Palm Beach County’s U.S. 1 makeover — big changes in the works


Reviving U.S. 1 throughout Palm Beach County is the goal

U.S. 1 goes through about 14 communities in Palm Beach County

When the United States numbered highway system was established in 1926, U.S. 1 became the main traffic artery from Miami to Maine. Since then, Interstate 95 has replaced the coastal highway as the speedier mode of transportation.

Most of the 42-mile roadway in Palm Beach County now features commercial businesses, billboards and plenty of unappetizing stoplights.

But from Boca Raton to Tequesta, U.S. 1 — called Dixie Highway in some spots — is going through what some call a renaissance.

READ: 100 years ago, Dixie Highway spawned Palm Beach County’s tourism industry

Townhouses and mixed-use projects are going up in West Palm Beach, Delray Beach and Boynton Beach. Bicycle lanes, landscaping and narrowing U.S. 1 from six to four lanes in Tequesta is planned in October. Crystal Tree Plaza, a 35-year-old shopping center in North Palm Beach, is getting a redo. Charleston Laboratories is opening in Jupiter. So are condos starting at about $1 million.

“U.S. 1 runs through the heart of the county’s downtowns. Reviving U.S. 1 will reinvigorate the communities,” said Nick Uhren, executive director at Palm Beach Metropolitan Planning Organization.

Officials in Lake Park, a 8,700-resident community south of Northlake Boulevard, are considering zoning changes to bring buildings 15 stories and higher with retail on the bottom and residential on top on U.S. 1 from Silver Beach Road north to Palmetto Drive.

A recent public workshop drew about 60 residents to Lake Park town hall. The plan calls for zoning changes to give developers more alternatives. After more public workshops, the plan goes to the town commission in January, said Town Manager John D’Agostino.

“Lake Park desperately need to diversify and increase our property tax base. It is becoming tougher for the town to supply basic services like street maintenance,” D’Agostino said.

Slow down, say opponents

Still, turning the historic road into “an asset rather than asphalt” in Palm Beach County is drawing mixed reviews from north county residents, politicians and business people.

“Lake Park is a blue-collar town. We’re not a high-rise kind of town. If people want that, they can move to Delray or West Palm Beach,” said Eric Friedman, owner of the Just Fishing Tackle shop on the west side of U.S. 1.

Six stories on the west side of U.S. 1 abutting single-family neighborhoods is too high, said former Lake Park Mayor Paul Castro.

“The people up against those six story buildings won’t see the sun until noontime,” said Castro.

Reactions like Friedman’s and Castro’s are common. But they are not the majority that county officials are hearing at recent public workshops on the future of U.S. 1, Uhren said.

Change is long overdue, most residents have told MPO officials at workshops in Boca Raton, Boynton Beach, Lake Worth and West Palm Beach, Uhren said.

Other cities in the county already have plans in the works:

- Delray Beach in 2015 completed a transformation of U.S. 1 from three to two lanes in each direction between Southeast 10th Street and George Bush Boulevard, creating a slower and safer road, officials said.

- In West Palm Beach, city officials are considering narrowing a stretch of U.S. 1 between Okeechobee Boulevard and Albemarle Road, as well as a section called Broadway between 25th and 42nd Streets.

- Road improvements in Lake Worth between Sixth Avenue South and 10th Avenue North on U.S. 1 are planned along with also narrowing the street.

Proponents say it’s time for a do-over to the low-slung banks, funeral homes, restaurants, car dealerships, retail stores, antique shops and dentist offices along the roadway that starts at Key West and winds through Maine to the Canadian border.

They should be replaced with modern buildings that will bring jobs, millennials and tax revenue, they say.

“Is this the future? I hope not,” said Caroline Burnside, looking out at the desolate sidewalks outside her Decorators Resource Estates Furnishings shop on U.S. 1 in Lake Park. “Lake Park is in upscale Palm Beach County. We need to join in.”

How to pay for all the transformation?

Lake Park’s property values — the average detached single family house is assessed at about $117,000 — are among the lowest in the county. The average assessed value of a detached single family house in Jupiter is $453,000; in Wellington $350,000 and in Delray Beach $369,000, according to county records.

North Palm Beach officials are also considering plans for a sprucing up U.S. 1. The roadway could be reduced from six to four lanes from the Parker Bridge south to the Lake Park border. Rezoning to allow mixed-use buildings could happen.

“The emphasis on developing the western part of the county has been so strong in recent years that the east has been neglected,” said North Palm Beach Mayor Darryl Aubrey.

The changes are needed to meet the growing demand for residential housing along U.S. 1 that is walking distance from jobs, downtown and fun stuff to do.

“Millennials want to live where the action is. Business people want to sell them food, merchandise and entertainment,” said D’Agostino.

Sprucing up U.S. 1 will cost money. Who pays?

Communities plan to tap into the $2.7 billion in expected sales tax revenue from the one-cent county tax increase over the next 10 years.

In Lake Park, developers also will pay impact fees. And as more residents and businesses buy into U.S. 1, property values — and property-tax revenue — will increase, predicts D’Agostino. Lake Park expects about $5.2 million in sales tax revenue in the next decade.

Lake Park business operator Monica Alonso is not looking forward to the traffic and congestion that U.S 1 redevelopment would bring. But she sees them as growing pains that would lead to a more vibrant U.S. 1.

“Yes, our rents would go up. But so would our business,” said Alonso, who operates Nature’s Way Cafe on the west side of U.S. 1 in Lake Park.

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