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.

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.

To lower flood insurance rates, city wants to raise new houses

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West Palm Beach may require new homes to be elevated so that property owners’ flood insurance premiums are lowered.

The city commission is poised to take a final vote today to change its construction rules in a way that will qualify property owners for a bigger discount on federal flood insurance.

The move is meant to improve the city’s flood rating, thus making property owners eligible for bigger discounts under the FEMA National Flood Insurance Program, to counteract recent federal laws that otherwise would cause rates to rise by eliminating subsidies.

The proposed city ordinance would generally require that all new construction or substantial improvement of any existing structure “shall have the lowest floor elevated to one foot above the base flood elevation or, for non-residential structures, be flood proofed so that below one foot above the flood base level the structure is watertight,” the agenda for this afternoon’s commission agenda says.

 

Positioning downtown Jaguar dealership for development

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Jaguar Palm Beach, the prominently located dealership at Okeechobee Boulevard and South Dixie Highway, has asked the city to include the property within the city’s Downtown Master Plan. Myers Auto Group LLC, which owns the 2.5-acre property, wants to rezone it to allow a 15-story, 421-unit condo tower.

There are no immediate plans to develop such a building, but a lawyer for the company said owner Stephen Myers wants to position the property so that, should he sell it five or more years from now, a prospective buyer will have more certainty about what can be built there.

The site, with a 53,563-square-foot building sits just outside the Downtown Master Plan boundaries and under current zoning the site would allow 80,000 square feet. If the requested change were approved, the owner would be entitled to build a 402,000-square-foot tower.

The site borders the Woodlawn Cemetery to the south but other properties near it are within the Downtown Masterplan and are zoned to allow buildings from 20 to 25 stories, said Joseph Verdone, certified planner and government consultant for Myers Auto Group.

…More details coming in the Palm Beach Post later this week….

The story of the mural

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The mural should be finished in about two weeks on the side of the 90-year-old former Southern Bell building on Fern Street. (Tony Doris / The Palm Beach Post)

Muralist Tristan Eaton is back at it on Fern Street’s Alexander Lofts apartment building.

Eaton’s previous mural there, The Spirit of Communication, “was damaged” in March, as apartment owner Ram Realty Services put it in a press release Tuesday. That’s a polite way of saying 40,000 pounds of bricks under the mural gave way and crashed onto the roof of the neighboring law office.

Lawyer Bill Price, forced to move his firm to another building nearby, has been suing Ram. Price said this week that after he filed suit, Ram removed the bricks from his roof and shored up the building, as ordered by a judge, and he was able to retrieve his client files.

But the damage was done, he said. When it rains, it pours inside the building, he said. The carpet and walls are gone.

Meanwhile, though, Ram completed repairs to the apartment building and called back Eaton for a reprise, while preparing to resume leasing to new residents.

The new mural, whose outline Eaton completed this Tuesday, also will be an homage to Alexander Graham Bell and will be called The Spirit of Invention.

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Inside Bill Price’s law office. Not ready for primetime. (Tony Doris / The Palm Beach Post)

 

Betting on West Palm — cautiously

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Developer Jeff Greene at Sail Club site

Developer Jeff Greene bet big on West Palm Beach real estate but he’s not all-in.

The Palm Beach billionaire said this week he’s making progress conceptualizing or honing several projects, from his Currie Park assemblage to the two-tower One West Palm on Quadrille Boulevard and apartments planned for the old Sail Club site on Clear Lake.

He’s moving quickly to complete renovations to the 2001 S. Dixie Hwy. building where he plans to have pre-K through 2nd grade kids in seats at The Greene School by the day after Labor Day. The roof’s been replaced, electric and plumbing is pretty much done, drywall is going in, interior and exterior glass is on order.

As for the other projects, it’s a tricky real estate market, he said, a crap shoot for One West Palm in particular, the 30-story office/hotel/apartment towers approved for 550 Quadrille.

Despite a dearth of top-class office space downtown, and a healthy amount of publicity about his Arquitectonica-designed project, prospective 100,000-square-foot tenants have not been clawing at the construction trailer, he said.

In fact there isn’t a construction trailer yet. His team is tweaking how much office space and how many hotel rooms the project will have. “We’re going to build it,” he said. But the lack of pre-leasing makes it tough to risk the $250 million he estimates the project will cost. “You have to make these leaps of faith.”

