Remembering the baptisms, weddings and funerals they have attended since the outdoor chapel opened in 1963, opponents gathered Sunday to oppose building a 25-story condominium on Chapel-by-the-Lake property on Flagler Drive.
“This is a wonderful place for contemplation. It would break my heart to lose this,” said Donna Kelly, standing amid the 1,666 blue plastic chairs that face the Intracoastal Waterway just south of the Royal Park Bridge.
But before the prayer service could begin, rain started and washed out the event. Supporters barely had time to hand out their red and white bumper stickers that read “Don’t allow another mistake on our lake.”
The West Palm Beach City Commission is scheduled to vote Monday on the proposal. First Baptist Church, which owns the 3.2-acre amphitheater site at 1112 S. Flagler Drive, has a deal in place to sell the site to the developer for $23 million to build the 327-foot-high condominium.
“We have people who have been members of the church for 40 years. My kids grew up here,” said Lou McCormack, a North Palm Beach resident who helped organize the event. She sings in the church choir and her mother plays the harp.
The church has said it sees the sale as a windfall that will support its religious mission. About 500 of its more than 2,000 members attended a 2010 meeting and voted 247-216 to allow the sale of the property.
On July 16, the city’s planning board voted 6-0 to recommend against changing the site’s land use designation from “community service” to “multifamily,” following a five-plus-hour emotional debate over business rights and financial benefits versus a perceived loss of community aesthetics and lifestyle.
The developer then submitted a new proposal that dropped the building four floors and 57 feet, to a 25-story, 327-foot tower.
That is the proposal that goes to the commission Monday. The city has moved up its meeting start from 5 p.m. to 4 p.m. to dispose of as much business as possible before the condominium discussion.
Mayor Jeri Muoio, anticipating a long night, urged that some people, to save time, should just hand in cards saying they’re for or against, rather than feeling obligated to speak.
“I’m saying, ‘Bring snacks. It’s going to be a long meeting,’” resident Nancy Pullum said last week.
Pullum is chairwoman of Citizens for Thoughtful Growth, a group formed this summer which she said has grown to 350 members. She expects many of those to decry what one person at the July meeting called “a monstrosity.”
The group has alleged from its founding that developers ask for more than they need, then drop their requests and get the city to compromise.
Pullum said last week that that’s what the condo developers did; “they whacked 50 feet off the top of the building,” she scoffed.
The City Commission meeting will start at 4 p.m. at City Hall, at Clematis Street and Quadrille Boulevard. The discussion of the Chapel-by-the-Lake plans is not expected to begin before 5 p.m.