West Palm race: Candidates’ take on a denser downtown … and traffic

These are times of dramatic change for West Palm Beach, with a steady economy opening gates to growth and its impacts, whether treasure chest or Pandora’s box.

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The two winning candidates for city commission will help usher in a more dense downtown and deal with the traffic that brings. They’ll help the city adapt to an era of Internet and artificial intelligence, catalyzing changes in how we shop, work, commute and get pleasure from our physical environments, urban and natural.

They’ll do this at a time of heightened public protectiveness of the moderate-sized city’s character, and skepticism of their motivations for any change they may endorse. The hottest local issues over the past year continue to draw concern: the competing calls for a busy and vibrant downtown and for a downtown that restrains the congestion already nagging at Okeechobee Boulevard and other gateways, from Broadway to South Dixie Highway.

Candidates for the March 13 election are Kelly Shoaf and Martina Tate Walker in District 1, the city’s north end; incumbent Shanon Materio and Christina Lambert in District 5, in the south end. Residents throughout the city vote to fill both seats.

Shoaf and Tate Walker are running for the seat from which Commissioner Sylvia Moffett withdrew at the last minute, leaving no time for other potential candidates to jump in who might have if they’d known there’d be no incumbent. Shoaf benefited the most from that decision, as Tate Walker can only be seen as an underdog, one who lost in a landslide last time and who has few contributions to support her this year.

Shoaf, a West Palm resident for a dozen years, is vice president of purchasing for Chatham Lodging Trust, a hotel real estate investment trust. She’s a community activist who serves as secretary of the Old Northwood Neighborhood Association and once worked for the chamber of commerce.

Would she vote to revive the One Flagler project, the 25-story office tower that Related Cos. last year proposed for a five-story zone about 300 feet from the Flagler Drive waterfront? “I will not support tall buildings along Flagler Drive,” she said, insisting that she’s for “green growth” and wants the waterfront protected from development.

“We should be conscious of residential growth that fits with the context of our neighborhoods and centers around safety and preservation of the community character,” she said. “Commercial growth should provide resources to address public issues like safety, traffic, city priorities and community benefits.”

Tate Walker, a 69-year-old pastor and mother of seven, says she wants to be the voice of the people and would not reconsider the ban on tall buildings on the waterfront.

“I deal with regular people every day, I know their issues and their voices are not being heard,” she said. “… We want sensible development and growth, workforce training and development, affordable home ownership, safe communities through proper funding of our parks and rec department. We need to be able to offer more activities by investing in our youth. Programs that engage our seniors and enable blended programs between seniors and our youth. Better job opportunities with our returning college students. Become better partners with our community schools.”

District 5 incumbent Materio was one of the three commissioners who shot down the rezoning that would have allowed One Flagler. The decision pitted her against one of the biggest developers in the city and the Chamber of Commerce of the Palm Beaches but won support of many downtown residents who felt the office tower would block views and jam traffic.

“I believe our residents have spoken multiple times on this issue by voting for a five-story limit on downtown buildings,” she said. “As elected officials, it our job to encourage resident engagement with our local government and listen to their vision for our city. If in the future a compelling plan is presented for a taller building that our residents support, I would fully consider the project. This has not happened to date and I stand with our residents on the current ban on tall buildings.”

Materio, a longtime West Palm resident, is co-owner of McMow Art Glass. As commissioner for nearly five years, she has advocated for such south end issues as revitalization of the municipal golf course and tennis facilities, and spearheaded a forum on citywide transportation concerns and a community forum on school safety, following the Parkland massacre.

“We deserve a world-class city that attracts high-quality jobs, exceptional educational opportunities and a vibrant downtown, all the while becoming cleaner and more environmentally sustainable for future generations.”

Christina D’Elosua Lambert is a productivity specialist for Productive Power, former president and CEO of Education Foundation of Palm Beach and former executive director of Leadership Palm Beach. She also says she would not move to undo the ban on waterfront high-rises. “I do not support any plan that would wall off the waterfront with tall buildings,” she said.

At the same time, she said, “I support opportunities that create jobs, attract businesses to West Palm Beach and benefit our city … My philosophy on growth is to review: Are we meeting a need; Is the community involved in the decision-making; What benefits is the project adding to the city; Is the project contextually appropriate to its surroundings. I would want to make sure projects provide opportunities for local small-, minority- and women-owned businesses.”

Her experience in education would be a plus for the commission, she added.

The District 5 race has been sullied by a steady flow of negative mailers. One anti-Materio mailer said she “attended a Republican fundraiser with Donald Trump,” and showed her in a group picture with Trump at Mar-a-Lago at least five years ago. The same mailer alerted readers: “Shanon Materio worked for right wing conservative Rush Limbaugh.” In fact, Materio said, she never met Limbaugh. Her company sold an art glass window to Limbaugh when he moved to Palm Beach many years ago.

An anti-Lambert counter-punch wasn’t much better: “Christina Lambert was a Registered Republican until she decided to run for office,” it said, with a photo of Lambert cut and pasted next to photos of Trump and Republican Governor Scott.

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