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.

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.

West Palm names 2017 historic preservation award winners

Best historic rehab award: 114 S. Olive Ave.

Rick Gonzalez, an architect who hosts historic walking tours, in West Palm Beach, has won a 2017 Historic Preservation Award, in the community service category.

Rick Gonzalez: Community service award

This year’s other winners are:

  •  Rehabilitation: 114 S. Olive Avenue, the adaptive reuse of a long vacant space (now Mexican restaurant Banko Cantina), honoring its roots as the American National Bank building.
  •  Infill design: Heidi Lange of 427 27th St. Two other buildings by the contractor, All Purpose Construction, at 3505 and 3509 Poinsettia were recognized for fitting into the Old Northwood neighborhood.

    Infill design award winner
  •  Craftsmanship: Mr. Tom Youchak, for his work on the Tabernacle Baptist Church stained glass window restoration.
Craftsmanship award winner

The winners were chosen by the city’s Historic Preservation Board from more than 20 nominations.

Heart & Soul Fest heats up Historic Northwest tonight

Heart & Soul Fest returns today, April 22 from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. in the Historic Northwest District, across from the legendary Sunset Lounge

The free event, at Rosemary Avenue and 8th Street features music, soul food and family activities including arts and crafts, face painting, a children’s dance contest, crowd trivia, a health fair and parades.

 

 

The entertainment will include R&B star Chanté Moore, along with local bands Deep Fried Funk, Zion’s Sons Gospel Choir, and Faith’s Place.  There will be activities for the entire family with and more.  Local vendors will dish up tasty soul food including favorites like BBQ ribs, pulled pork, fried chicken, and mac and cheese.

 

Free shuttle service and parking is available in the Palm Beach County Judicial and Governmental Center Parking lot on Banyan Boulevard at Rosemary Avenue.

Entertainment Schedule

All day              Heath Fair

1:30 – 2:15      Parade – Faith’s Place Marching Band and Steel Drummers
2:30 – 3:00      Senior Fit Tips
3:30 – 4:00      Natural Movers Dance Party
4:15 – 5:00      Zion’s Sons Gospel Choir
5:00 – 5:15      Children’s Dance Contest
5:30 – 6:15      Deep Fried Funk
6:30 – 8:00      Chanté Moore

 

 

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Reshaping West Palm’s Historic Northwest

This announcement, from the Black Chamber of Commerce of Palm Beach County:

Historic Northwest Rising Build Activity & Block Party

Date: April 22.
Time: 8 a.m. – 10 p.m.
Enjoy a fun weekend of experimenting with what the Sunset Lounge and the open space could look like!  Help create sample installations of improvements including benches, tables, street art, and more.

Family fun: Street Mural Painting, Obstacle Course, Games, Vendors, and more. This event is in conjunction with the Heart and Soul Festival.

Sign up to Volunteer and learn more at www.northwestrising.com or contact The Mosaic Group at info@upscalebymosaic.com or 561.651.9565.

  • Friday April 21:

9 a.m. -noon: Help Create an Obstacle Course for Kids.

  • 4 p.m. – 9 p.m.: Help Make Crosswalk Art and Shaded Areas.
  • Saturday, April 22:
  • 8 a.m. – noon: Help with Final Touches and Multi-Purpose Game Court.
  • 8 p.m. – 10 p.m.: Clean up

Volunteers will meet at the Sunset Lounge, located at 609 8th St.

What did the consultants say about your neighborhood?

West Palm Beach’s urban planning consultants, Gehl Studio, this week released recommendations on how to bring the downtown and neighborhood scenes to life. For downtown, the challenge the consultants saw was that, the second you step off Clematis Street, or away from CityPlace, walkways are uninviting and that breaks up the connectivity that makes it fun to go from one place to another.

Not enough shade trees, street lighting or bicycling facilities; too many obstructions like utility posts blocking the sidewalks. Big roadways like Okeechobee Boulevard and Tamarind Avenue act as barriers. Flagler Drive blocks the waterfront.

