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Developers push limits downtown and on South Dixie

A plan to boost the city’s skyline and attract luxury office development was shot down by a Downtown Action Committee vote Tuesday. The committee recommended against letting developers crash through the 5-story height cap on waterfront construction to build as high as 30 stories.

In a separate growth-related vote, however, a developer came out on top, with a Planning Board recommendation favoring the five-tower Prospect Place proposal for South Dixie Highway, just south of Belvedere Road. The approval came even as members professed to being torn over the decision, said it would stick out “like a sore thumb” amid single-family homes and be visible as far away as downtown and Palm Beach.

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After five hours of discussion the Planning Board overwhelmingly approved land-use waivers requested for Prospect Place, saying that if they didn’t, the owner could develop something less attractive.

The city commission will be the final arbitor on both proposals in coming weeks.

Dozens of residents poured into the city hall auditorium Tuesday morning to oppose the incentive plan to boost the waterfront height limit for luxury office towers off Flagler Drive, saying it would jam roads, block water views, hurt condo values and kill development elsewhere.

Drafted by city staff, the plan aimed to preserve a handful of historic churches by letting them sell doubled development rights attached to their properties. Developers buying the rights could apply them to sites from Datura Street to Okeechobee Boulevard, east of Olive Avenue, and build 30-story towers.

City staffers said the new buildings would be taller but thinner, and in most cases would have less square footage than what’s currently allowed.

Opponents said the change would kill voters’ desire for lower buildings close to the waterfront and harm prospects for developing areas farther back, where city incentives already have attracted two projects, including developer Jeff Greene’s One West Palm, at 550 Quadrille Blvd., which he said is three months from laying its foundation. Greene said this week he would kill his $250 million project if the city approved the waterfront height incentives.

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A handful of speakers supported the project. “I’m not afraid of the height or the growth,” said Realtor Samantha Curry. “We need a thriving downtown, we need Class-A office space. Change is a good thing,” she said.

But she was far outnumbered. “Do we need to change the feeling of our waterfront,” one said, “and add additional hi-rises there that will just congest it and take away from its beauty?”

The committee voted 6-1 against the height change, with only member Brian Cheguis voting for it.

The board’s chairperson, Roger Janssen, was absent but submitted a letter that was read into the record, opposing the proposal.

“This request to allow 30-story structures in a 5-story district is extremely excessive and is in blatant disregard to the Downtown Mast Plan,” Janssen wrote. “We will have both current property owners and potential investors question whether they want to buy, hold, or wait for the next 600 percent height limit increase.”

A mile and a half to the south, the Prospect Place project, on the site of a near-vacant office complex 3111 S. Dixie, calls for five 170-foot-tall towers 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.

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