The Royal Palm Beach Village Council again turned down an request by the new owners of the Cypress Key mixed-use development last week for less office space and increased retail space, including a Walmart Neighborhood Market grocery store.
The development is on the north side of State Road 7, just east of the Crestwood Square shopping plaza. The change in question was on the commercial part of the development only. The residential portion, purchased recently by K Hovnanian, is now under separate ownership.
Royal Palm Beach Planning & Zoning Director Bradford O’Brien said the application was to change certain requirements of the village’s mixed-use regulations so that the uses could be more flexibly located, rather than having office space over retail uses in the two-story plan.
Village planning staff recommended denial, and the Royal Palm Beach Planning & Zoning Commission, sitting as the Local Planning Agency, unanimously recommended denial at its Dec. 3 meeting.
The originally approved project is vested because work had been started before the recession halted its progress seven years ago.
“I don’t need to tell you this project has had a long history,” said attorney Marty Perry, representing the developer. “It began in controversy that included litigation. It resulted in an approval that is 125,000 square feet of office and retail.”
Perry explained that the first amendment submitted by the new owner received a recommendation of approval by staff, but was rejected by the council.
“They are now recommending denial, and I understand the rationale for that,” Perry said. “That’s based on recommendations that have been made subsequently by the council. When it went to the Planning & Zoning Commission it was recommended for approval. When it got to the council, it was rejected by a 4-1 vote. We went back to staff to see if we could revise the plan in some manner that could make it more acceptable not only to the council, but also to the residents. We’re here before you for two reasons, number one, in some ways to bid you adios, and in other ways just to make one final pitch here.”
Consultant Fred Angelo said he had been reaching out to the community to gain support for the project, calling on 942 people, and found that 62 percent of the people support the newly proposed project, including a grocery store, which is not in the currently approved project. He added that many of the people he surveyed would prefer a passive park along Southern Blvd., but that the traffic light at the entrance would not be warranted by the Florida Department of Transportation with just the residential element.
Traffic engineer Kyle Duncan said traffic on Southern Blvd. was destined to increase with the developments that have been approved to the west. “We need the commercial portion in order to meet that [traffic signal] warrant,” Duncan said.
Perry reiterated that the project is vested with the approval granted 10 years ago.
“We have a plan that we spent a great deal of time on,” he said. “It was well-intentioned and basically it got approved. It’s vested currently, and it could stay that way for some time because construction has commenced.”
He also resubmitted a letter from commercial real estate expert Neil Merin indicating that the market does not exist for the amount of office space allocated for the site.
“We are required to build 62,500 square feet of professional office space, and that’s part of the problem here,” Perry said. “I suspect that’s a significant part of the reason that this project has never been built previously. Granted, we went through a recessionary period that started in 2007 or 2008, but we’ve been out of it for a few years and there haven’t been any real takers to build the project as approved. The problem with this project, as Mr. Merin stated, is it needs an anchor.”
Perry said the Walmart grocery store is not the typical big-box store that people think of, but a 42,000-square-foot neighborhood market.
Perry said that Councilman Fred Pinto had suggested previously to move the grocery store to the west side, but there is no way they could make that work and, as an alternative, offered extra buffering to shield the store from homes to the east. “I think those are good compromises,” he said. “There’s not much more that we can do here.”
Perry said that residents in the area have complained about having to look at traffic on Southern Blvd. “That’s going to continue for some time to come,” he said. “I suspect that any commercial developer who takes a look at this site is… going to see what the history has been for this past year, all the difficulties it has gone through. They’re not going to come in here with the idea of wanting to build what you already have here because that would have happened before.”
He said the only other alternative might be that someone will come back with a multi-family residential plan.
Village Manager Ray Liggins said the current approval received a traffic light warrant 10 years ago with the signal at the center of the project, with interconnectivity that would bring traffic to that light.
“It was designed, permitted and bonded at one time,” Liggins said.
Councilman Richard Valuntas said that there were some positive aspects to the amended site plan request, mainly in the reduction of commercial, but that the negative aspects outweighed the positive.
“Unfortunately, the retail isn’t really changing at all, and this would allow them to put two-thirds of the retail right in the corner,” he said. “My thought process is it was bad when it was created, but it’s there, and it was created for a reason. These changes really gut the entire reason for the mixed-use district.”
Councilman David Swift reminded everyone that what was under consideration was a comprehensive plan change and pointed out that they had been talking primarily about the site plan.
Councilman Jeff Hmara said he appreciated everyone’s effort but added that he thought the new plan was not a good one. “Unless there’s a compelling reason, I’m not disposed in the direction of changing,” Hmara said.
Valuntas made a motion to deny the change, which carried 3-2, with Swift and Mayor Matty Mattioli dissenting.