The promise of more workforce housing won out over the pleas of neighbors when Palm Beach County commissioners approved 250 new apartments and townhouses to replace a rundown shopping plaza on U.S. 1, just south of Juno Beach.
Mayor Melissa McKinlay has consistently supported the Lenox North Beach project, citing the need for housing that teachers, administrative assistants, police officers and firefighters can afford.
Homeowners in the Pleasant Ridge neighborhood next door have vehemently opposed the project, saying the developer is trying to squeeze too many units onto the unincorporated 11-acre parcel a half-mile north of PGA Boulevard. They say they’re working professionals who understand the need for modestly-priced housing, but they are worried about the development’s effect on traffic, aesthetics and drainage.
People with incomes of about $40,000 up to $90,000 are eligible for workforce housing, McKinlay said at a county commission meeting Thursday. Underscoring the need for workforce housing, McKinlay said she couldn’t afford a four-bedroom townhouse in Lenox.
David Markarian, an attorney with an office on PGA Boulevard, echoed the need for housing for “average joes.” The rising tide “is not lifting every boat. Regular folks are still barely making ends meet,” he said.
Of the 250 units, 63 would be capped at workforce prices. Rents will range from $810 for a one-bedroom apartment to about $2,600 for a three-bedroom apartment or townhouse, depending on a person’s income level, a planner for the project previously said.
In the end, commissioners voted 5-2, with Hal Valeche and Dave Kerner dissenting, to approve the developer’s request to increase the number of townhouses and apartments allowed per acre.
“This is a very large departure from the nature of this neighborhood and will change it irretrievably,” said Valeche, whose district includes the future development.
Planner Ken Tuma, speaking for plaza owners Fairway Investments, said the design evolved as they learned what was important to the neighbors. They capped the development at 250 townhouses and apartments, and limited it to two stories toward the west side next to Pleasant Ridge.
They also moved a driveway so there is less traffic on the edge closest to Pleasant Ridge. The developers will be installing a traffic signal at Juno Road and U.S. 1 as warranted and pay for speed humps on Osceola Road next to the site, if the county will allow them, he said.
Commissioners voted 6-1, with Valeche dissenting, on a separate measure related to rezoning and workforce housing bonuses.
“It feels like a gut punch,” said Nancy Lodise, president of the Pleasant Ridge Property Owners Association.
Lodise acknowledged it’s important that the plaza — home to a pizza shop, tobacco shop and liquor store — is redeveloped, but she questioned if it’s opening the door for gentrification from Juno Road south to PGA Boulevard and Ellison Wilson Road. Developers who were already eyeing the area for investment now have the precedent of the county commission granting higher density on their side, she said.
Commissioners have pointed to The Waterford, a senior living high-rise on the other side of Pleasant Ridge, as justification for approving higher-density at the shopping plaza.
The Waterford is in Charlie Hollings’ backyard, but it’s not as close to his property line as Lenox will be to his neighbors across the street, he said. It’s going to tower over everybody else in the area, he said.
“This project is cloaked in the mantle of workforce housing. That’s okay, but they need to give it a critical eye,” he said of county commissioners. “Lenox is a great project, but it’s in the wrong location.”
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