The Royal Palm Beach Planning & Zoning Commission recommended approval Tuesday of an application for upgrades to the Anthony Groves commercial development, but recommended against a proposed restaurant drive-through lane after a representative of the nearby Victoria Grove residential community expressed traffic concerns.
Development Review Coordinator Kevin Erwin said the Anthony Groves commercial development on the west side of State Road 7 south of Southern Blvd. sought approval to add two towers and repaint two buildings in different tracts of the shopping center, and add a drive-through on the south end of the southernmost building near the Motor City Car Wash, which requires a special exception.
Erwin pointed out that northern Tract 2 is zoned commercial general and the southern Tract 6, where developers want the drive-through lane, is zoned neighborhood commercial.
The only changes to Tract 2 would be the addition of the two corner towers and two brick paver areas outside a restaurant for patrons, he said.
The proposed drive-through for Tract 6 would be along the rear of the building to the west. Traffic would run next to the building, with a 10-foot bypass lane. In order to accommodate the drive-through, vehicles would be restricted to one-way along the west and south sides of the building.
The application meets all the village’s requirements for those types of uses, Erwin said, adding that village staff recommended approval.
Jennifer Vale with Land Design South, agent for the applicant, said the improvements and changes are intended to draw quality tenants to the commercial center.
Victoria Grove Homeowners’ Association President Donna Maes said she did not object to any of the changes except the proposed drive-through lane. “The drive-through is definitely a big issue,” Maes said, explaining that homeowners were already concerned about increased traffic from the Enclave, a residential project underway nearby.
Maes said the developer has not said which restaurant is interested in the space. “But whatever it is, it’s going to bring a lot of traffic,” she said. “With the car wash, we have Steak & Shake next door. We have a tremendous volume of traffic there. We’re asking you not allow a drive-through restaurant there. Everything else we can live with.”
Commissioner Jackie Larson said she frequents businesses in the area where the drive-through is proposed and does not believe there is enough space.
“Every time I have tried to come out the south entrance to get to your circle, that driveway on the south end is very narrow, and there is not a lot of visibility,” Larson said. “I’m really having a hard time, having physically been there, envisioning two lanes of traffic.”
Commission Alternate Michael Axelberd said that the overall plans are pleasing aesthetically. “I think it looks great,” he said. “It’s apparent to anyone who has been to the shopping center that the landlord has had a little bit of difficulty keeping the buildings filled all the time.”
Axelberd asked whether traffic studies have been done to substantiate the proposed drive-through, and Erwin said the developer has a letter of equivalency from the county based on studies for a drive-through restaurant provided by the applicant.
Property owner Martin Heise said he would be willing to meet with the Victoria Grove HOA to explain his plans, adding that one of the potential clients is Dairy Queen, which prefers stores with drive-throughs. “If I can attract a better tenant with a better building, nicer colors, tower features that are attractive, I can get good, national tenants in there,” he said. “If I don’t, I settle for what comes next.”
Heise said he does not consider the residents’ traffic concerns insurmountable.
“I’ve built four shopping centers in this area, and I just try to bring in good-quality tenants,” he said. “I try to stay away from second-rate properties that have low-budget tenants because it becomes a maintenance and management headache for me.”
The proposals are intended to improve what has been a problem property, Heise said. “It’s good for you, good for me, good for the city if I can keep a full building,” he said. “Otherwise I get tenants that go in and out of business, and little by little the property diminishes.”
If the drive-through is the only issue, he asked that the decision be postponed until he has an opportunity to talk to the residents. Otherwise, he asked that the rest of the improvements be approved.
“I would hope that the vote isn’t to kill everything because I’ve got to proceed,” he said. “I’ve got tenants that have signed.”
Erwin said the commission’s options would be to recommend denial of the drive-through and let the applicant appeal it to the Royal Palm Beach Village Council, which would be more expeditious, or postpone it so the applicant could talk to residents.
Axelberd acknowledged that the shopping center needs some anchors to help out the other stores. “Unless there is a traffic study to show that it would have an impact on Victoria Grove, I would be leaning toward approving it, personally,” he said.
Commission Alternate Joseph Boyle said he thought traffic is an issue. “I don’t like driving along that road now,” Boyle said. “I think it’s a pain in neck going through Victoria Grove… I’m surprised the traffic study didn’t address it. My feeling is everything except the restaurant drive-through is pretty much a slam-dunk.”
Commissioner Richard Becher said he was surprised that residents were not raising questions about possible light intrusion and late operating hours from a drive-through restaurant. “I think the average building there closes around 6 or 7 o’clock,” Becher said. “We don’t know how late a drive-through will stay open.”
Heise said he has actually had requests for additional lighting in that area to help fight illegal activity.
Axelberd made a motion to approve all the requested changes except the drive-through, and it carried 5-0.
Axelberd also made a motion to postpone a decision on the drive-through and give the owner an opportunity to meet with residents; it died for lack of a second.
Boyle made a motion to deny the drive-through, which carried 4-1 with Axelberd opposed.
The commission’s denial is only advisory in nature. A final decision will be made by the council next month.