Attorney Harvey Oyer III didn’t hide it: The reason Related Cos. wants a major change to the city’s Downtown Master Plan.
His client wants to build a 25-story office tower in a zone voters said shouldn’t allow more than five stories.
Because it could be illegal to single out one parcel to permit a use different from the surrounding restricted area, he has proposed changing the rules for all Okeechobee Boulevard downtown, roughly from Tamarind Avenue to 300 feet shy of the waterfront, where Related’s One Flagler would rise.
Dozens of people came to City Hall to hear a discussion of this proposed Okeechobee Business District for the main artery downtown. That, after all, was what the agenda said would be discussed.
Oyer had at hand all the material he needed to argue for that major change to the Downtown Master Plan. He’d just submitted to city staff a 12-page proposal the week before, with 29 pages of backup materials, which made a case for consistent rules that would apply to a number of future development sites on Okeechobee, including the so-called tent site and adjacent Opera House site.
But he skated past any discussion of that at the public meeting, choosing instead to give a 49-minute sales pitch for his client’s building. The strategy appeared to be to sell One Flagler so well that boards’ votes on his zoning rewrite would come almost as an afterthought.
City staffers pledged to provide zoning information in weeks ahead for the board to consider before voting.
What will be more important as these boards and city commissioners ponder their positions and political futures, is where the public falls on the issue.
And judging from voices heard at the meeting and in emails to The Palm Beach Post, the public is divided.
Supporters point to a need for Class A office space, jobs and tax revenues, an enhanced skyline and to the project’s preservation of the 1928 Church of Christ, Scientist building. Opponents say it would soar 20 stories taller than voters determined downtown waterfront buildings should rise, and that its location would make horrendous downtown traffic worse.
Bill Newgent: “The net benefits of this project far out-weigh the negatives. …Given that the church has little money, a small congregation, and is sitting on one of the most valuable pieces of land in the city, at some point economic realities will take control. If we allow that to happen a ‘by right’ project can be developed today with little or no ability to stop it. That would result in a 5-story building that is much larger in terms of square feet than what is proposed. There is very little doubt the church would be demolished. The new 5-story building would have … a larger parking garage, more car trips, more of a drain on the city in terms of emergency calls and infrastructure stresses and not be a class-A trophy building. We would still miss out on attracting the kind of new business the city desires, needs, and has already missed out on.”
Jim Zisson: “Stop this project. No way adding 500 cars each day to an already over congested downtown Okeechobee/Lakeview corridor choke point will not greatly exacerbate (the) existing traffic management mess. …Traffic management has become a public safety issue, for real, downtown, with a motorist having a heart attack in the area not being able to be reached quickly enough by EMS before they died mid-afternoon earlier this winter, two blocks from here…. There should be a moratorium on high-density development east of U.S. 1 unless and until traffic management issues can be solved….”
Shalonda Warren: “Access to jobs is a real problem for people in our community. I’m very happy to see that there is a proposal for a Class A structure that is being built that will allow us the opportunity to create additional jobs for construction and for the offices and the businesses it would attract. … I’ve heard a lot about the traffic changes. It’s natural. The street that my off building is on now, when it was originally constructed, it was for carriages. Traffic changes occur. So we have to be able to adapt and adjust to meet that demand. But to impede progress because of traffic changes is a disservice to everyone.”
Terri Gillman: “They tried showing how the view wouldn’t badly affect local residents by taking a picture from One and Two City’s top floor (the pool deck) and inserting what One Flagler would look like from there. As far as I know, no one lives on the pool deck! Those top floor views are way more expansive than lower floors, so a building placed in the middle of the view from the pool deck will appear to not be much of a decrease in view. What I was most surprised about was just after the Related presentation but before any speakers, one of the board members said to the entire audience that he feels this is a good project and is fine with the additional height! Shouldn’t he have let people respond before giving his opinion? More importantly, shouldn’t our board members pretend to be impartial?”
Have a West Palm Beach news tip? Contact Staff Writer Tony Doris at firstname.lastname@example.org or 561-820-4703.