The urban planners came up with proposals for pilot projects for six areas, from just south to just north of downtown. The city commission will be considering these recommendations in the weeks to come. We plan a full story about this for this weekend, but for now, here’s a neighborhood-by-neighborhood summary of the challenges and “potential moves” for the six areas, culled from the Gehl presentation:

  1. Complete Clematis. Challenges: Clematis’ eastern and western edges could use some love. On the west, crossing Tamarind Avenue from the Tri-Rail station is difficult, and the end of Clematis has little shade or pedestrian interest. On the east, everyone loves the waterfront but it’s empty most of the time, there’s no way to  interact with the water, no shade and few everyday activities. Recommendations: Create an artistic gateway tot he city at the TriRail Station; make Tamarind easier for pedestrians by adding a signal and pedestrian islands; Add shading to make walk up Clematis from the station more comfortable; run bike lanes from Tri-Rail to Rosemary Avenue; String lighting from Tri-Rail to the waterfront; add movable seating to the Flagler Drive green, so people can follow the shade; make the FEC rail and Quadrille Boulevard intersection feel safe and comfortable; widen the waterfront park by taking under-used space from Flagler Drive and install docks that step down to the water. Include eye-catching lighting to draw people to the waterfront.
  2. Historic Northwest. Challenges: Need to stitch this neighborhood and downtown back together. Banyan Boulevard acts as a barrier, too many dark sidewalks, sidewalk obstructions, lack of shade and few things to do. Getting downtown on foot is tough. Rosemary Avenue, once commercial heart of Historic NW, has fallen into vacancy and disrepair. Need to leverage city’s investment in the Sunset Lounge, the historic jazz bar, and set stage to renew Rosemary as a ‘Main Street.’ Recommendations: Create a gateway to the neighborhood at Banyan and Rosemary, with art and bright lighting and redesign intersection to make it safer and more appealing. Paint vacant buildings and sidewalk obstructions bright colors to create an eye-catching pathway on Rosemary. Install artistic lighting along Rosemary leading from Clematis to the Sunset Lounge. Install traffic calming and pedestrian and cyclist improvements on Rosemary. Create a ‘Vacancy Lab’ to test different uses for vacant lots such as sports fields, community garden, food truck pop-ups, plant nursery, tree grove. Consider adding trolley stop. Improve connection across the tracks and to the water along 3rd Street.
  3. 15th Street: Safety and comfort from school to pools. Challenges: 15th crosses both railroads, connecting schools with Pleasant City, Gaines Park and the waterfront. Need to make 15th “a truly great pedestrian and bike street that is safe and enjoyable for school children and all WPBers.” Recommendations: Promote walking and biking to school with mural-painting and other events and traffic school for kids. Add shade, lighting, continuous bike lanes, improve intersections, add ‘rest stops’ with seating, shade, ‘playful interventions,’ bike pumps and the like.
  4. Pleasant City: Challenges: It’s a food desert, with few outlets for affordable food, whether in stores or restaurants. Northwood Village has great restaurants but they’re too expensive for many neighbors. Getting to the water from Northwood and Pleasant City is challenging because it feels far. Recommendations: Give Pleasant city residents something to do in Blum Park while helping address shortage of affordable food in the neighborhood. Connect the neighborhood to the water and Currie Park while creating a new destination: the Sunset Pools. Sunset Pools would be a ‘mobile harbor bath in the Intracoastal Waterway that allows people to get into the water and can be moved to serve different neighborhoods. Add activities to Blum Park by building barbecue pits, a weekly or biweekly food truck program with local entrepreneurs, add picnic tables and shade. Build on the community garden on Spruce and connect to a kitchen. Create a community/commercial kitchen in a vacant building or repurposed shipping container to supply the food truck program and provide job training. Install pedestrian and bike improvements on Spruce, leading from Northwood to Merry Place. Add a trolley stop at Dixie Highway and Currie Park.
  5. Tamarind Avenue: Challenges: It’s a commercial street plagued by vacancies, illicit activities, a tough stigma, lack of lighting and shade. Locals say bus stops are uncomfortable, and though there are hang-out spots near corner stores, there is nowhere to sit and nothing to do. Recommendations:  Bring amenities to the Coleman Park neighborhood along Tamarind, where no one should ever be more than two minutes from comfort, services or neighborhood shops. Create clusters of activity around existing, organic hang-out areas at corner stores and bus stops and put eyes on the street by adding services the neighborhood needs. Add shade, lighting, seating. Add ‘pop-ups’ to energize Tamarind, such as a mobile library, WiFi stations, bike repair shop, computer access points, outdoor exercise equipment, street games. Make cycling between 15th and 23rd streets more comfortable by clearly marking that this is “a neighborhood green street/commercial main street.”
  6. Howard Park: Challenges: The under-used northern end of the park is potentially a great amenity for the southern part of downtown, but with Okeechobee Boulevard in the middle, it’s hard to navigate between the park and downtown.  Recommendations: Improve Okeechobee crossings by tailoring crossing times to pedestrians, widening ends of medians to make the crossings shorter. Add shade, lighting and other pedestrian improvements between CityPlace and Howard Park. Add a SkyBike bicycle rental station. Create “a playful connection” through the park, with features like Los Trompos, the big “tops” formerly located on the waterfront. Try putting a trolley stop at the park, and if there’s demand, a trolley stop at the Art Walk in the Warehouse District.

