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‘Emergencies’ could delay mega-development on N Flagler Drive


Developers can use Gov. Rick Scott’s emergency declarations to postpone projects

How could a brush fire hundreds of miles away delay a major West Palm Beach development? How could a hurricane that doesn’t hit Palm Beach County delay a project by six months? Or, a Zika virus scare in Miami?

It’s all part of the state of emergency called Florida.

Let me unravel that for you, and show how emergencies elsewhere suddenly wash up in our hometown.

READ: Former waterfront Trump Tower site: Six towers OK’d, but why no construction?

Here’s how it works:

When the city commission gives its blessings to a condo project, for example, it gives the developer a deadline to start construction. Miss that deadline and the developer would have to start over in obtaining city approvals.

As rushed as he’d be to get the project out of the ground before the market heads south and he can’t sell his condos, he’d have to resubmit applications; and spend months waiting for city staff reviews and commission meetings, and votes, all over again, all the while paying the carrying costs of holding onto land that isn’t producing a dime of profit. There’d be interest costs, insurance, security, and land-use consultants and attorneys to help shepherd the project through the process.

Now let’s say the developer’s deadline is approaching and he realizes he needs time to rethink the project. How can he extend his deadline?

READ: Twin tower downtown West Palm project ready to go?

But according to West Palm’s development services director, Rick Greene, all he needs is for Gov. Rick Scott to declare a state of emergency. That not only stops the clock on development expirations, but extends them two, four, six months or as long as the governor sees fit to extend them.

In West Palm’s North End, partners Huizenga Holdings and Related Group are approaching a December development deadline. The first of six towers, a 25-story, 132-apartment tower, was supposed to come out of the ground late last year.

Greene says they told him they’re wrestling with rising construction cost estimates and rejiggering the design to make it cheaper to build.

READ: A new West Palm waterfront? ‘Bioclimactic domes’ could be a signature

Lucky for them, Florida has been in a state of emergency.

Between the Zika virus, Hurricane Matthew and one or two other declared emergencies, the law allows the developers to stretch their deadline by months. In fact, according to Greene, they don’t need to make a decision to notify the city until June 30, and then they can add onto their deadline however many days the governor declared the emergency for. And they can even add one emergency on top of another.

Neither Related nor Huizenga officials returned my calls.

But anyone wondering why nothing’s happening at the mega-development site at 4400 N. Flagler Drive shouldn’t hold their breath. It’s an emergency.

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