The Royal Palm Beach Village Council last week rejected an application for a land-use amendment to strip the office requirement from the commercial portion of the Cypress Key mixed-use development on Southern Blvd. and allow it to be all retail services.
The decision came even though the new developer pledged that the proposal would have lower density than the original mixed-use site plan approved years ago.
The request, if approved, would have been transmitted to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity and other agencies for review, with further village approvals necessary later.
A zoning text agreement that had been scheduled for March 20 would have asked for a change in permitted uses to allow a 43,000-square-foot grocery store.
The village has also received an application to modify the residential portion of the development, but that has not yet been scheduled for review by either the Royal Palm Beach Planning & Zoning Commission or the council, Planning & Zoning Director Bradford O’Brien said.
The applicant was seeking to amend the village’s MXD land use to allow removal of the 50 percent square footage ratio for retail to office, and to soften language in the village’s comprehensive plan, changing “required” to “encouraged” and “shall” to “would” in references to integration of office and retail space.
O’Brien said the applicant had met with residents of surrounding neighborhoods to discuss the proposed changes, and had sent notices to all property owners within 500 feet of Cypress Key.
Residents’ main concern pertained to the possible location of a planned traffic signal at Cypress Head Avenue, instead of the center of the development as originally planned. Other concerns included whether the area needs another grocery store and the location of a planned drive-through restaurant.
Staff recommended approval of the application, and the zoning commission had recommended approval in a 4-1 vote.
Councilman David Swift pointed out that the application would not just change the rules for Cypress Key, but any mixed-use developments in the village, although Cypress Key is the only one that currently exists.
O’Brien explained that the comp plan’s MXD language requires a specific mix of retail and office space and that the amendment would remove that requirement to allow any ratio, including all retail and no office space.
Village Manager Ray Liggins said the approved plan requires a minimum of 50 percent office space and up to 50 percent retail.
Councilman Richard Valuntas, a Cypress Head resident who had actively opposed the Cypress Key project before he was elected, said the mixed-use plan attempted to accommodate the developer, the residents and the council’s concerns.
“I didn’t appreciate it at the time, I still didn’t like it, but they did a whole lot of work to come up with this compromise,” Valuntas said.
Valuntas also noted that he did not see any record of the developer meeting with residents of the Estates, a 400-home neighborhood to the north.
Councilman Fred Pinto pointed out that the original land use was all residential. “I just want to be clear on where we’re moving the ball now,” Pinto said.
Vice Mayor Jeff Hmara noted that the mixed use employs tenets of New Urbanism touted by some planners.
Liggins said the original MXD language was crafted for Cypress Key and that the mixes of residential, retail and office were reached with compromise in mind, but could be applied to any property of 30 acres or more, developed or undeveloped.
John Kinsey of Tilloo Investment Partners, the contract purchaser of the 10-acre commercial portion of the property fronting Southern Blvd., said the mixed-use ratio of commercial applies to the entire 35-acre property.
“The entire 35 acres has a mixed use,” Kinsey said. “It allows residential and allows non-residential, which under your language is also called commercial, consisting of office, retail and services. It’s not just a mixture at the front.”
Kinsey said he thought the existing plan is an “incredibly intense” use of the property, with 125,000 square feet of commercial uses, at least half office and up to half retail.
“The language of your land development code is mandatory,” Kinsey said. “It does not say you can come in and do 10,000 square feet of office and 10,000 square feet of other commercial uses until there’s a demand for the remainder of what you want to build… If you want to build one square foot of space in that commercial space up front, you have to build all 125,000 square feet of it.”
Kinsey described the New Urbanism concept of mixed use as a nostalgic trend that harkens back to the old-time neighborhoods people remember in certain parts of the country, mostly up north, in which people could live where they work and shop. “It’s the notion of the butcher who has a shop on the first floor and lives in the space above it,” he said. “It’s supposed to encourage a sense of community.”
He said the concept has worked in some instances but not in others. “There are numerous instances, this being one of them, where it doesn’t work,” he said.
Kinsey said the notion that building residential in the back would somehow generate a demand for office space out front presupposes that people who buy those houses are going to quit the jobs that enabled them to buy in the first place, so that they can open a business of their own or go to work for a business that happened to be in the office space out front. “It doesn’t work that way,” he said.
Swift said he appreciated Kinsey’s comments about New Urbanism. “It certainly doesn’t work in South Florida, or it doesn’t work very well,” he said.
Hmara said he was having difficulty understanding how the mix of retail, office and residential use was going to be compatible with the area.
Liggins said it was a long, protracted process deciding what uses would be allowed there.
O’Brien said the scope of retail and services allowed includes art galleries, nonprofit assembly, retail bakery, beauty shop, nail salon, book or stationery store, catering, dry cleaning, florist, ice cream parlor, real estate office, bank, restaurant with drive-through and a retail store that does not exceed 20,000 square feet.
Uses that would require special exceptions include a pharmacy with a drive-through, a bank with drive-through, a green market and a public or private academic institution.
“When you look at the retail/services section, it was a combination of uses that we felt was compatible and acceptable to the surrounding area,” Liggins said, pointing out that the project failed. “I can say it failed because it never got built. The original builders weren’t able to market it. The bank has had it since 2008. Bradford and I have probably met with more people on this property in the past six years than the sum of all the other properties in Royal Palm Beach.”
Resident George Desimone of Waterview Way pointed out that the original zoning allowed for 147 homes and the existing zoning allows for 147 homes plus the 125,000 square feet of commercial.
Desimone was concerned that proposals had been discussed to move the planned traffic light on Southern Blvd. from the center of the commercial portion to Cypress Head Blvd., which he said is a primary access to residential neighborhoods in the area.
He was also concerned about a proposed grocery store. “I can only compare it to Publix, and there does seem to be a lot of traffic going in and out of there,” he said, adding that he thought K. Hovnanian, which purchased the residential portion of the development, should be more involved in the process.
Valuntas made a motion to deny the request, which carried 4-1. Swift voted against the motion, citing concerns about possible legal ramifications.
Pinto said he would like staff to look at the ordinance and, based on input from citizens, come up with a revised mixed-use concept that is not tied to a specific project.
“Do I want the property to remain vacant? No,” he said. “I’m not saying mixed use is a bad designation, but it’s bad for this particular site.”
ABOVE: The Royal Palm Beach Village Council.