theatre site several blocks to the south. And on Tuesday afternoon, city commissioners instructed the Community Redevelopment Agency to craft a request for qualifications to open the site up to competition.

The commissioners voted 4-1, with Paula Ryan dissenting.

“We are undertaking a mobility study, looking at all the different ways to move traffic and people and other alternative transportation through downtown and I would like to see us complete what we started and come up with a solution that meets our needs,” rather than first asking a developer to come up with self-interested solutions to the city’s congestion problems, Ryan said.

But the rest of the board didn’t want to wait for the study’s summertime completion before seeking development proposals.

“The window of opportunity for private development projects is limited,” Commissioner Keith James said. “We don’t know when it will close. We need to strike while the iron is hot.”

Twice the city entertained unsolicited proposals for the site and twice the result proved an embarrassment.

– In one high-profile debacle, the city gave Digital Domain Media Group approval to build a splashy building on the site to house a film school and digital animation studio and promised $35 million in subsidies. But Port St. Lucie-based Digital Domain filed for bankruptcy court protection in 2012. The city got the land back through the court.

– Two years ago, amid political opposition, the city commission rejected a plan by developer Michael McCloskey to buy the site from the city for $13.5 million and build a medical campus. That plan’s rejection came after two years of development negotiations.

James led the charge against the proposal, saying it might “cannibalize” existing medical businesses in the city.

 

‘Bioclimatic domes’ for West Palm’s waterfront?

West Palm’s waterfront redesign competition has been won by Ecosistema Urbano, with a proposal that  includes what could be the first public “bioclimatic domes” in the U.S., the Van Alen Institute and the West Palm Beach Community Redevelopment Agency announced Thursday.

The domes, adorned with hanging gardens, create “climatically comfortable spaces 365 days a year, thereby supporting a more socially cohesive city,” according to a release from Van Alen, which oversaw the competition the proposal.

Ecosistema Urbano’s design, called Open Shore, answers the Shore to Core competition’s call for a comprehensive, forward-thinking urban plan to make West Palm Beach’s waterfront a year-’round destination for locals and visitors, the release said.

“The proposal also illustrates how the city’s Banyan Garage could be ‘up-cycled’ into a mixed-use building with both public- and private-sector roles, featuring adaptive climates suitable for a range of activities, including a farmers market, co-working spaces and skyline viewing platforms. Additional amenities include vibrant thematic alleyways—with such features as a rock climbing wall, interactive exhibition space, and immersive foliage—that harness the cultural values and experiences unique to West Palm Beach, while also providing shade and introducing new elevated programming spaces,” the release said.

The Shore to Core competition invited international designers, planners and architects to envision what the West Palm Beach waterfront could look like over the next 20 to 30 years, taking population, the economy and the environment into account.

Ecosistema Urbano  is scheduled to present the proposal next month to the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency, which will identify priority projects within the Banyan Garage and downtown alleyways and then contract with the company. This will be followed by outreach to the community about the individual elements that are scheduled for possible implementation in late 2017 or early 2018.

 

 

Letter from the mayor on traffic concerns: We’re on it

Muoio (City of WPB)

After months of complaints at public forums about downtown traffic and construction that threatens to intensify it, Mayor Jeri Muoio on Friday released this open letter to the public:

An Open Letter from Mayor Jeri Muoio

Whether you are a resident, visitor or business owner, you’ve no doubt appreciated that West Palm Beach is a vibrant, resilient and thriving City. From the new businesses opening each day to the new developments breaking ground; from the creation of the Flagler Financial District to Community Redevelopment Agency projects including the Shore to Core waterfront redesign, the Sunset Lounge revitalization in the Historic Northwest, and the Currie Park redesign; from the Brightline train station opening this summer to the full reopening of the Flagler Bridge by FDOT, this is a time of tremendous progress in the City. Many have begun to realize what most of us here have long known. This is a special place offering the best quality of life for those who live or do business here. The greatness of the City of West Palm Beach isn’t a secret anymore.

With these successes and recognition come “growing pains”. Many of you have voiced concerns about frustrating traffic in our community. Some of you have questioned what the City is doing about it or whether our roads can handle any additional development. We hear you, and we understand your concerns. The City is taking action on this. Balancing mobility with development and livability is more than just my vision. It is a top priority!

Historically, Government’s approach to congested traffic was simply to build more roads and lanes. Unfortunately, by the time these new roads and lanes are completed, new traffic has already overwhelmed them. Instead of spending money on this no-win cycle of endless road building, I believe the key to our City’s future is a more balanced approach to mobility.

More people than ever before are connecting to bikes, trains, and cars thanks to new mobility platforms. Some—like noted mobility planner Gabe Klein with CityFi– have described this as a revolution in urban transportation. West Palm Beach needs its own revolution in mobility. I envision a future where moving people, goods, trolleys, bikes, trains and vehicles is vastly more efficient, sustainable, safe and comfortable than what we are currently experiencing.

Soon, the City will connect a series of studies now underway to develop our future mobility system. You might already know that we have commissioned a mobility study. Conducted by Alta Planning + Design, this study will be the cornerstone upon which we build that revolutionary new system. The City is also developing a Bike Master Plan to interconnect bike routes throughout the City. We have the potential to be the most bikeable City in the nation. On Monday at the Mayor-Commission Work Session, we heard the recommendations from planners with the international design institute, Gehl Architects, who—after studying West Palm Beach for almost a year– reaffirmed our vision and made new recommendations that we are reviewing closely. This summer, we will share with you the results of the studies, solicit your input and develop a plan of action.

