Joe Lelonek of Atlantic Land Investments gave an update on the planned commercial center at the southwest corner of Northlake and Coconut boulevards at the Indian Trail Improvement District Board of Supervisors meeting Wednesday, Feb. 12, explaining that recent changes submitted to Palm Beach County were only to create development phases for a project that had already been approved.
Lelonek said the developer had spent several years going through the approval process for the land within the 2.5-mile Northlake corridor, finally winning approval from ITID, West Palm Beach, Palm Beach Gardens and the county for a master plan.
“Our original intent was to cluster any commercial needs at one logical corner so there was not a strip of commercial going up and down the street,” Lelonek said, pointing out that landowners had deed-restricted several of the properties in the corridor for preserves, with the agreement that commercial uses would go only at the southwest quadrant of Northlake and Coconut.
In 2011, the developer got approval for a multiple-use planned commercial development of 106,000 square feet that included a grocery store, gas station and retail stores, but came back to the county recently asking for a phased development when it could not get a tenant for the grocery store.
“We recently came back to county commissioners to phase the development,” he said, explaining that he has been working with the South Florida Water Management District, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other agencies to see that the phasing will not cause unforeseen drainage issues.
“The changes that we made were phase changes so we can start the initial phase at the corner of Coconut and Northlake and phase the balance of that development as the market improves and the rest of the development goes online,” Lelonek said. “The uses are the same as when it was approved in 2011. We have not changed the square footage on this site from the maximum that we had before.”
He said the developer plans to start construction of the first phase as soon as possible, which is the roughly 10-acre corner of Coconut and Northlake.
Supervisor Michelle Damone said that many residents are concerned that the grocery store hub of the shopping center would not be developed right away for lack of a tenant, and instead, it will start with an area that would include a gas station.
Lelonek confirmed that given the current economic conditions, their intent was to develop the gas station and some retail near the Northlake/Coconut intersection as soon as possible.
“I’d love to develop all 30 acres at once, but without tenants, you’re building vacant space, and no one wants vacant space,” Lelonek said. “The safer and more economically friendly way to go is just to develop the first phase. As soon as the economy allows us to have that larger user, we will develop the core as soon as we possibly can.”
Damone said that the Publix at Orange Blvd. and Seminole Pratt Whitney Road had been delayed several years when the Publix near Ibis was developed first.
“I’m assuming that something similar is happening in this case,” she said, pointing out that the Grove Marketplace on Seminole Pratt, where a Winn-Dixie closed several years ago, has been having trouble drawing customers and holding tenants.
Lelonek said that his firm does not want to build an underperforming center. “That is part of the reason we’re looking at doing the corner first,” he said. “We do have interest in the extended individual users that we would put into the corner, whether it be fast food, gas or so forth. Those can survive on their own, so you don’t wind up with a dark center like we are experiencing with the Winn-Dixie.”
He said developing the corner would draw people in, which would then facilitate development of the rest of the center.
Damone also pointed out that the ITID board had struggled with the planned entrance on Hamlin Blvd., which had been deemed necessary in order not to create a traffic hazard on Northlake. That entrance was opposed by nearby residents.
Lelonek said the county is requiring the developer to put a divider in on Coconut between Hamlin and Northlake so that northbound drivers on Coconut would have to turn left on Hamlin Blvd. to enter the plaza.
Resident Anne Kuhl asked whether delivery traffic would use the Hamlin entrance, and Damone said they asked that a condition of the county’s permit for the Hamlin Blvd. access would be to not allow truck or delivery traffic on Hamlin.
Attorney Mary Viator said that no delivery traffic on Hamlin was already a county-imposed condition.
Supervisor Gary Dunkley asked about a Palm Tran park-and-ride connection at the center, which he said would connect residents to services to the east, and Lelonek said the developer fully supports that, although Palm Tran does not have a route there now.