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.”

Game night 6 p.m. Monday on waterfront green

Aesop’s Tables. (Contributed)

Blogger, Tweeter and international man of mystery Aaron Wormus will host a free community game night at 6 p.m. Monday, June 26, at West Palm Beach’s waterfront green.

Wormus, the “guy” behind the aGuyonClematis Twitter account and blog, will lead the event at the city’s outdoor art exhibition, Aesop’s Tables, where picnic tables are painted with themes of Aesop’s fables.

Equipped with silly games, ice breaker activities and prizes, Wormus will warm us with all things fun while showcasing the exhibition, created by 19 local artists.

For information about Aesop’s Tables and other West Palm Beach summer events, visit wpb.org/events.

Aaron Wormus, fresh from a morning bath at a nuclear waste dump.

 

 

“Hello Sunshine” theme for West Palm gateway art

West Palm Beach will greet you with rays of morning sunshine, starting next year with the city’s latest Art in Public Places addition.

The city commission this week approved five gateway works of outdoor art, together titled “Hello Sunshine,” by West Coast art collective Aphidoidea.

Each of the city’s five commission districts will get its own cluster of yellow sun rays. Each will include the city’s logo, as well as an individual representation of its district.

The District 1 piece will be at 45th Street and Australian Avenue. District 2’s will be in a new roundabout at Cumberland Drive and Saratoga Road.

District 3’s work will be in the Okeechobee Boulevard median. District 4’s will be on the sidewalk at Northlake Boulevard and Grassy Waters Preserve. And in the South End, District 5’s will be either at Phipps Park or the intersection of S. Dixie Highway and Gregory Road, still to be determined.

The answers to all West Palm Beach’s traffic problems?

The city’s four-day traffic study charrette concludes this evening, as consultants Alta Planning + Design present potential fixes to downtown congestion. It’s the first draft of a plan, as the consultants prepare to continue their work through the summer.

The sessions for the past three afternoons at the Palm Beach County Convention Center have invited input from residents and discussion with the consultants. They focused mainly on Okeechobee Boulevard and how it feeds commuters into downtown.

All options were on the table, from tunnels, to depressing the train tracks, to narrowing roadways, improving bus and trolley service and bicycle pathways, and turning the Tent Site into a transit hub.

Tonight’s concluding session starts at 5:30 p.m., again in the convention center.

If you go, be careful crossing Okeechobee.

 

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.

Micro-apartments get OK, with Banyan-Clematis pedestrian passageway

Artist’s rendering of proposed Banyan Place micro-apartments.

A plan for micro-apartments that would change the mix of West Palm Beach residential options got the approval of the Downtown Action Committee Wednesday morning. The city commission is scheduled to vote on final approval Monday.

The DAC unanimously approved developer Jeff Greene’s Banyan Place project, a 12-story building at the corner of Banyan Boulevard and Rosemary Avenue that would include 348 apartments that range in living area from 340 to 560 square feet.

Greene has said he hopes to rent the units for under $1,000 a month, well below the going rate for full-sized downtown apartments.

The project includes an extra plus for denizens of downtown: opening a pedestrian passageway on its east side, from Banyan to Clematis Street, connecting through the courtyard of popular Subculture Coffee on Clematis. Currently that area is an alley that dead-ends in the middle, preventing any connection between the boulevard and street.

Also planned for that passageway, which is a 20-foot-wide strip between the apartment building and a city garage: A venture associated with Subculture plans to build a recreational climbing wall on the side of the garage.

There’ll be lighting and landscaping along the passageway as well.

 

Best photos by the best photographers, on display downtown

A 2015 Photographer of the Year International winner: A protester takes shelter from tear gas canisters exploding around him in Ferguson, Missouri. On this night protesters attempted to throw Molotov cocktails, rocks and bottles at police. This was the fourth straight night police used tear gas to disperse crowds protesting the death of Michael Brown. (David Carson/St Louis Post-Dispatch/ZUMAPRESS.com)

Palm Beach Photographic Centre’s 3rd Annual Best in Show Festival is showcasing pictures and photojournalists honored at the annual Pictures of the Year International (POYi) Competition, the world’s oldest and most prestigious photojournalism competition.