We are also taking immediate steps to relieve the congestion downtown by expanding trolley routes, increasing opportunities for biking and optimizing signal timing. West Palm Beach Police will also conduct enhanced traffic education and enforcement.
Developing our future mobility is a process of incremental changes. We need you to be a part of them. And while change isn’t always easy, change in how we approach mobility is what is needed to help us build a better West Palm Beach.

Sincerely,

Jeri Muoio, Mayor

Thinking big with micro apartments? City says go for it

The Downtown Action Committee, an architect-heavy group that evaluates project proposals, gave the go-ahead Wednesday to developer Jeff Greene’s plan for a building of 348 ‘micro units,’ apartments of about 450 square feet.

The proposed building at Banyan Boulevard and Rosemary Avenue is meant to attract millennials put off by downtown’s high rents, and out-of-towners looking for a well-located pied-a-terre.

City rules required that apartments be no smaller than 550 square feet and that the buildings provide one parking space per unit. The board Wednesday voted to allow units of 300 to 549 square feet and one parking space for every two micro apartments.

“Market trends and the possibility to provide some affordable units within the core of the downtown support  the proposed change to allow smaller units,” Ana Maria Aponte, the city’s senior urban design planner, told the board.

The measure passed with only one vote in opposition, by Joseph Crossen. Crossen said the concept should be tried on a trial basis before opening the door to reduced parking requirements.

Aponte said the parking reduction fits in with city efforts to encourage mass transit, bicycling and alter transportation alternatives.

The approval required a contribution of $10 per unit per month to support the city trolley system. It also required parking spaces for car-sharing, and bike sharing facilities.

Downtown Development Authority Executive Director Raphael Clemente expressed support for the project. “There is growing demand for affordable units downtown,” he said.

Redemption for lakefront property?

A vacant lakefront field off Australian Avenue is seeking a new life as the site of an apartment complex.

Miami-based AHS Development Group LLC has won with approvals to build 240 apartments in three six-story buildings and two, three-story buildings just north of 2101 N. Australian Ave.

Plans for the 7.56-acre site on Lake Mangonia also call for a clubhouse, barbecue area, pool, tot lot and apartments with contemporary interiors. AHS told the city it’s targeting families earning between $45,000 and $90,000.

According to county property records, the site is owned by Redemptive Life Fellowship Inc., which sold the 8.25-acre site just to the south in 2015 to a charter school company, Building Hope Australian, for $3.88 million.

community.

Name changes for roads near convention center: Welcome to S. Rosemary Ave.

The road that runs by the new convention center Hilton to the center garage is up for a name change, to make life less confusing for guests.

The road, currently part of Florida Avenue that runs from Okeechobee Boulevard to the garage, is to be renamed South Rosemary Avenue.

The city commission is scheduled to vote Monday on the name change, at the request of the Palm Beach County Convention Center, The Related Cos. and the CityPlace South Tower.

They’ve also requested two other changes:

1. That the private driveway south of the South Tower Condominium be named “Kiwi Drive”. This section of roadway is co-owned by the Related Companies and CityPlace South Tower.
2. That the unnamed street on the south side of the Hilton West Palm Beach Parking lot be named “L” Street.

Related seeks support for 25-story office tower

Beautiful day at West Palm Beach with white clouds and blue sky over the waterway Royal Park Bridge. HDR image tone mapped in Photomatix and Topaz software.
The Related Cos. wants to add a 25-story office tower to West Palm Beach’s skyline.

The Related Cos. took its community outreach effort to the Chamber of Commerce of the Palm Beaches Thursday, part of an extended effort to overcome resistance to its proposed 25-story waterfront office tower.

The city in October rejected a plan that would have allowed the New York-based development firm to build a 30-story version of the tower, which is proposed for a site whose zoning allows a maximum of five stories. The city plan would have allowed builders to get approval for additional height by preserving and buying development rights from historic buildings, but dozens of residents opposed it, in favor of keeping tall buildings off the waterfront.

Related now is shopping a proposal for a 25-story, 275,000-square-foot tower on the site at South Flagler Drive and Lakeview Avenue, behind the First Church of Christ, Scientist.

 

20170113_overall-render-25-story
Artist’s rendering.

A 200-foot reflecting pool would lead to the building from Flagler Drive, inspired by the I.M. Pei design of the Christian Science church in Boston.

Related Senior Vice President Gopal Rajegowda said the church would be preserved in perpetuity with an endowment. “We have put a perpetual conservation easement on land to the north, south and east of the church and the marina space directly to the east of the Church– so nothing can be built on that property,” he said.

Beauitful full moon setting over the West Palm Beach waterway along the city skyline. HDRE image tone mapped using Photomatix Pro and enhanced with Topaz software.
Artist’s rendering.

Downtown West Palm is starved for top quality office space, especially with water views. Business Development Board Executive Director Kelly Smallridge told the gathering of several hundred business people at the chamber breakfast that many companies want to move to West Palm but are going elsewhere because they can’t find room.

Nancy Pullum, who heads development watchdog group Citizens for Thoughtful Growth, said Thursday that the city still hasn’t addressed how it would handle traffic generated by the project — a major issue, as Okeechobee Boulevard traffic grows thicker by the week.

And, since spot-zoning changes to accommodate one property are not legal, what’s not known is how the city would allow bigger towers elsewhere downtown in addition to Related’s site, she said. “You can’t build it now. What’s the proposal that would change that zoning?”