Condo owners: Hotel will block views

They bought luxury condos in downtown West Palm, a city aspiring to livability, walkability, urban vitality — all the benefits of close-in living.

Now a developer plans a 14-story, 150-room hotel less than 75 feet from the 21-story, 467-unit Two City Plaza.

Dozens of the condos at 701 S. Olive Ave., which were completed in 2008, will have views blocked, or balconies facing commercial air conditioning units and restaurant vents. Trying to leave or enter their garage, the condo residents will share their one-lane, one-way access road, Trinity Place, with hotel delivery trucks and 90 additional rush hour cars a day, if they’re to trust the developer’s estimate, which many suspect is understated.

Residents are fuming.

Representatives of Driftwood Acquisition and Development met with residents of Two City Plaza Thursday, in a packed City Hall meeting room where the developers hoped to assuage neighbors’ concerns and gather suggestions on how the Canopy hotel design might be tweaked to reduce negative impacts. The overwhelming sentiment expressed in the standing-room-only crowd of 150: The best tweak would be to build the hotel elsewhere.

“My property values are in the dumps,” one man told the hotel developer’s representatives, which included their lawyer, architect, traffic engineer and construction manager. “I’m angry and I hope everybody else is. It’s not about you guys, it’s about a property right in my face! When I wake up and open up my eyes, I’m going to be looking at that building.”

The meeting is one that city officials and residents can expect to see play out over and over again, as West Palm Beach undergoes a $2.5 billion building boom and the very density the city sought to revitalize downtown threatens to detract from it.

“The city’s beautiful now. We don’t need more,” another Two City Plaza resident said. “How much is enough? Where does it end?”

A ‘boutique hotel’ experience

The firm’s Miami lawyer, Javier Fernandez, and architect, Lawrence Beame, of Coconut Grove, sought to highlight the “boutique hotel” positives.

At 14 floors, the hotel will be far shorter than the 25-story maximum city rules allowed. Part of the reason it can be shorter is because of space saved by having cars lifted by elevators into its garage. At 65-feet wide, the hotel will be narrower than the condo tower, Beame added. The western face of the hotel will feature “an art wall” with different colors of glass in patterns and shapes, “an iconic feature for our guests who are driving in from the west,” he said.

The architectural podium of the hotel will be the same height as the condo’s podium, so no unit owners will stare into the garage, they said. The east wall of the hotel has been designed without windows, in deference to residents’ concerns that hotel rooms would face their condos.

On the south side of the hotel, which is 72 feet from the neighboring condo, hotel windows will be set into the building and angled facing west, directing views away from the condo, Beame said.

Will traffic be an issue?

Cars will approach the hotel through a recessed area on its north, where valets will move them into the lifts. Traffic engineer John Kim said the project, with room for five cars lined up at once, surpassed city requirements. “We think we’re good from a queuing standpoint,” he said.

But many complained that traffic already backs up on the network of one-way streets that encircles the condo — South Dixie Highway, Okeechobee Boulevard, Olive and Trinity. Service vehicles and guest cars will make matters worse, condo residents said.

One mentioned that All Aboard Florida’s high-speed service will add 32 trains a day through downtown, further complicating traffic with street closings. “And that’s without the Tent Site being developed and Opera Place. And there are no more roads. In fact the city wants to slow some of the roads. All of these things are converging and you’re saying, ‘hey, there’s no problem.’”

Others worried about views, and noise from the air conditioning units, and venting of carbon dioxide from the hotel garage. One resident, Michael Maschio, said after the meeting that the real estate agent who showed him Two City Plaza indicated nothing would be built in the vacant lot to the west. A number of his neighbors have told him they were told the same, he said. Now his view toward Clear Lake will be blocked, he said.

The reality is that the hotel site owner has the same development rights as the condo developer did, Ana Maria Aponte, the city’s senior urban design planner, told the gathered neighbors. “It’s a challenge. You can’t take away rights from property owners.”

Not everyone opposed the hotel.

“I’m for the project,” one man said. “It will have the lowest traffic impact of use that might go on the site, it will ease concerns of violent crime by being open 24 hours a day, it will provide property tax and sales tax revenue and generate demand for other downtown businesses, he said. “It’s a winner. We should be focusing on what things we can get the developer to commit to … If we could stop it, I’m for it. If we can force people not to build there, great. But it’s America. We have a constitution.”

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