As a series of votes approaches on the future of the downtown West Palm Beach skyline, the battle for public opinion is heating up.
Related Cos.’ push to rewrite the downtown rule book to allow a 25-story office tower on a 5-story South Flagler Drive site is spurring supporters and opponents to pony up for opinion surveys, newspaper ads and mailers.
“Outsiders want radical zoning changes that will forever alter our waterfront and destroy our city’s skyline,” said one flyer that showed up in mailboxes around West Palm Beach this week. “25-story office towers on Okeechobee and Flagler will make WPB a mini-Miami,” it said.
That mailer, attributed to a group called Coalition for Reasonable Development, included names and numbers of city commissioners and Planning Board and Downtown Action Committee members, and tear-along-the-dotted-line postcards to sign and mail to register opposition.
Related, for its part, has had people going door-to-door to solicit support for the One Flagler project, which it wants to build at Okeechobee Boulevard and South Flagler Drive, just over 300 feet west of the downtown waterfront.
And the developer has been running half-page ads in The Palm Beach Post, featuring locals who support the project.
“Today, it’s West Palm Beach’s turn, and the One Flagler project can move us from good to great,” downtown business owner Monte Lambert says in one ad that appeared Tuesday. “Our city requires growth if we are to pay for necessary services without raising property taxes,” an ad on Wednesday quoted western communities resident John Mike as saying.
The Trump Plaza Condominium Association hired well known Florida pollsters to survey 300 residents throughout the city on various aspects of the project. Association President Abe Bernstein said residents of Trump Plaza’s 186 condos fear that if Related is allowed to build its tower on a site that a public referendum restricted to five stories, then some other developer could seek permission to build on the Trinity church property next to Trump Plaza blocking views and adding traffic.
Their property values and quality of life will go down, Bernstein said. “People live in West Palm Beach because they like the quality of life here…. We don’t want it to look like downtown Miami.”
Predictably, the survey by pollsters Steven Vanacore and Vanessa Butwell, conducted June 6-10, found that respondents overwhelmingly oppose One Flagler. The survey results were shared with city officials who will vote on the project.
Here’s one of its questions: “At this point, would you say that you support or oppose changing the zoning ordinances to allow the height limit to be raised to 25 stories?” According to the pollsters, 25 percent supported the change and 75 percent opposed it.
Another question says, “The building would add an additional 2,300 car trips per day near the base of the Royal Park Bridge and the Okeechobee Corridor” and asks whether that would make the respondent more or less likely to support the project. Not surprisingly, 74 percent said that would make them less likely to support it, with 17 percent liking the idea of more traffic.
Asked if they liked the idea that the project’s traffic could get in the way of fire trucks and ambulances, 77 percent said they didn’t like that, but 15 percent said that blocking emergency vehicles made them more likely to support the project.
Harvey Oyer III, West Palm Beach attorney for Related, called the poll meaningless.
“‘Are you in favor of a project that will prevent hurricane evacuation’ and 18 percent of the people said ‘sure I am.’ Zero percent of the people should have said they would support that,” he said.
“While I haven’t been provided a copy of the poll, I have had the methodology and results read to me and it clearly has all the markings of a push poll, which is a series of leading statements and questions that push the person being surveyed to one particular conclusion. These are really meaningless polls, except for propaganda value for an advocate for one particular position. So it on balance provides no insight to our residents or leaders.
“It’s disappointing when qualified and experienced developers like Related bring forward-thinking innovative ideas, great architecture and significant financial investment to our city and some rogue person or group attempts to sabotage their ideas by spreading misinformation. But fortunately I think our city leaders and residents are much smarter than that and won’t be distracted by these antics.”
Have a West Palm Beach news tip? Contact Staff Writer Tony Doris at firstname.lastname@example.org or 561-820-4703.