What would work best on the old city hall site in West Palm Beach matters more than what would bring the most money.
On Monday, the city commission and Mayor Jeri Muoio, acting as the community redevelopment agency, were to hear presentations from the two developers who have made offers for the property. Instead, citing “a combination of circumstances,” Director Kim Briesemeister said last Friday that the CRA would “meet to discuss the status of the bid process,” but hear no presentations. As of Friday, however, word was that the developers could make brief presentations.
After that? No one seems to know. Our theory? The city still wants a project taller than the five-story height limit allows, and would like to abolish the limit that voters imposed in 1996 and reimposed in 2010.
If that seems conspiratorial, blame Mayor Jeri Muoio’s administration. Until now, potential developers have been told to deal only with the administration; city commissioners couldn’t get involved. The city asked for bids, but didn’t limit them to five-story projects. What was up?
We said last December that if Mayor Muoio wants a taller project the city should have scheduled a referendum for the March election and explained to voters why they should lift the limit east of Olive Avenue between Okeechobee Boulevard and Eighth Street. Instead, the city conducted a sloppy poll, which found that only 40 percent of respondents wanted the limit repealed.
The Legislature just passed a bill that forbids local governments from holding zoning referendums. So the city commission could use West Palm Beach’s version of the Senate “nuclear option” and abolish the height limit with a 4-1 vote, clearing the way for the taller project that business groups advocated for last October. Such a move, though, would have more credibility if the voters had been a given chance to speak in March.
Ms. Briesemeister says West Palm Beach should slow discussions on the city hall site because a different, larger project could bring more tax revenue. Of course, since she runs the CRA and all that revenue would stay with the CRA and not go to the city at large, she’s hardly objective. Palm Harbor Marina, east of the city hall site, is considering the hotel Mayor Muoio said she wanted for the city hall site, but nothing is close to definite.
Fresh off public hostility to a massive condo on the Chapel by the Lake property, West Palm Beach should make compatibility with the city hall site the priority. That would be an easy sell to the public.