On its seventh try, Midtown Delray historic development gets good news

After six revisions, a plan to transform a historic corridor in downtown Delray Beach, and add stores, restaurants and offices, landed approval from the Delray Beach City Commission — pending several more changes.

During an eight-hour meeting that had city commissioners and the developer, Hudson Holdings, redrawing Midtown Delray Beach until nearly 2 a.m. Wednesday, the historic redevelopment got an initial nod in a 4-1 vote with Commissioner Shelly Petrolia dissenting.

Technically, the project is approved with 18 conditions. But the city has a chance to review the final drawings next month and strip the controversial project of its approval if the developer doesn’t meet the city’s demands.

Hudson Holdings plans to rehabilitate some of Delray Beach’s oldest structures tucked behind lush landscaping along Swinton Avenue south of Atlantic Avenue, and build two- and three-story complexes along with underground parking.

Hudson Holdings has redesigned and resubmitted the project multiple times in the past 2½ years based on feedback from residents, city leaders and historic preservationists — some of whom continued to fight the project Tuesday.

“I think there’s a lot of elements of this plan that strike a balance between preservation and redevelopment,” Mayor Cary Glickstein said.

About two dozen spoke both for and against divisive project well into the early morning hours of the lengthy city commission meeting.

The project had been shot down by the city’s Historic Preservation Board in December. Some of the board members spoke Tuesday to urge the commission to again reject the development, which they say is incompatible with the quaint corridor.

Andrea Harden, a preservation board member, said the project rebuffs strict city rules put in place to protect Delray Beach’s historic homes.

“If you don’t like some of the rules and regulations, you should change them, not ignore them,” Harden said.

Some lauded the developer for reducing the scale of the project after working with Midtown Delray Beach’s most vocal dissidents.

Others said that even after multiple changes, the project was still too massive for the corridor.

“They started out breaking almost every rule you can break in a historic district. Now we’ve had some compromises, so where are we now? 50 percent?” said JoAnn Peart, president of Delray Preservation Trust, a nonprofit that has fought the project, even hiring an attorney and historic preservationist.

The corridor, part of Old School Square Historic District, is home to aging structures with rich histories, such as the Sundy House, a boutique inn built in 1902 by Delray Beach’s first mayor John Shaw Sundy; the Rectory, a former Methodist Church parsonage built around 1912; and the Cathcart house, built in 1903 in the French Colonial Revival style.

Those buildings will be restored, moved temporarily while other construction is underway, then preserved in place.

The Old School Square Historic District is under consideration for a spot on the National Register of Historic Places.

All homes on the southwest block of Atlantic and Swinton avenues will temporarily move while the underground parking garage is being constructed.

The corridor will lose some of its mature trees and lush shrubbery. But many trees will be replanted in decorative pots above the concrete roof of the underground parking garage.

“We are just going to really put on that property things that are not going to be historic in nature and not historic in feel,” Petrolia said. She criticized the structures that will surround the historic homes, the garage that will elevate the entire block and the loss of landscaping.

Several residents spoke in favor of the project, saying the corridor is desperate for development to connect two clashing sides of Delray Beach’s main artery. East Atlantic Avenue, a popular downtown strip of restaurants, stores and businesses, has seen economic prosperity that its mostly blighted West Atlantic counterpart has not.

Terri Cooper, who owns a 1931 home on Swinton Avenue, said the poorly lit historic corridor needs new business and safety improvements to encourage pedestrians to traverse Swinton.

“I think we need massive changes on South Swinton,” Cooper said in support of Midtown Delray. “I’m personally scared to walk 2½ blocks to Atlantic Avenue.”

Hudson Holdings has touted the project as a connector and an economic catalyst for West Atlantic Avenue. Delray Beach-based Hudson offered to hire mostly local workers to construct Midtown, which the city made a condition of its approval.

The city also required the following conditions:

* No structures rise higher than four stories. The plan presented Tuesday called for a four-story building along Atlantic Avenue. The developers will remove the floor and add the square-footage elsewhere.

* A redesigned western facade. Glickstein compared the large and wide western building to a Motel 6 and asked that the elevations be improved to be more aesthetically pleasing.

* Hudson Holdings agrees to pay $1 million to the city if it doesn’t commence construction within two years.

* Hudson agrees to pay a $100,000 grant for the Frog Alley and Northwest/Southwest historic neighborhoods west of Swinton Avenue.

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