The mission of the competition, based at the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute at the Missouri School of Journalism, is to recognize excellence in documentary photography and photojournalism.

Palm Beach Photographic Centre is located at 415 Clematis St. For more information, visit http://www.workshop.org. The exhibit is open through mid-August.

Turning empty storefronts into business start-ups

Roog

A proposal by West Palm Beach to turn empty storefronts into pop-up rentals for small businesses or start-ups has won a $180,000 grant from the Knight Cities Challenge.

The proposal, “12 for 12: Popup to Rent,” submitted by Economic Development Director Christopher Roog, expands on the success of a pilot project by inviting local businesses to activate 12 empty stores as an economic catalyst for the city.

Roog worked with urban planning firm Gehl Architects, gathering data about downtown activity and in particular about retail spaces that weren’t active. He came up with the idea to ask landlords to donate the spaces for use by small businesses or start-ups to occupy the slots on a temporary basis, and with a marketing effort, “maybe have an event with some food trucks, some cool lighting,” to help activate the street and give the start-ups a shot at success, he said in January, when the project was named as a finalist.

The project is one of 33 announced today by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation that will share $5 million as winners of the Knight Cities Challenge. Each of the ideas centers on helping cities attract and keep talented people, expand economic opportunities and create a culture of civic engagement.

“The Knight Cities Challenge works to uncover the ideas, people and collaborations that help to advance deeper civic engagement and contribute to city success,” said Sam Gill, Knight Foundation vice president for communities and impact. “The winners join a network of civic innovators who are showing us the ways in which our cities can shape their futures to help solve pressing challenges and create new opportunities.”

The challenge attracted more than 4,500 ideas to make the 26 communities where Knight invests more vibrant places to live and work. It asked innovators of all kinds to answer the question: What’s your best idea to make cities more successful? One project in Palm Beach County is receiving a portion of the $5 million pool.

The 33 winners proposed a host of ideas, from providing a space for Philadelphians to develop city service solutions through a traveling city design lab to further enlivening the Detroit waterfront by creating an inviting, urban beach along the city’s Atwater Street, from replacing an inoperative freeway in Akron with a lush forest and public space to connect two physically and socially isolated neighborhoods to reimagining Columbia, South Carolina’s State House as a front porch for all.

“These Knight Cities Challenge winners will help to create avenues for people to contribute to their community. Their ideas propose to bring together diverse residents, ensure talent thrives, and connect people to place, giving them a stake in city-building,” said George Abbott, Knight Foundation director for community and national initiatives.

The list of winners is at: http://kng.ht/kcc2017

Past winners have created innovative solutions aimed at connecting people of all backgrounds and incomes, inviting people into active civic engagement and helping keep and attract talented people in their communities, the foundation said. They include: The Institute of Hip-Hop Entrepreneurship, which uses hip-hop to provide hands-on business training to members of low-income groups in Philadelphia; Re:Brand Detroit, which aims to spark reinvestment in Detroit’s neighborhoods through entrepreneurship; and Minimum Grid Maximum Impact, which improves neighborhood life by creating a network of bike and pedestrian connections between Midtown and Uptown Columbus, Georgia.

Care to guess how much the city rakes in from parking meters?

Here’s a good party trivia stumper for you, kids:

Question: How much does West Palm Beach rake in from its annoying parking meters every year?

Answer: The Parking System pulls in more than $6.9 million a year in total revenue, based on the current city budget. Just over $2.6 million of that comes from parking meters.

The city’s fiscal year runs from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30. So far, according to Finance Director Mark Parks, as of May 31 the city has parked $4,147,786 in its coffers; Of that,the meter revenue is $1,517,225.

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