Not in my sightline: Foes line up against office tower next to church


Highlights

Related Cos. plan for a tall tower on Flagler Drive has some residents worried about traffic, views

Related Cos. executives might want to say a prayer for their proposed 25-story office tower next to a church on West Palm Beach’s waterfront.

That’s because foes are rising up against the project, which would be built on land next to the First Church of Christ, Scientist along Flagler Drive.

More than 700 city residents have signed petitions sent to all city commissioners and the mayor protesting Related’s interest in building a tower taller than the five-story cap on buildings east of Olive Avenue.

The petitioners are residents from One City Plaza and Two City Plaza condominiums; the two-building Trump Plaza condominiums; the Esperante’s residential condo units atop the office building; the City Palms condominium; and CityPlace South Tower.

The 270,000-square-foot tower proposed by Related would sit on land and a building next to the Christian Science Church, a historic 1928 structure. The property is at Flagler Drive and Lake­view Avenue at the gateway to the Royal Park bridge to Palm Beach.

Business officials say the tower would fill much-needed demand for new office space, plus attract hedge funds and financial firms to a part of the city now dubbed the Flagler Financial District. Money from the sale of church land to Related also would preserve the church for the ages.

But some nearby residents don’t want a tall office tower on Flagler Drive.

“There is strong and growing opposition and outrage among the surrounding residential buildings opposing the destruction of the waterfront and the dangerously gridlocked traffic, not to mention ignoring the height restrictions in the master plan,” said Margaret LaManna, a city resident and major opponent of the tower.

Officials with Related Cos. of New York say many signers are opposing a project that won’t affect them in any way.

For instance, CityPlace South Tower, at 550 Okeechobee Blvd., is far west of the proposed Related tower on Flagler Drive. Trump Plaza is at 525 South Flagler Drive, north of the church property.

And City Palms at 480 Hibiscus Street is a condo whose units are mostly owned by billionaire real estate investor Jeff Greene. He owns the property next door, the Opera Place land at 419 Lakeview Avenue, which already is zoned for tall towers that could directly block views of City Palm residents.

Related officials say residents signing petitions are being heavily influenced by LaManna.

She owns a residential condo atop the Esperante office building, to the west of the church. Her view would be blocked by the office tower.

“There are people affected by this, and we were going to hear from these people regardless. … But many are being affected by her,” said Harvey Oyer, a West Palm Beach lawyer for Related. “What she’s doing is getting people who don’t understand the facts and convincing them this is going to harm them.”

Gopal Rajegowda, Related vice president, agreed.

“What’s happening is a small group of people are trying to get a larger group of residents riled up about a building that’s going to raise the value of condos downtown,” Rajegowda said.

But residents who signed the petition bristled at the notion they are being swayed by LaManna into signing a petition.

“No. Never,” said Harriet Janensch, a resident of Two City Plaza, at 701 S. Olive Ave. “When I heard about these petitions, I applauded them because of the traffic. They want to shoehorn this 25-story tower on our waterfront? We, the people, don’t want it. Don’t crowd us in.”

Janensch said she’s not impressed by arguments that the tower will boost the economy by drawing hedge funds and high paying jobs to the city: “The fat cats want to put their feet up on their desk and have a view of the ocean at our expense?”

Nor is she moved by the argument for preserving the historic 1928 church: “There are historical societies and charity events that can help preserve it,” she said.

Related executives say views from nearby condos would be minimally affected by the new tower, with only about 30 units affected at One City Plaza at 801 S. Olive Ave., for instance.

But LaManna has amassed reports from condominium building managers that show different data.

Building managers report 41 of 350 units at One City Plaza, 72 of 467 views at Two City Plaza, 70 out of 422 units at CityPlace South Tower and all of Trump Plaza’s 221 units would be affected, either directly or indirectly. This is in addition to four of seven condo units at the top of Esperante.

Also in the tower’s sightlines: Pools and common areas on the rooftops of every property except Esperante.

Oyer wasn’t persuaded.

“There are very few units in the downtown that have this building in their line of site,” he said. “If you were to go to CityPlace South Tower or Trump Plaza and crane your neck in the right direction, you might see some of it blocks away.”

But views aren’t even really the issue, said one building manager who asked not to be named.

“It’s not about views,” the building manager said. “It has to do with trying to temper the growth of the community so it remains a viable one. People don’t want this to be New York where it take five minutes to get two blocks. You want to build a building? Fine. Do it where it’s zoned.”

This manager cautioned that Related should not underestimate the residents signing on to the petition.

“These people are intelligent. Some have spent $1 million in cash for a unit. They are attorneys, investment bankers, insurance executives. They are definitely not a bunch of dummies being duped by some woman out there.”

Oyer said most big ideas are controversial, such as the 1980s decision to build the Phillips Point office complex at 777 Flagler Dr.

“This, too, is big idea,” Oyer said of the office tower proposed for the church land. “Everyone else in the community has high support for this.”

Perhaps so, but Janensch and other nearby residents say they won’t go quietly: “We’re going to fight to the bitter end.”

Oyer said plans are to submit an application to the city for the office tower sometime in the summer.

Alexandra Clough writes about the economy, real estate and the law.



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