Royal Palm Council Approves New Commons Park Master Plan

The Royal Palm Beach Village Council approved updated plans for Royal Palm Beach Commons Park earlier this month that include a dog park and a revised location for a future senior living facility.

However, council members raised concerns at a meeting June 5 that the plans do not include ample shade for the dog park and would result in the demolition of the Harvin Center.

Planning & Zoning Director Bradford O’Brien said the improvements also include a flying disc golf course, great lawn lighting, a pedestrian connection to Heron Parkway, great lawn bathroom facilities, a great lawn stage, a three-hole golf course, a new 12-foot perimeter trail to the north, future community gardens, future expanded parking areas, a future miniature golf course, a future fitness area and future driving range netting.

The immediate items in the list are anticipated to be completed in one phase, and the items listed as “future” will be completed as financing becomes available. A planned adult congregate living facility (ACLF) would be built when a private developer is found.

The 10-acre ACLF site has been moved from south of the entrance off Royal Palm Beach Blvd. to the north side, and a 9.3-acre site was designated for overflow parking to the south of the entrance, O’Brien said. The area designated for the dog park will have a gated dog wash, a dog watering station, three fenced play areas, shaded picnic pavilions, benches and handicapped parking.

Councilman Fred Pinto asked whether the future ACLF could be built without tearing down the Harvin Center, and Village Manager Ray Liggins said the facility site is in the area where the Harvin Center is located.

“I’d like us to not move quickly on that,” Pinto said. “We’ve got a lot of land out there. I’m sure we could find a way to fit in an assisted-living facility without tearing down the Harvin Center.”

Pinto said there has been discussion over the past several months about nonprofit organizations such as veterans’ groups needing a place to meet. He noted that when they originally looked at putting in Commons Park, the area south of the entrance drive, now designated for overflow parking, was designated for nonprofit use.

“We had in our original plan a concept to have a nonprofit facility available to accommodate multiple nonprofits,” Pinto said. “Why tear down a perfectly good building like the Harvin Center? Why not make that the facility to house nonprofits? We have plenty of land out there. We could find sufficient land to locate our assisted-living facility.”

Vice Mayor David Swift said the ACLF would not happen in the near future, but was reluctant to give over the Harvin Center to nonprofits. “Once you get those organizations in there, you’ll never get them out,” he said. “They’ll just be grandfathered in.”

Swift also asked how the village would select some nonprofits to the exclusion of others.

Pinto replied that he thought the village could find a rational approach to allow specific nonprofits, but the issue before the council was the master plan for the park.

“I don’t want a plan that says we’re going to tear down the building and get rid of it. I think we should keep the building,” he said. “I think we can craft a strategy that is appropriate to put it in service for our nonprofits, and I think we have plenty of space to still build the assisted-living facility.”

Councilman Jeff Hmara said he did not believe the master plan would preclude finding alternative locations for organizations such as the American Legion and the Caribbean-Americans for Community Involvement. “There are a lot of possible permutations and options, and I would rather not stall the approval of this plan for any one of those things,” Hmara said.

Councilman Richard Valuntas pointed out that there was once a plan for a 9-hole golf course that is no longer there, that there is now a plan for a dog park that was not in the original plan, and so far there are no takers to build the ACLF.

“The Harvin Center could be there for the next 20 years,” Valuntas said. “If things change, we could do like we did with the golf course and just change it.”

He pointed out that a potential ACLF developer would be more likely to look at the park if it were on the site plan than if it were not.

“If it’s not on the site plan, I would think they would be less inclined to contact us, so I don’t have a problem with the site plan as it is,” Valuntas said.

Pinto said having the eventual demolition of the Harvin Center in the master plan makes it more likely to happen. “The reality is the site plan gives the engineers the go-ahead,” he said.

Village Engineer Chris Marsh said that if the Harvin Center were to be demolished, it would come back before the council, but Pinto said the current council members may not be sitting on the council when that happens.

Liggins said the main thrust of the master plan was to locate overflow parking south of the entrance, which is more logical, and that the entire 10 acres on the north side is needed for the ACLF site.

Swift added that the Harvin Center is in bad shape and will need to be rebuilt at some point. He also said that the dog park does not include enough shade in the Phase 1 plan, although there are shade structures shown in the master plan.

“The big issue I have is that dog parks are not for dogs,” he said. “Dog parks are for people who own dogs and come to recreate their dogs. When they come on July 1 and it’s 100 degrees out there and there’s no shade, you’re not going to have happy campers.”

Swift said he hoped the council would discuss moving shade and other items into Phase 1 during budget discussions beginning on July 8. “I would highly recommend that we go ahead and find the money somewhere to do this,” he said.

Valuntas made a motion to approve the master plan as presented, and it carried 4-1 with Pinto opposed.