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.
BRIGHTLINE TO CONTINUE UPGRADING SIGNAL SYSTEM ON FEC RAILWAY
What: Brightline will continue to make upgrades to the signal system within the FEC Railway through West Palm Beach.
While the signal update is underway, off-duty officers and safety personnel will be stationed at the crossings to ensure the safety of motorists and pedestrians. The safety personnel will protect these crossings by “flagging” or blocking the grade crossings prior to the train arrival, as the train traverses the crossing and until it is safely past the crossing.
Where: The following crossings will be impacted: 3rd Street, Banyan Boulevard, Clematis Street, Fern Street, Gardenia Street, Hibiscus Street, Okeechobee Boulevard (eastbound and westbound), Palm Street, Park Place, Flamingo Drive, Claremore Drive, Ardemore Drive, Westwood Road, Belvedere Road, Hamilton Street, Monceaux Road, Hampton Road, Avenida Hermosa, El Vedado, Monroe Drive, Roseland Drive, Nottingham Boulevard, Bunker Road, Hunter Avenue and Forest Hill Boulevard/SR 882.
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.
The T. Leroy Jefferson Medical Society and FoundCare, Inc. will partner to host the 17th Annual Back-to-School Community Health Fair Aug. 5 at FoundCare Health Center, 2330 S. Congress Ave.
The fair is designed to offer free health services and education for the community. Guest speakers, immunizations, screenings, physicals, dental checkups and more will be provided for the whole family from 8 a.m. until 2 p.m. Registration begins at 7:30 a.m. and participants must register on site for services no later than noon.
Services offered to children include back-to-school physicals and immunizations for infants from two months old up to 18 years old (parents must bring immunization records for their children). Demonstrations of proper car seat installation will take place on site, as well. Experts will discuss several topics throughout the day, including behavioral health, hospice care, diabetes and more.
Doctors and nurse practitioners will be offering pap smears and breast exams, as well as screenings for vision, diabetes, blood pressure, glucose, cholesterol and HIV. In addition, interested families who participate in the free medical screenings will receive backpacks filled with school supplies.
As Brightline upgrades the signal system for its tracks through downtown this week and next, off-duty officers and safety personnel will be stationed at crossings to ensure the safety of motorists and pedestrians, the rail line says. Safety personnel will “flag” or block the grade crossings as the trains pass through.
The work is taking place Thursday through Tuesday, July 13 through 18, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
The following crossings will be affected: 15th Street, 3rd Street, Banyan Boulevard, Clematis Street, Fern Street, Gardenia Street, Hibiscus Street and Okeechobee Boulevard (eastbound and westbound).
As a next step in West Palm Beach’s mobility study, city planners are reaching out to merchants and other downtown groups for their ideas on easing downtown parking problems.
According to the Mayor’s Office, city planners recently met to discuss availability and affordability of parking downtown. They are evaluating policy changes to manage demand, especially during events and tourist season.
Consultant Sam Schwartz, retained by Alta Planning + Design, which is conducting the mobility study, is completing an initial report on parking. The report summarizes the existing situation, best practices in parking management, alternative transportation options, how many parking spaces are available, demand, and what downtown residents and business owners said.
The city is considering dishing out about $100,000 to attract two unidentified firms, one in aerospace/aviation, the other in life sciences.
City commission votes are scheduled for July 17 for “Project Falcon” and “Project Cell,” respectively.
According to the commission agenda, Project Falcon is the code name for an aerospace or aviation firm that wants to relocate to the city with 450 jobs and create an additional 200 over the next five years.
The jobs would have an average salary of about $66,000.
The state would pay the biggest part of the incentives package, $640,000, while the county would match the city’s $80,000.