Historic Midtown Delray vote delayed as developer plans changes

An anticipated discussion and vote on the redevelopment of a historic strip in downtown Delray Beach was delayed, extending a project that has long been in the works.

The city commission’s decision on Midtown Delray Beach, formerly known as Swinton Commons, was pushed to a Tuesday, March 6 meeting at the request of the developer, Hudson Holdings, because of last-minute changes.

After talks with residents, the developer wants change the project “not significantly, but we think positively,” said Bonnie Miskel, attorney for Hudson Holdings.

The project, in its sixth iteration and twice rejected by the city’s Historic Preservation Board, proposes to demolish some historic structures on Swinton Avenue, rehabilitate and slightly relocate others and build offices, stores and an underground parking garage around them.

The changes Hudson Holdings proposed Tuesday include breaking up planned buildings in the corridor, along Swinton Avenue south of Atlantic Avenue, that would have been wider than city code allows.

A frequent complaint of the project’s opponents, including the city’s Historic Preservation Board, is the proposal is too grand for the quaint historic district, home to some of the city’s oldest structures tucked behind lush landscaping.

“If we’ve got somebody that is proffering positive changes, I think it’s incumbent upon the commission to give them the opportunity to do that,” Mayor Cary Glickstein said before the commission granted the postponement.

About two dozen people waited for two hours to speak on the project — which Glickstein said has driven “a wedge in the community.” Most audience members cleared the commission chambers after the topic was postponed.

The developer pushed to delay the decision after a meeting with more than 100 residents Thursday, which sparked new ideas Hudson Holdings aimed to incorporate into plans for the historic district, said Steve Michael, principal at Hudson Holdings.

The project’s most vocal dissidents were absent from that meeting, and surprised by the postponement request, said JoAnn Peart, president of Delray Historic Preservation Trust, a nonprofit that has fought Midtown tooth-and-nail.

“Every time they make changes, it’s a little more appealing … But I think it’s too massive even if it’s not in a historic district,” Peart said.

Commissioner Shelly Petrolia pressed the commission to vote Tuesday.

“We have an entire crew of people here that were expecting this to come forward … It’s not right,” Petrolia said, met with applause from the audience.

The commission was considering an appeal of the Historic Preservation Board’s rejection of project. The board can only advise the commission, which ultimately will approve or reject the project.

The new plans do not have to return to the preservation board for approval.

The city commission will consider the new project a week before the March 13 election , which will change at least three of four seats on the commission, including the mayor’s seat.

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