By Paul L. Gaba
The Royal Palm Beach Village Council approved a series of site plan alterations for an under-construction shopping center at the southeast corner of State Road 7 and Pioneer Road on Thursday, July 16.
The biggest issue was a reduction in the number of parking spaces required on the 10.6-acre parcel of land — from 454 to 407.
Construction on the approved commercial development started last November. But since that time, the project grew from 85,177 square feet to 90,700 square feet, due to requests by two of the incoming tenants. This led to the requested reduction of parking spaces.
A lengthy, detailed presentation by architect Donaldson Hearing and property owner Jared Weiner of Pebb Enterprises about the merits of reducing the code-required number of parking spaces on the site swayed the council to approve four variance requests, against the recommendation of both village staff and the Royal Palm Beach Planning & Zoning Commission.
Planning & Zoning Administrator Bradford O’Brien said the reason for his department’s disapproval was in part because the applicant had “brought the variance need upon itself” by reducing the number of parking spaces through increasing the size and scope of the previously approved construction project. “More square footage equals less parking,” O’Brien said.
The primary reason for seeking a variance was because one of the national stores that signed a 10-year lease — discount retailer Tuesday Morning — required more space than initially allotted to one of the north bays. In order to achieve the space, Pebb Enterprises consolidated three north bays to two, and added 5,523 square feet to the store. This led to the reduction of available parking spaces along the north side of the structure and behind the building, and the subsequent variance request.
In addition, the southernmost bay — leased to Tide for a “green” dry cleaning store — had to be modified to add a drive-through option. This led to the removal of a rear sidewalk and several employee-specific rear parking spots.
“This type of change is typical when dealing with first-class tenants,” Hearing said. “We had many applicants to be there, but we focused on specific [national] tenants that have specific synergies that are part of their strategic plan. This is what is driving our request for a variance, and we believe it has a lot of justification.”
Other national chains that have signed lease agreements include TJ Maxx, Shoe Carnival and Michaels.
In making his variance request to the council, Hearing used a variety of studies and standards used in other communities when calculating needed parking spaces, including data from the Institute of Transportation Engineers and the Urban Land Institute. He noted that, while the request of a variance to 4.48 parking spaces per 1,000 square feet of usage was below the village code’s mandate of five per 1,000, neighboring sites, such as the Toys ‘R’ Us and Isla Verde plazas, have an even lower ratio.
In addition, a traffic study done on two separate days in March at the nearby plazas showed that the number of shoppers on those days were far below the required code parking needs, even though it was in the middle of the winter season.
“You’ve provided an interesting analysis,” Councilman Fred Pinto said. “I think we’re comfortable with our parking code. I consider our village to be a special place, and one thing the our code collectively does for us is let us maintain a high quality of life. I’m just putting this in context; what you’re presenting sounds like a silent indictment of our code.”
However, Pinto did not want to discourage the project.
“I’m compelled that the business issue makes sense for a variance, even though it’s not a typical reason for a variance,” he said. “We have to be careful; we want to be proactively supportive of businesses, but avoid everyone getting the message that we’re giving out variances like candy.”
Councilman Jeff Hmara said that it was his understanding that the 5-per-1,000 code was because restaurants require more parking spaces than traditional stores, and that he would approve the variance request with the understanding that no restaurants would be part of the inline building.
There will be restaurants in two smaller structures on the property, but not part of the major inline building, Hearing said. Those restaurants are slated to be Habitat Burger, Tijuana Flats and Fresh Kitchen.
The council approved the overall parking reduction variance request, along with requests to reduce parking behind the structure, allow signage on both the front and back of the smaller parcels, and to add the 5,523 square feet of building space onto the north part of the plaza.
ABOVE: The Royal Palm Beach Village Council.