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.
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.
Tune in tomorrow at 1 p.m. to public radio WLRN, to hear Palm Beach Post Staff Writer Tony Doris and Florida Bulldog Editor Dan Christensen — former colleagues from the Miami Daily Business Review — talk about news and issues in West Palm Beach and the State of Florida.
The Topical Currents call-in show airs at 91.3 and 101.9 FM.
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.
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.
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.”
The city has dozens of projects on its wish list that will take years to complete, depending mainly on how money is tapped to pay for them, whether from bonds, state or federal grants or local taxes and fees.
Some of these projects got knocked off this year, from the El Cid dock replacement, to Northwood Street improvement and Tamarind safety and streetscape work. Others are in progress: the Westward Park pump and waterfall replacements, Curie Park dredging, Fire Station No. 4 replacement, and more. Still more are lined up.
The good news from the Finance Department this week is a projection money will continue to roll in from property taxes, which account for 42 percent of West Palm’s revenue.
Here are a few key numbers:
$11.8 billion: Value of property in West Palm Beach this year, compared to $11.0 billion in 2016 and $9.9 billion in 2015.
$2,373,352,734: Value of recently completed, under construction, approved and potential real estate projects. The more that’s built, the more property tax money is collected to pay for city services.
New residential projects coming on line include The Bristol, valued at $551 billion, and The Alexander, $32.7 million.
New commercial projects include Banyan Cay, $201 million, and Restoration Hardware’s gallery, $14.4 million.
A receptive group of 300 West Palm Beach residents packed a convention center workshop Thursday night to hear consultants lay out potential solutions to downtown’s busiest and most vexing entryway, the Okeechobee Boulevard corridor.
The consultants, a team assembled by Alta Planning + Design, laid out a bevy of long- and short-term options, from depressing the Tri-Rail tracks to adding roundabouts, turning the Tent Site into a transit hub for better bus routes, creating Clear Lake bike trails that more easily access downtown and Flagler Drive, eliminating or narrowing lanes and reconfiguring intersections to slow traffic and ease pedestrian crossings.
What about a one-block Okeechobee Boulevard tunnel with a grassy plaza on top? What about an elevated bike bridge over Clear Lake highway ramps, or a multi-directional pedestrian bridge linking City Place, the Kravis Center and the Convention Center? A park and ride lot just west of I-95 with free shuttle service to your office? The consultants took ideas they and the public put forth over the prior three days and they went over the pros and cons.
No decisions yet. The discussion was part of a larger mobility study still underway, to examine ways to make it easier to get around the entire city. But the talk made it clear there’s more than one way to get from Point A to Point B.
We’ll post details later today or early tomorrow. Stay tuned.
And to keep tabs on the mobility study’s progress, you can check out WPBmobility.com.
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.
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.