RPB Council To New Cypress Key Owner: Work With Your Neighbors

Representatives of the planned Cypress Key development on Southern Blvd. heard mixed messages from Royal Palm Beach Village Council members last month.

At the Aug. 21 meeting, the council saw updated development plans for Cypress Key, which would include less office space than originally approved, as well as a grocery store larger than the allowed square footage.

Cypress Key representatives sought feedback from council members after an amendment request was denied in March and the new application appeared to be headed toward a negative staff recommendation.

In March, the council rejected an application for a land-use amendment to strip the office requirement from the commercial portion of the development and allow it to be all retail services. The decision came even though the new property owner pledged that the proposal would have a lower density than the original mixed-use site plan approved nearly 10 years ago.

Village Manager Ray Liggins said the mixed-use category was created by the village for the 35-acre site, which has approval for residential use along the back, and retail and office space fronting Southern Blvd.

The land’s original use was residential, but in the face of a lawsuit, the village negotiated with the original property owner to arrive at a mixed use with a commercial component made up of 50 percent retail and 50 percent office space. No single retail use can be more than 20,000 square feet.

“They’re trying to make the non-residential component work in today’s market, with the limited and restricted retail,” Liggins said. “With a minimum requirement of 50 percent office, it’s a difficult project to fund. There is no large anchor to put there because of the limitation of 20,000 square feet.”

Liggins pointed out that the council had made it clear in March that an application with no office space was not acceptable.

Attorney Martin Perry, representing developer Cypress Key LLC, said he was hired after the council denied the first application.

Perry said the developer hired commercial real estate expert Neil Merin, who found that there is 325,000 square feet of vacant office space in the western communities, and the annual absorption rate has been just under 25,000 square feet over the last five years. That means there is more than a 13-year supply of office space, not counting 92,000 square feet of office space that has been approved but not built.

Perry said the developer is proposing less than the minimum approved office space, located primarily on the second floor of the buildings along the entrance to the development, and a 42,000-square-foot Walmart grocery store and pharmacy, as well as a sit-down and a fast-food restaurant with a drive-through.

“You need an anchor for something like this to make it successful,” he said, explaining that extensive buffering would be put in place to conceal the store’s loading docks, and that service trucks would be required to enter and exit through the main entrance so they do not interfere with residential traffic.

Buffering on the east side of the development at Cypress Head Blvd. had been increased to more than 100 feet, as well as significant buffering from the residential element with pedestrian connections, Perry said.

Perry added that the Walmart grocery store is a new concept to serve the neighborhood, rather than attract clientele from farther away. “Even though it’s above the 20,000-square-foot limitation, it’s still intended to be neighborhood-serving,” he said.

After working with staff on the most current application, Perry said he felt compelled to ask the council its position.

“This thing has sat for 10 years now,” he said. “The prospect is how much longer do you want to sit and look at it?”

Vice Mayor Dave Swift said he did not believe that anything built there that meets the mixed-use criteria would be successful, and he did not object to adding a grocery store.

“In my opinion, what Mr. Perry is presenting makes sense,” Swift said, explaining that he liked the concept of local residents being able to walk out their door to shop at a grocery store.

Swift noted that he had visited an area Walmart grocery store and explained to Walmart representatives that the village was concerned about noise and traffic.

“They will work with us as much as they possibly can,” he said, pointing out that there are thousands of vehicles that go up and down adjacent Southern Blvd. every day. “It’s not exactly a pristine forest. I don’t think this use is all that bad. We need to put something there that makes sense.”

Councilman Richard Valuntas did not share that opinion.

“As someone who lives in the neighborhood next door, I just want to make clear, this is something you have vested rights in,” Valuntas said. “You have vested rights to build 60,000 square feet of retail. What you want to do is make a building that is bigger than is permissible, and you want to cram three-quarters of all your permissible retail on the corner closest to where people live.”

Valuntas recommended that the developer “build what you bought.”

Regarding the location, Perry said that was why they had developed extensive buffering along Cypress Head Ave., and explained that they would have concentrated the commercial on the other end of the site, but extensive construction work was already in the ground.

“We can’t switch it around,” Perry said. “We’re stuck with what it is.”

Councilman Fred Pinto pointed out that he was the lone negative vote when the original development was approved.

“I’m not happy that nine years later, all the reasons I did not support this have come to fruition,” Pinto said. “You’re telling me there is no market for this in this configuration. We put a new ordinance on the books just to accommodate a specific development. That’s always a slippery slope to go on.”

Pinto recommended making the necessary investment to flip the project and put the commercial concentration away from the homes to the east.

Councilman Jeff Hmara agreed that flipping the project seemed to make more sense, but was concerned about the amount of time already spent on the project.

“This has been a rather tortured effort on everybody’s part,” Hmara said. “I think everyone should be complimented for trying to find a way out of a difficult configuration that we sort of evolved into.”

Valuntas said his neighbors like the proposed reduction in square footage from 125,000 square feet to about 70,000, but the concentration of commercial on the east end is a big issue.

Swift said he did not know whether a workshop with residents, the developer and the council would help move the project forward.

“You’ve already got infrastructure in the ground,” he said. “It would be extremely expensive to change.”

He said the key would be getting the residents to agree to it.

“Unless you can show them on a map that this is how it relates to where they live, I don’t think we’ll ever build anything there,” Swift concluded.