RPB Zoners OK Easing Mixed-Use Commercial Rules

The Royal Palm Beach Planning & Zoning Commission recommended approval Monday of a large-scale comprehensive plan amendment requested by the new owner of the commercial portion of the Cypress Key development on Southern Blvd. west of the Crestwood Square shopping center.

The request would remove many of the requirements for mixed-use developments listed in the comprehensive plan, cited under “New Urbanism” concepts intended to promote more pedestrian walkability.

The amendments would eliminate the requirements for two-story buildings with office space above and retail below, and allow integration of commercial and retail uses on any level.

“They are requesting the removal of the square footage ratio requirements of retail service to office,” Development Review Coordinator Kevin Erwin said, explaining that the comp plan as written now requires a certain ratio of office to retail, and that the request is to delete the minimum amount of office or retail, but leave the floor-area ratio unchanged for the entire 30-acre site.

Erwin said the amendment would allow the developer more flexibility for tenants that choose to locate there. He added that the amendment would soften language in the comp plan, changing “require” to “encourage” in reference to certain mixed-use standards.

Erwin pointed out that the comp plan regulates general standards for development throughout the entire village. “It is not site-specific,” he said. “However, having said that, there is only one site within the village that has the MXD (mixed-use development) designation at this time. There might be another one in the future, but at the moment we have only one property, which is Cypress Key.”

Erwin said an important part of any proposed comp plan amendment is that the applicant meet with the surrounding neighbors to discuss the proposed changes. The property owner sent out notices to residents within a 500-foot radius of the Cypress Key property, and the primary concerns were the possible relocation of a required traffic signal to Cypress Head Avenue, rather than at the center of the property, whether another grocery store is needed and where a proposed drive-through restaurant would be located.

“Of course, there were some residents opposed to any commercial development on the site,” Erwin said. “They would prefer that it remain vacant.”

John Kinsey, representative of Tilloo Investment Partners, purchaser of the Cypress Key commercial space, said the mixed use was approved years ago for that specific project and was the former developer’s vision for what the property was going to be.

“The commercial portion of it was incredibly intense,” Kinsey said. “It had retail space on the first floor with office space on the second floor. There are a number of projects approved with that New Urbanism style in mind in various parts of the state. They have had varying degrees of success over the years. Largely, as the real estate market softened, they were revealed to be very unpopular. Although the concept has some attractive aspects to it, it’s hard to make it work.”

Kinsey said that particularly in this case, and the way the village’s comp plan is structured, with the minimum square footage requirement of 62,000 square feet, all on the second floor, his firm did not believe that demand exists.

He added that mixed use is intended typically to allow flexibility throughout the project, and for it to change over time.

Commissioner Barbara Powell said that she would prefer to have had more time to review the application, which had been distributed the previous Friday, and would have preferred more staff analysis.

Erwin said a different staff had been on board when the MXD was approved, and they did not have a lot of analysis that supported it at the time. “I do know that the development was approved and it started construction, and for whatever reason, they didn’t get enough tenants or interest in the project as it was, and it failed,” Erwin said.

He noted that the comp plan changes being requested were in preparation for zoning changes that would be requested at a later meeting.

Powell added that removing the provision requiring second-floor development but allowing the floor area ratio to remain the same, and allowing the softening of language, made her uncomfortable.

“I’m a little hesitant to say that it has been well-vetted,” she said. “I just don’t know if I’m comfortable without knowing how much of this language would impact future mixed-use zones, not that we have any, but if in the future we wanted to do one.”

Erwin said at this point, the comp plan is locking everything down. “What we’re trying to do is open it up just a little,” he said, explaining that restrictions will still be in place in the zoning code.

Kinsey noted that the site will have 60 percent less intensity than the original site plan, which will be presented at a future meeting.

Commission Alternate Michael Axelberd asked whether the amendments would open the village up to unintended uses, and Erwin reiterated that all the zoning limitations would still be in place.

Commissioner Joseph Boyle noted that even though Cypress Key is the development listed, the amendments affect the entire village, and there are other areas where an MXD use could go in.

“If it works for these people, well and good,” Boyle said. “Really, what you’re doing is making for more flexible choices here.”

Commissioner Richard Becher said he approved of the conceptual layout, with the residential development to the north separated by a large buffer, and the commercial on Southern Blvd.

Commission Chair Jackie Larson said she was on the commission when the first application came through, and questions were raised whether a MXD would be appropriate in that area. “Out in the middle of suburbia, drop this in, how is it going to work?” Larson recalled. “We were assured it would. Obviously, it did not.”

She said she approved adding flexibility but still questioned the concept of an MXD that is not fully coordinated with the surrounding area.

Boyle made a motion to approve the request, which carried 4-1 with Powell dissenting.