 

 

 

 

2018 commission race begins, yes, 2018

materio
Shanon Materio
moffett040516
Sylvia Moffett
paula-ryan-2016
Paula Ryan

There’s no city commission election this March. As previously reported, incumbents Cory Neering and Keith James went unchallenged and were automatically re-elected.

But now the March 2018 race has begun.

On Monday, District 5 Commissioner Shanon Materio sent out an email to supporters, announcing she’ll be running in 2018 for another two-year term. The South End businesswoman first took office in 2013.

She’s an active participant on the dais and has pushed for improvements to the South Olive Tennis Center and the municipal golf course. More recently she moved to undo a commission vote she’d supported — which would have allowed developer Michael Masanoff up to $114 million in tax incentives for his Transit Village project — after it became clear the public opposed the giveaway.

Materio says the top item on her priority list is to fix the city’s traffic woes. “And I mean everywhere in the city. Traffic, traffic, traffic. From the North End to the South End, east and west.”

She also wants to improve the climate for businesses small and large, but especially to make sure the city is business-friendly to mom-and-pop operations. And speaking of climate, she wants to get the city more engaged in addressing sea level rise.

 

 

ALSO IN THE RUNNING….District 1 Commissioner Sylvia Moffett said Monday she’s about to throw her hat in the ring for another term in the North End. Moffett and Neering were the only commissioners to oppose the Transit Village subsidy from the start, as too rich a deal.

She said she wasn’t sure whether to run again but started getting calls from supporters on the one hand, and from potential candidates who wanted to know if she was going to run, so she decided to go for it.

She hasn’t put in her papers yet, but figures she’d better hurry up since apparently campaign season has begun early this year. She said she faces possible opposition from Pastor Martina Walker, who ran unsuccessfully against her in 2016.

LAST BUT NOT LEAST…. Longtime community organizer and real estate developer Paula Ryan also said Monday she has filed  for another term as District 3 commissioner.

Ryan, whose central district covers the Northwest, downtown and part of the South Flagler Drive area, said her top priority will be to help spur redevelopment of the Historic Northwest neighborhood, to support mobility studies to improve traffic flow and to press for roadway improvements on the South Dixie Highway corridor.

