2012 In Review: Park Delays Big Story In RPB

Royal Palm Beach played the waiting game in 2012 as plans that had been fueled in prior years continued to take shape.

With only one change on the Royal Palm Beach Village Council after the March 2012 election, officials looked to push along planned recreation projects — the largest being Royal Palm Commons Park, which lagged more than six months behind schedule.

Complications also led to postponing the opening of the Renaissance Charter School on Southern Blvd. Meanwhile, plans for Aldi’s regional distribution center and a nearby grocery store in the village began to take shape, and a nursing school with plans to open in early 2013 was approved in the Royal Plaza shopping center.

Council members also agreed to provide additional funds to help the Palm Beach County Office of the Inspector General as the courts debate a lawsuit brought against the office by several municipalities.

But the year wasn’t without controversy. Discussion over the reappointment of several members of the Royal Palm Beach Planning & Zoning Commission led to a heated debate, and residents with concerns about water quality in lakes and canals also came to the village for help.

Hmara, Mattioli Win Election

The Royal Palm Beach municipal election returned familiar faces to the council along with one new one. In the March vote, Mayor Matty Mattioli defeated challenger Felicia Matula, while Jeff Hmara won election to a vacant seat, defeating Selena Smith. Councilman Richard Valuntas was unopposed in his bid for re-election.

In October, plans for the 2013 election got off to an early start when former Councilman David Swift announced that he would challenge Councilwoman Martha Webster for her seat. Vice Mayor Fred Pinto will also stand for re-election on March 12.

Commons Park Delays

Plans to celebrate the opening of the much-anticipated Royal Palm Commons Park were pushed back again and again throughout the year as construction dragged. First, the village was forced to move its Fourth of July celebration but promised a fall opening, and later plans for the annual Fall Festival were kept at Veterans Park, to the frustration of council members.

When the park was not completed by Oct. 31, the contractor began accruing a $1,000 per day fine. In early December, much of the park was complete with sodding and work on the main clubhouse remaining. Village Manager Ray Liggins anticipated completion of the park in mid-January.

Residents also approached the council in August to ask for a dog park to be included in plans, a move supported by Webster.

Other Park Projects

Despite slow progress on Commons Park, Royal Palm Beach saw some projects completed. Chief among them was the renovation of the playscape at Todd Robiner Park in La Mancha, which got a facelift for the 10-year-old equipment.

Plans were also drafted for a skate park after a group of young skateboarders asked the council for a place to call their own. Parks & Recreation Director Lou Recchio suggested converting an underused hockey rink near the Royal Palm Beach Recreation Center for that use.

The village did, however, push back plans to improve Lindsay Ewing Park to use the funds for other more pressing projects throughout the village.

Charter School Delayed

Concerns over traffic surrounding a charter school near the intersection of Crestwood and Southern boulevards prompted discussion from village officials in 2012.

Charter Schools USA planned a K-8 school in the old Albertsons grocery store site, named the Renaissance Charter School at Palms West.

Originally plans were to open the school for the 2012-13 school year, but in April, the school informed parents that the planned opening would not occur.

Though the traffic patterns on the site, which shares parking space with other outparcels, concerned RPB zoning commissioners, council members were unanimously in favor of the project.

But complications with the sale and lease of the building threw the project off track to the disappointment of many interested parents.

Aldi Project Moves Forward

With plans to open a Royal Palm Beach distribution center for the growing Aldi grocery store chain already underway in 2011, last year saw a few necessary measures pass to make the much-anticipated project a reality.

At its June 28 meeting, council members passed an ordinance allowing a warehouse of more than 400,000 square feet. The planned 822,000-square-foot facility will be located on a 73-acre site off State Road 7, adjacent to the Regal Cinemas property and Royal Palm Beach High School.

Then, in August, council members approved a site plan and plat approval so long as Aldi leaves a buffer of Australian pine trees intact to shield neighbors from construction and other noise while the grocery chain’s landscape grows in.

Already, Aldi has plans to open a store in the village. The chain plans to take over the recently closed Toys ’R’ Us location on SR 7 and turn it into a new grocery store, having gained approval in July for a sign variance.

Nursing School To Open In RPB

Also planning to open its doors is a nursing school on Royal Palm Beach Blvd. in the former CVS Pharmacy location in the Royal Plaza shopping center.

In June, council members approved a special exception for the site to allow the school, which will offer vocational training for nurses, home health aides and nursing assistants.

In December, school officials announced that it would begin offering its practical nursing program in February. The school will also be offering scholarships to local students.

Inspector General Funding Issues

With funding for the inspector general tied up in court, members of the RPB council agreed to pay $26,000 to the office through an interlocal agreement.

The village had previously sent its portion to the county, but Palm Beach County Clerk Sharon Bock is holding the money in escrow until the lawsuit brought forth by several municipalities is resolved.

The agreement allowed the county to circumvent the clerk’s office. Though council members were initially concerned, they directed staff to include a provision that would provide for a return or credit of granted money in the event the county does not prevail in the lawsuit.

In June, the council unanimously agreed to fund the office, which will be paid in multiple installments.

Council Battles Over Zoning Commission

Council members clashed last year when Webster attempted to appoint new members to the Royal Palm Beach Planning & Zoning Commission. In March, she asked to be appointed liaison to the board.

When the terms of longtime Commissioner Jackie Larson and Commission Alternate Janet Ellis expired and Commissioner Genevieve Lambiase resigned, Webster asked that completely new board members be assigned their seats.

Webster alleged that several commissioners had issues with staff and applicants in the past, and that an effort should be made to make the board more professional and business friendly.

At a tense April 19 meeting that saw council members battling to speak over each other, Webster’s proposal was struck down in favor of a compromise. However, one of the nominated commissioners was concerned with the discussion at the meeting and withdrew from consideration.

In May, after Webster attempted again to replace the sitting members of the commission, council members removed her from her post as liaison. Instead, Pinto was given the position.

Lake Problems

Huntington Woods residents petitioned the council last summer to do something about the state of canals and lakes in their part of the village.

In June, some residents said efforts to control aquatic plants left local canals littered with dead vegetation, while others blamed stormwater discharge for the damaged condition of a community lake.

Though village staff said they would have a look at the problem, Huntington Woods residents returned in September to plead with council members to fix what they said was pollution running off Royal Palm Beach Blvd. and into their neighborhood lake.

Liggins asked the homeowners to work with him to decide on a method of treatment and return to the village with a plan.


ABOVE: The main building at the new Royal Palm Commons Park.