By Briana D’Andrea
A new commercial development site on State Road 7 is moving forward after the Royal Palm Beach Planning & Zoning Commission approved a number of variances but denied another.
The 10.6-acre property up for discussion at the Oct. 28 meeting is located on the southeast corner of Pioneer Road and SR 7 north of Toys ‘R’ Us.
Donaldson Hearing of Cotleur & Hearing spoke on behalf of the applicant, Pebb Enterprises, who asked for permission to build what he said would be a 20-foot landscape buffer along the northern boundary of the site, although code requires a 25-foot landscape buffer.
“On our northern boundary, there is actually a 25-foot piece of land that basically separates Pioneer Road from our property. So, our property only has a small window on Pioneer Road. We’re proposing a 20-foot buffer,” Hearing said.
But neighboring residents of the Westwood community, just north of the property, were unhappy with the plan.
Elyce Werner, president of Westwood Property Owners Association, said she has a problem with change, along with potential additional parking spaces.
“There is a berm there, 25 feet. Five feet may not seem like a lot, but that’s a lot when you have residential homes on Pioneer Road,” she said. “So, I completely disagree with not adding that 5 feet. Why should they have a special exception?”
Sandra Upright, a director of the association, said it’s necessary to keep the area as beautiful as it can be. “Reducing it from 25 to 20 will have an impact on Pioneer Road, especially if they put up lighting,” she said.
Hearing went on to say that the plan calls for maximizing the buffers with green space, in an effort to be good neighbors. “Your staff can tell you that. I think we probably have 30 or 40 percent more planting in that buffer,” he said. “We didn’t reduce any planting; we just reduced the width, because we have a buffer contiguous with a buffer.”
Hearing added that the buffer exceeds quantities of greenery and open space in terms of code.
“Your code requires 20 percent green space; we have 49 percent, so two and half times the requirement of your code,” he said. “If our property went all the way up to Pioneer Road, we would only be required 25 feet, so our 25 feet plus their 20 feet equals 45 feet. We have a berm there as required by the code; we’ve actually compensated for having 5 less feet at that location by putting substantially more plant material.”
Commissioner Michael Axelberd said he thought the design of the center was one of the best-looking he’s seen in Royal Palm Beach, but that didn’t mean he’s not concerned with the neighbors’ opinions.
“The reduction of 25 feet to 20 feet — I know you said it’s 45 feet, but I would much prefer you to submit it with 25 feet of your own since that’s our variance,” he said.
Axelberd made a motion to deny the buffer reduction to 20 feet. It passed 4-1, with Chairman Richard Becher dissenting.
Another variance was proposed to eliminate the parallel divider strips located directly in front of the inline retail stores and in the three rows of parking located between the retail outparcels, which are adjacent to SR 7. Code requires there be divider strips parallel to the long dimensions of the parking space every 12 spaces. This eliminates a number of parking islands in the lot.
“We have the same amount of green space, we have 49 percent; we just aggregate that to the perimeter, so that we could have larger areas to grow bigger trees around the perimeter of the site,” Hearing said. “We could meet the code; this is just better planning, and your staff agrees.”
The variance to eliminate the strips won unanimous approval.
Additionally, Hearing asked for a variance to allow for 91 off-street parking spaces in the rear of the facility to be used primarily for services and deliveries. As it stands, the code allows for only 43 off-street parking spaces in the area for a planned commercial development.
“I get kind of nervous when I hear about trucks driving in areas where employees and customers may be, and the interspersing of people walking where commercial trucks are,” Axelberd said.
According to Hearing, moving the parking to the side and back of the building would help to eliminate the “sea of parking.”
“We have 25 percent of our parking on the side and rear of the building. The code says 10 percent. We want to get as much parking out of the public view as possible. The parking rate is one space for 200 square feet for retail; that’s exceptionally high. At Toys ’R’ Us, we actually have shared parking there, and we still have many parking spaces that have never been used even during the holiday rush. At this rate, we have more than enough,” he said, adding that this type of plan would be more visually appealing.
That variance passed 4-1, with Axelberd opposed.
Finally, Hearing requested site plan, special exemption and architectural approval for the commercial development site with a number of changes brought to the table.
As far as access to the proposed site, Hearing said the plan calls for multiple access points. He proposed an in-only access point at the signalized intersection at Pioneer Road.
“We’re not really contiguous to a right of way,” he said. “We’re seeking the ability to gain access to Pioneer Road. We believe it’s in the best interest of Pioneer Road, but residents of Westwood were opposed and Palm Beach County chose not to proceed with that. We went back, and we worked with your village staff and the Lake Worth Drainage District. So, we worked together to create a one way in.”
He said that under this proposal, drivers would be able to come into the plaza without going back out on SR 7.
The site calls for three retail buildings, two of which measure at 6,600 square feet and another at 71,800 square feet. Hearing called it “a truly spectacular project, that has a more contemporary feel with landscaping nicely articulated.”
The plan also called for the existing cell tower to be moved.
“It will be relocated to the back corner of the building; right now it’s in the center,” Hearing said. “It won’t be any bigger than it is today, and it won’t look as obnoxious. We will have a berm and a wall and the same amount of planting on the backside of the wall.”
Commissioner Jackie Larson said she likes the project but has a problem with granting variances. “I’ve always had a problem with variances, because we have codes. I realize you need to be a bit flexible. The problem I see when you choose to grant them, you end up granting them over and over again, and sometimes to the same applicants,” she said.
Commissioner Joseph Boyle said the codes are there for a reason. “The first thing you have to do is respect Royal Palm Beach residents and the public policy that they chose,” he said. “When I look at a variance, I have to see a need in my mind, not just that you’d like to do something else.”
Hearing replied by stating that the plan substantially exceeds the overall code.
“In no way am I trying to disrespect Royal Palm Beach or its policies,” he said. “What we’re providing to you is good advice… to make sure that we don’t over-park and that you should be green. I want to be able to present to you the planning rationale behind it, and that’s why your staff supports it.”
Boyle said that variances are not the solution.
“My concern is that we have a code and if your professional advice is our code’s defective, don’t look for a variance, look for a change to our codes,” he said, “because if we’re wrong with you, we’re wrong with everyone else.”
Hearing said that if the zoning board did not support the plan as proposed, “it will impact our site plan in an adverse way. It could mean we wouldn’t meet the parking. We would take it to the village council and see what they say, and we would ask for your support.”
The plan was approved 5-0, with a condition that the developers add 5 feet to the north buffer, to make it a full 25 feet.