At the former Sail Club site, on Clear Lake beside the Okeechobee Boulevard approach to downtown,  Greene is now considering building high-rise apartments, rather than the three-to-six-story buildings he envisioned when he bought the 11 acres in December.

Boding well for Sail Club is that the low-rise Cameron Estates apartments he built next door are renting well — 330 units in eight months, he said.

That project caters to a relatively affordable market. High rise construction would require higher rents and that’s what he’s considering.

His Sail Club architect has designed two towers, “which I just may build,” he said. “That one I would build pretty soon,” once Cameron Estates fills up, he said.

Greene hired an MIT urban planning expert he met at the Davos, Switzerland economic forum to create what he hopes will be a world-class conceptual plan for the expanse of properties he assembled next to Currie Park, just north of downtown.

He originally retained professor Carlo Ratti to work on The Greene School, then asked him to come up with a plan for the Currie Park project, where Greene has apartments and a major grocery in mind.

The city this week agreed to chip in with Greene to have the consultant re-think the city park itself, to make it more of an attraction than just a neighborhood park. A marina and waterfront restaurant are among the ideas being considered.

Jon Ward, the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency executive director, said Greene’s engaging in the neighborhood with the well-regarded consultant offers hope he’s gaining comfort with the idea of putting his chips on the table and developing his land.

 

 

 

 

 

Protective deck to cap West Palm law building hit by brick avalanche

This morning a crane will lower a protective deck onto the downtown law building hit by an avalanche of bricks from the neighboring apartment building two weeks ago.

The deck will protect the law offices of William A. Price, at 320 Fern St., from further damage as workers pull away more of the Alexander Lofts’ buckling brick facade.

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)
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)

 

Bill Price, who with his law firm colleagues emerged scraped but alive, said that laborers worked 24/7 to craft the platform, which a crane is scheduled to lower onto his building at 8 a.m.

Four people were injured in the partial collapse of the 90-year-old building’s facade.

Lawyer Dan Britto partially separated his shoulder when he dove under a desk as the roof collapsed. Three paralegals who suffered what were described as minor injuries are out on Worker’s Comp, including one with a knee hurt while climbing out through the debris, Price said Thursday.

The paralegals were “literally in shock,” he said. “One was found walking in circles.”

Price said he’s lucky it has not rained since the hundreds of falling bricks left a hole like “a Grand Canyon” in the offices. He hasn’t been able to make repairs because of the danger of more falling bricks.

He’s not sure if his building can be salvaged but the walls are sound enough to support the protective deck, he was told.

Meanwhile, the firm is set up in temporary quarters but the accident remains very much with the employees, he said. If there’s a loud noise, like someone shutting a door, he said, “people jump up.”

“I have great admiration for our veterans in combat,” he added. “I’m just lucky I’m alive.”

 

Historic home tour set for Grandview Heights

 View More: http://comcapphoto.pass.us/grandviewheights

The Grandview Heights Historic District will be host its 17th Historic Home Tour on Sunday, March 20, from 3 to 7 pm.

Grandview Heights is one of the oldest neighborhoods in West Palm Beach. Located within walking distance to City Place and the downtown Clematis Street Historic District, it has become one of the most desirable residential neighborhoods in West Palm Beach due to its location and eclectic, old South Florida atmosphere.

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places with the oldest section of the neighborhood having been established in 1912, this neighborhood has one of the highest concentrations of historically significant architecture in the city, such as Spanish Mission, Mediterranean Revival, Florida Bungalow, Art Deco and Dutch Colonial Revival.

This year’s tour features historic and new homes of various styles and in different stages of restoration.  A highlight of the tour this year is a collection of premiere vintage vehicles from Ragtops Motorcars. These cars and motorcycles, along with their historic details, will be displayed at homes throughout the tour.

There’ll be a complimentary block party including a plated meal presented by Aioli and live entertainment by Lotsa Papa, an upbeat Americana style full-band. Trolley service is also included in ticket pricing.

Tickets can be booked online at historicgrandview2016.eventbrite.com or by calling 561-877-1221. On the day of the tour, tickets can be purchased in front of the Armory Art Center in Howard Park. Tickets are $30 in advance and $35 on the day of the tour. Visit                            www.grandviewheights.net for  information.

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