The vote on the controversial condo towers at the Chapel-by-the-Lake site didn’t happen Monday night.
West Palm Beach commissioners and the developer agreed to hold off until Jan. 6 so the developer can further explain to elected officials, and residents, both their latest design — two towers instead of one — and their recent offer to donate submerged land for a waterfront feature.
First Baptist Church, which owns the open-air chapel at 1112 S. Flagler Drive, just across from the church, has a deal to sell the 3.2-acre property to developer Al Adelson for $23 million.
City planners had recommended the commission, at Monday’s “second reading,” approve the project, which has been alternately hailed as a waterfront jewel and an economic boon and condemned as a “monstrosity” that would ruin the neighborhood.
Commissioners had given tentative approval Sept. 16 to a planned 25-story tower, but suggested they wouldn’t give a final OK without more changes in scope. Adelson and his planners then went to two more rounded towers of 24 and 25 stories.
The new configuration still puts the buildings closer to adjacent properties than the city’s setback rules allow, requiring a waiver.
Monday night, after a call by Commissioner Kimberly Mitchell for a 30-day delay, and impassioned pleas to vote it up or vote it down, or to wait, for all sorts of reasons, Adelson came back with the idea to wait until after the holidays and try to resolve all issues.
“I really want to go back to the church and maybe we need to have a discussion,” he said. “And maybe if there could be a committee. I don’t want to go through this for much longer.”
Mitchell, who’s strongly opposed the project’s scope, was conciliatory.
“My fear is if we are so strict in not granting that time to work with them, we could end up with something that we absolutely do not want. I’m willing to work for it,” she said.
The panel then voted 5-0 for the delay.
Monday’s tabling guarantees at least a fourth marathon session of often-emotional debates and public feedback. Monday’s three-hour discussion follows a combined 11 hours at a July planning board meeting and a Sept. 16 commission meeting.
The call for a delay came when the project’s planner, Kieran Kilday, outlined an offer made last week. Adelson has a contract to buy a 100-foot-wide stretch of submerged land, just north of the proposed towers, from Palm Beach Atlantic University, contingent on approval of the condo project. He’s offered to turn the land over to the county’s Environmental Resources Management Division to build elevated walkways and small islands.
But some commissioners complained Adelson and his team hadn’t done enough to explain themselves to residents.
“What community input have you, the applicant, put forth on this project?” commissioner Ike Robinson asked.
Adelson said he held one meeting with 200 neighbors at the church, has met with several neighborhood associations at their clubhouses, and has made three visits to the editorial board of The Palm Beach Post.
“There’s no secret. There’s no surprise,” Adelson insisted.
But, he said, “dialogue goes both ways. There’s going to be a condominium there. There’s going to be something there.”
Commissioner Keith James told the audience, “They’re (developers) not here to negotiate with the community. This is their project. If it’s something that can’t get by the commission, so be it.”
And Mayor Jeri Muoio said, “We cannot make a decision on this, whether you like it or not. Our decision has to be based on standards laid out in our code.”
Residents still had a lot to say.
“We’ve seen three designs so far, and they’re all fundamentally the same. Massive,” resident Bob Bloom said. “If the developer’s not willing to scale down, it’s a waste of time.”
Attorney Michael Gelfand added, “It’s Halloween. They came in and tried to scare us with what they can do. If the city is going to prostitute itself for the tax dollars, let us know now. If that’s not the issue, have the vote (and) tell them to go home.”
But resident Cy Caine said, “I am for this continuance if it helps this commission go with these developers so that they can improve Flagler Drive.”
And Faith Croshaw said, “We need this. We need it,” adding, “I just think what it would look like if you denied it and these developers go somewhere else.”
Attorney Al LaSorte, who’s been hired by a group called Citizens for Thoughtful Growth, said he’d planned to support a continuance but said he’s convinced it wouldn’t change anything, because the deal doesn’t work if the developers have to scale it down.
“There is no room to negotiate for the applicant,” LaSorte said. “The church has locked everyone into the corner with a $23 million (contract).”
And resident and church member Tom Pence said many people will oppose the development at any size, either now or in 30 days.
“If positions are already grounded where they are, why waste our time?” he asked.
The commission did the following at Monday’s regular meeting:
BEER AND WINE: Voted 5-0 to change the distance that facilities serving alcohol be separated from churches and schools to be measured from the actual institution, not the property line of the property that hosts it, such as a mall
PROPERTY: Voted 5-0 to authorize staff to negotiate sale of a city-owned 9.65 acre tract near the Charleston Commons neighborhood to developer Lennar, which has offered $1.6 million. Proceeds would go into city reserves.
Commission settles police beating suit. B4