By Briana D’Andrea
After going around in circles for more than 10 years, the current developers of the Plaza at Cypress Key have not yet come up with a plan that is acceptable to Royal Palm Beach zoning officials.
The Royal Palm Beach Planning & Zoning Commission denied the revised application submitted by the site’s new owners at a local planning agency meeting Wednesday, Dec. 3.
Representatives of the Cypress Key development went before the board asking for permission to modify requirements related to the mixed-use development, as well as a number of requests regarding text amendments to the village’s zoning code.
The parcel is located on Southern Blvd., just east of Crestwood Blvd. between the Crestwood Square shopping plaza and the Cypress Head neighborhood.
This site has long been a touchy subject for many members of both the zoning commission and the Royal Palm Beach Village Council, as well as neighboring residents. So far, it has been in the hands of two different developers, after sitting stagnant for a number of years.
The initial 35-acre site plan was presented to the council in 2004 and was slated as a strictly residential project. However, in an effort to dodge a lawsuit from the original property owner, it was agreed to construct the site half commercial and half residential.
The residential site is currently under development by K. Hovnanian, and the commercial site was intended to be 125,000 total square feet, with half dedicated to general commercial and the other half for general office.
Earlier this year, the applicant asked to remove a requirement to include office space throughout the commercial development site, claiming it is too difficult to adhere to the limitations on the commercial uses. That request was denied back in March.
More recently, in August of this year, attorney for the applicant Martin Perry addressed the council with a revised proposal to include office space, although the percentage was less than the zoning requirements, a Walmart grocery store and pharmacy, as well as both a sit-down and fast-food restaurant. Additionally, the plan called for extensive buffering.
That proposal didn’t make it through, either. There was cause for concern regarding the amount of square footage it would take to create the project.
Development Review Coordinator Kevin Erwin recommended denial of the newly proposed project yet again at the local planning agency meeting last week.
“This applicant has been here once before with a similar but not the same application, which was denied,” Erwin said. “The applicant is proposing an amendment to modify the multi-purpose building and use integration requirement, as well as to require 25 percent of non-residential square footage to be vertically integrated with residential uses over office or retail uses.”
Some other items the applicant was hoping to get approved were the removal of both minimum and maximum FAR (floor area ratio) requirements. The proposal was to have a minimum of 15 percent and a maximum of 85 percent when it came to office space, and the retail portion to have a minimum of 50 percent and a maximum of 85 percent. Additionally, they proposed to change the total commercial FAR requirements to not exceed 0.05 percent of the total project. As it stands, the FAR is 0.082. This would limit the entire project to 76,000 feet from 128,000 feet.
Lastly, the applicant proposed to add two new grocery store definitions to the mixed use development district.
The second item up for a vote was a proposal to change the list of permitted and special exemption uses. These included a copying service, electronic sales, gift shop, grocery store, newsstand, optical store, child-care center and restaurant with a drive-through.
“Staff recommends denial of this application, since the amendment does not maintain the original concept intent of a mixed-use development with an office use to be 50 percent of the square footage,” Erwin said.
Perry said he and his client have been working diligently over the past year or so to come up with a plan that will work for everyone.
“We’ve had another meeting with the council, and there was no real change in the attitude of the council, and we had neighborhood meetings,” he said. “We’ve continued to try to work with the neighborhood. The Ross family agreed to purchase the site, but what was approved just wouldn’t work, and we’ve tried to make text amendments. This is probably to lay dormant for another period of time, and that’s not going to do anybody any good.”
Perry said they had hired real estate expert Neil Merin to assess the area, and he found that there was about 332,000 square feet of unoccupied and available office space, with about a 25,000-square-foot absorption rate for office space over the past five years.
Meanwhile, the average time to lease vacant space was about two years with a 13.5 percent over supply of office space, Perry said. “That’s the real problem here. This project is too intense for office,” he said. “You need to have an anchor store to make any of these things successful.”
Perry said the applicant was hoping to expand the limitation of 20,000 square feet per business to 42,500 to accommodate a grocery store. “We’re looking to reduce the amount of office space, because we don’t think it makes any sense to build something that nobody needs or wants,” he said.
The proposed breakdown included 10,798 square feet or 15 percent office space, 42,096 square feet for a grocery store, 9,202 square feet for retail, 5,500 square feet for a sit-down restaurant and 4,388 square feet for a fast-food restaurant, for a total of 71,984 square feet.
The project envisions a Walmart Neighborhood Market grocery store as the project’s anchor.
Land development consultant Mike Sanchez added that there are several challenges the developers have faced with the existing site plan. He said the requirement that all buildings within the non-residential portions of a mixed use development be multi-use buildings is a problem.
“Anchor tenants are necessary and may not co-locate with other uses,” he said. “Our proposed solution is to require a minimum of 25 percent of office in multi-use buildings.”
The second issue the owners had was the minimum when it came to office requirements. With Cypress Key, the minimum requirements are 63,000 square feet of only office space. Sanchez recommended only 15 percent of non-residential building square footage provided to be office use.
Several residents attended the meeting to oppose the project.
“We believe it will have a negative impact on our neighborhood, and we would like to keep the quality of our neighborhood,” said Carol Sheets, a Cypress Head resident. “There’s a bus stop for our children nearby. I’d ask you to vote as if it was your home and your children and your neighborhood.”
Chairman Richard Becher, as well as the other members of the board, were opposed to the new proposal.
“This would alter the intent and purposes of the MXD (Mixed Use Developmental District),” he said. “I feel that it would not meet with the intent of the basic MXD code. I will be voting against the request.”
Commissioner Joseph Boyle agreed.
“While you have reduced the square footage, you’ve increased retail space,” he said. “This would tell me it would be a retail shopping center. We don’t really have the characteristics that were originally intended.”
The application was denied 4-0.