 

For more details, there’ll be an article in The Palm Beach Post, tentatively scheduled for tomorrow.

He and John Glenn were this close

gene-stephens
Gene Stephens shows off photo of a younger Gene Stephens with astronaut-to-be John Glenn.

The recent death of astronaut and U.S. Sen. John Glenn brought back memories for West Palm Beach resident Gene Stephens.

Back in the early 1960’s, Stephens worked for NASA contractor Pan Am, at a missile tracking station on Eleuthera, The Bahamas. The assignment was so secret, he still won’t talk about it, more than 55 years later.

What he will say is that he met all seven original U.S. astronauts, including Glenn, in 1961, before Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth.

The astronauts used to fly 350 miles on private jets from Cape Canaveral to The Bahamas to chill out for a day. The tropical paradise, now a big stop for tourists, was pretty quiet back then.

There was a bar, but Glenn didn’t drink, he says. The two struck up a conversation one day on the way to the mess hall. They had something in common: Glenn was born in the Cambridge, Ohio, just down the road from the Pleasant City farm where Stephens grew up.

He got Glenn to pose for a photo with him, and to sign it. A copy of the photo was donated to the John and Annie Glenn Historic Site and Exploration Center in New Concord, Ohio.

Nowadays Stephens lives in the Cresthaven East community in West Palm Beach but he looks back fondly on the first seven, who he says were just regular guys in old clothes. “They were just ordinary guys,” he says. “You wouldn’t even think they were astronauts.”

glenn1 glenn2

 

City board calls S. Dixie project “sore thumb,” approves anyway

prospect-place
Artist’s rendering of Prospect Place project at South Dixie Highway and Albemarle

A torn Planning Board Tuesday night recommended in favor of the five-tower Prospect Place project on South Dixie Highway, even though members said it would stick out “like a sore thumb” amid single-family-home neighborhoods and be visible from as far away as downtown and Palm Beach.

After five hours of discussion, the board overwhelmingly approved land-use waivers requested for the project, saying that if they didn’t, the property owner would have the right to develop something less attractive.

The project, on the site of a near-vacant office complex 3111 S. Dixie, calls for five 170-foot-tall towers, spaced 60 feet apart, with a total of 300 condominiums. They would rise behind a line of one-story shops at S. Dixie and Albemarle Road, between the Prospect Park historic neighborhood to the east and Prospect Heights to the west.

Dozens of residents came to oppose the 9-acre project by 3111 Prospect Place Equities LLC, saying it would create cut-through traffic, cast shadows, block views and tower obtrusively above their single-family homes.

Several planning board members agreed the proposal didn’t fit in, and some noted it might set a precedent for the eventual redevelopment of the Rich’s Ice Cream and Palm Beach Post sites just to the north. Nonetheless, they said, zoning already in place from prior decades would give the owner the right to build an even more troubling project if this one weren’t approved.

With the Planning Board’s positive recommendation, the city commission will make the final decision whether to allow the project.

Can you handle The Truth Booth? It’s in West Palm Beach

truth

On Friday, The Truth Booth will be stationed at city hall. There’s a joke there for someone, but I’m not gonna touch that.

The 14-foot inflatable cartoon bubble sculpture opens its three-day stay in West Palm Beach on Thursday, outside the historic Sunset Lounge, 609 8th St. Visitors are invited to step inside the interactive artwork to be videotaped completing the sentence, “The truth is….”

So, it’s Thursday at the Sunset from 3 to 9 p.m.; Friday in the city hall courtyard on Clematis Street from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.; and Saturday at the West Palm Beach GreenMarket, on the downtown waterfront, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Don’t miss the talk tonight at 6 p.m. by conceptual artist Hank Willis Thomas, who works with themes of identity, history and pop culture. He’ll discuss the ideas behind The Truth Booth and what frames our experience in a public space. This portion of the program is presented by the West Palm Beach Art in Public Places program and the Downtown Development Authority, with a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.