The Royal Palm Beach Village Council approved architectural changes for the Anthony Groves commercial development last week, but denied a requested drive-through restaurant lane.
The requested drive-through would have been at the southernmost building of the shopping center, located on the west side of State Road 7 about 1 mile south of Southern Blvd.
At the Feb. 7 meeting, Victoria Grove Homeowners’ Association President Donna Maes said her community is concerned about increased traffic on Victoria Grove Bend, which is shared by the shopping center, the Shoma Homes multifamily community, Victoria Grove and The Enclave, a residential community under construction.
Maes said that Victoria Grove does not object to the other changes, which include painting, the addition of decorative towers and the paving of an outdoor waiting area — only the proposed drive-through lane.
Agent Jennifer Vale of Land Design South, representing the shopping center owner, said that a traffic study showed the drive-through would add only three vehicle trips per peak period, adding that the center’s owner believes that a drive-through would help attract better tenants to the plaza, which has had numerous vacancies.
A drive-through lane in a neighborhood commercial zoning district requires a special exception, which can be granted by the council as long as there are no objections that cannot be mitigated.
Last month, the Royal Palm Beach Planning & Zoning Commission unanimously recommended approval of the architectural changes, but recommended denial of the drive-through on a 4-1 vote. Members thought the traffic lanes were too narrow for a drive-through. Village staff, however, recommended approval.
“We are not anti-business,” Maes said. “We welcome somebody to finally fill the building, but a drive-through restaurant is definitely going to cause more traffic along the access road.”
Maes added that the impact of the new Enclave community is still unknown. “We just want you to hear us and take into consideration that we would not like to see a drive-through in that corner of that shopping center,” she said. “We already have the car wash there and Steak ’n Shake.”
Mayor Matty Mattioli noted that council members had asked shopping center representatives to contact the HOA about some sort of compromise, but they had not been able to come to an agreement.
Vale said the owner purchased the property last year and was trying to improve the architecture in order to attract quality tenants, adding that the owner is trying to fill the space at the southern end of the property, which has been vacant for years.
Councilman Jeff Hmara said he had visited the site and agreed that the traffic is already heavy in the area.
“The traffic flow is a challenge for a lot of reasons,” Hmara said, adding that he shared the opinion of the Planning & Zoning Commission, which had concerns about enough space for a drive-through and bypass lane behind the building.
Vice Mayor Fred Pinto said he did not consider three vehicle trips per peak period an impact, but was concerned about the overall design of the neighborhood.
“This particular request is bearing the burden of the bad design that happened previously,” Pinto said. “This is a parcel that has been vacant for a number of years, and it’s unfortunate that this is not something that we could really sign up for. If residents are not in support of it, that makes me uncomfortable.”
Councilwoman Martha Webster asked what the standards were for staff to recommend approval, and Planning & Zoning Director Bradford O’Brien said it meets all codes and traffic standards.
Attorney Brad Biggs added that the special exception for the drive-through is permitted, but if they have special impacts that cannot be mitigated, the council does not have to approve it. “The applicant can always apply for it, and they can apply for it again,” Biggs said.
Webster said the more immediate impact would be on the Shoma Homes apartments, where there had been concerns about illegal activities in the area exacerbated by the empty buildings in the shopping center, and that additional lighting from occupied buildings and traffic behind the buildings might reduce that.
Councilman Richard Valuntas asked whether something could be done to reduce the traffic impact.
“I’m glad I don’t live there,” Valuntas said. “I’m surprised they don’t have more traffic accidents there with the way that thing is designed… Is there anything sign-wise that would help mitigate?”
Village Manager Ray Liggins said the traffic circle had been modified in the last month by developers of The Enclave.
“There was quite a discussion between Victoria Grove and The Enclave when they were doing that approval,” Liggins said. “Part of that site plan approval was the modification of that circle to make it better with signage. What it didn’t have before was a center island. It was a circle without a doughnut in the middle. It was one big open paved area. People weren’t using it as a circle. They were using it more as an intersection. They did rebuild it more as a circle.”
Hmara said he had visited the circle since the changes were made, and the traffic flow was improved but still intense.
“The center island is very attractive,” he said. “It’s nicely landscaped, but it is exciting as you watch drivers as they try to figure out who has the yield sign. It’s probably about as well traffic-managed as you’re going to get, but it is interesting. You see cars changing lanes as they’re going through the circle. That’s my biggest concern because it does look like a difficult flow.”
Maes said the biggest issue is people using the circle to get to Publix and other stores to the north. “People are going there, driving on the wrong side of the road, faster than they ought to. We can’t control all of that,” she said.
Pinto made a motion to approve the changes but with no added drive-through, and it carried 4-1 with Valuntas dissenting.