Initial OK For SR 7 Residential To Commercial Shift

The Royal Palm Beach Village Council last week approved transmittal of a land-use change from residential to commercial for 10.6 acres on the southeast corner of Pioneer Road and State Road 7, over objections raised by some of the property’s neighbors.

Village staff recommended approval, finding that the new use was compatible with adjacent land uses and was consistent with the village’s comprehensive plan and concurrency issues, including traffic and utility requirements.

Planning & Zoning Director Bradford O’Brien said the property currently has a communications tower that will be moved during the site plan phase, and that the developer had indicated its ultimate goal is for retail and other commercial purposes.

The land is bounded by the Westwood planned unit development in unincorporated Palm Beach County to the north, the new Toys ‘R’ Us store to the south, vacant single-family residential to the east and Victoria Grove across State Road 7 to the west.

The application failed 3-2 when it came before the Royal Palm Beach Planning & Zoning Commission on March 26. However, most of the discussion at that meeting centered on plans to change adjacent property from single-family to multi-family use. That proposal is on hold pending discussions with neighbors.

The village has received letters objecting to the residential-to-commercial application, asserting that the change would be incompatible with the surrounding area, create visual blight, and increase traffic and criminal activity.

At the May 2 council meeting, agent Don Hearing, representing property owner Pebb Enterprises, said the 10.6-acre site is part of a larger tract that extends east. The remainder will remain residential, Hearing said, explaining that Westwood residents also had objected to the multi-family residential plans.

Hearing said the developer plans to meet with the residents to see if an agreement can be reached.

“We are planning on doing that,” Hearing said. “We’ve put that on hold, and we recognize that there are issues associated with that, so we’re not here tonight to talk about the residential. That will come back in the future. We are here to talk about the comprehensive land-use plan for the parcel in front. Your staff and all our professionals have concluded that the site is best suited for commercial use.”

Jan Polson with the land planning firm Cotleur & Hearing said the parcel was part of an 18-acre tract that was annexed into the village in 2004, receiving the single-family land use and zoning designation in 2006.

Polson pointed out that the parcel is surrounded largely by commercial uses, including the Toys ‘R’ Us store and the commercial component of the Isla Verde mixed-use development to the south, as well as commercial uses across SR 7.

“You can pretty much tell why staff would feel this amendment from single-family residential to commercial is compatible with adjacent land uses in the area,” Polson said.

She added that a market study confirms that commercial use is supported in the area, despite residents pointing out numerous vacant commercial properties.

“It also found that commercial is consistent with two studies that were completed in this area, the Palm Beach County Commercial Needs Study and also the Palms West Corridor Study,” she said. “Both of those studies supported the need for additional commercial services in this area.”

Westwood resident Rick DeMartino said the entire project would have negative effects on his development, asserting that his neighborhood is already harmed by the Shoma Homes neighborhood across SR 7, with spillover crime due to high foreclosures and unemployment in that neighborhood. “Our quality of life has changed with the problems of Shoma,” DeMartino said. “We often find loitering Shoma residents in our neighborhood at all hours of the night. We have experienced thefts and burglaries.”

Village Attorney Brad Biggs pointed out, however, that DeMarino was referring to the planned housing element, which was not under discussion that evening.

Maria Camacho, president of the Whispering Woods Homeowners’ Association, asked the council to deny the application because it would increase traffic on Pioneer Road, which is used to access Whispering Woods. “During the holidays, I could not believe it,” she said. “I could not make a turn on Pioneer Road because of traffic.”

Elyce Werner, president of Westwood Homeowners’ Association, said more commercial uses are not needed because of numerous vacancies in existing commercial areas.

“I think this area is completely saturated with commercial,” Werner said. “I think this council would do a great injustice for not only the Village of Royal Palm Beach but the surrounding communities if you allow more commercial.”

Hearing said that area has become a commercial epicenter and that the empty storefronts are smaller bays. He said that Pebb already has commitments for 90 percent of the space it is going to create.

Although security issues were not on the agenda that evening, Hearing said the developer has taken steps to improve security in its adjacent Isla Verde shopping center. “The developer has demonstrated its ability to create value and maintain value,” Hearing said. “This is not a speculative event here.”

Marketing consultant Larry Zabik said the commercial market in Royal Palm Beach and Wellington is becoming healthy again.

“Over the last three or four years, we struggled in different areas, but on balance, the market remained very strong,” he said, pointing out that large commercial spaces have done very well in Royal Palm Beach.

Councilman David Swift made a motion to approve the application for transmittal, which carried 5-0.