West Palm Beach has made three mistakes in approving high-rise condos east of Flagler Drive. The city should not make a fourth, because it could lead to more such mistakes.
Tonight, the city commission considers the application for a 25-story condo on the First Baptist Church’s Chapel by the Lake property, east of Flagler and south of Okeechobee Boulevard. The first version, which at 29 stories would have been the tallest building in West Palm Beach, was unanimously rejected by the planning board on July 16. Developer Al Adelson promotes this new design as more compatible with the area.
In fact, it isn’t. Not yet, at least. The problem is not Mr. Adelson’s request for a zoning change from community service to multi-family residential. The problem is his request for setbacks five to six times less than current requirements for the 3-acre site. Only with those huge breaks could Mr. Adelson build a condo that still would rise nearly 400 feet. The project thus would be dramatically outsized for a place where the rules call for something much lower. It might be a close call if he wanted modest variances. But he wants big ones.
In 1972, West Palm Beach approved the Trianon condo, 21 stories just south of Chapel by the Lake. It was the first large building east of Flagler. Mistake. Seven years later, the city approved the 28-story Waterview Towers. That mistake was so bad that in 1982 the city put a moratorium on construction east of Flagler. City bumbling after the moratorium led to One Watermark Place, the high-rise condo east of Flagler at the Flagler Memorial Bridge. Mistake.
Trianon and Waterview Towers were approved before the Growth Management Act of 1985, which required Florida cities and counties to plan for development and set rules for what could go where. Obviously, some variances are necessary. But to grant Mr. Adelson such generous waivers would mean that West Palm Beach hardly could turn down similar generous waivers, no matter how incompatible a project might be.
The city expects such a large crowd tonight that all other business is being scheduled earlier. Commissioners will hear from church members who say the $23 million from the sale would enable First Baptist to expand its ministry. We appreciate their mission, but many of those members don’t live in the city. Tonight’s decision is about West Palm Beach, and residents opposed to the sale held their own prayer service last night. Commissioners may be tempted to focus on the estimated $2.9 million in new property tax revenue from the condo. That would be yet another mistake. The project remains too large for the location.
for The Post Editorial Board