By Paul L. Gaba
A requested parking variance for a shopping plaza already under construction will go to the Royal Palm Beach Village Council without the blessing of its Planning & Zoning Commission.
The debate over proposed parking spaces took up the majority of the commission’s June 25 meeting, with the commissioners voting twice to not accept the request by architect Donaldson Hearing and property owner Jared Wiener of Pebb Enterprises. But the matter still advances to the council for consideration at its July 16 meeting.
At issue is the number of parking spaces required on the 10.568-acre parcel of land on the southeast corner of State Road 7 and Pioneer Road. Construction on an approved commercial development has already started, after the council approved the project in November. But since then, the project grew from 85,177 square feet to 90,700 square feet, due to requests by two of the incoming tenants.
Royal Palm Beach’s codes require five parking spaces per 1,000 square feet of floor space. According to Development Review Coordinator Kevin Erwin, under the original plan, the applicants were requesting a reduction of 47 parking spaces, from 454 to 407. Part of this reduction would be from reducing spaces at the rear of the building from 91 to 78.
But after a long presentation and debate, the commission voted 3-2 against both proposals, with Commission Chair Joseph Boyle, Commissioner Michael Axelberd and Commission Alternate Patrick Lynch voting no each time. A third request, to modify the site plan and add the extra 5,523 square feet, was rejected without discussion, since the parking issues directly affected that request.
In making his pitch to the commission, 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, and said Royal Palm Beach’s requirement is antiquated.
“The national standard is around four spaces per 1,000 square feet, and Royal Palm Beach’s codes require five per 1,000 square feet,” Hearing said. “We are requesting a variance to 4.48, and when you look at neighboring sites, they all are below the required amount. It’s 4.32 for Toys ’R’ Us, and 4.33 at Isla Verde.”
Hearing said the national stores coming in — TJ Maxx, Michael’s, Shoe Carnival and Tuesday Morning — have very specific standards. “They demand four per 1,000. That’s what they know they need,” he said. “If they felt it was inadequate, they’d make their concerns known.”
The applicant noted that the Toys ’R’ Us property, which is directly south of the Pioneer Park development, is under the same ownership, which allows for flow-through parking options. This reduces the need for parking at the new construction site, Hearing said.
The parking concern came up because project coordinators needed to increase the size of the northern bay, where Tuesday Morning is planning to set up shop, as well as add a drive-through option on its south side, where a Tide “green” dry cleaning facility is to be located. The changes cut into some of the initial parking spots, and necessitated removing a 6-foot sidewalk in the back employee parking area.
Erwin said those requests were not supported by village staff for a variety of reasons.
“We don’t believe our code is antiquated. Our code takes types of uses typically found in shopping centers and similar areas,” Erwin said. “If you don’t have enough parking, it makes it difficult to replace tenants if they close out, because it doesn’t allow for flexibility. Also, the conditions for the variance [request] do not stem from the application; the applicant has requested modifications, but we believe they could rearrange what has been approved.”
Boyle said that while he understood the developer’s position, the commission did not have the authority to change village code.
“The village code requires 454 parking spaces [for this project], and whether or not it’s the best code, it is the code,” he said. “We, as a commission, can only look at the code and see if the variance requirement is met. Only the village council can change the code. If that’s the case, you would need to follow the process with staff and the council to change the code. And if it’s changed, you wouldn’t need the variance.”
Boyle also challenged the idea that increasing the square footage should be accompanied by a reduction in parking spaces.
“This quantification of what is needed is counterintuitive to me,” he said. “You don’t reduce the number of parking spaces when you add floor space. You need more parking, not less.”
Axelberd was concerned about the studies commissioned by Hearing, which looked at parking trends in March 2015.
“I don’t think you can truly compare parking needs in March with the month of December,” Axelberd said of the studies performed by Kimley-Horn & Associates. “I am not sure if this is enough parking. Honestly, on those busy days — Black Friday and the holiday season — I’d want as much space as possible, if I were a retailer.”
The rear parking issue centered on removing the 6-foot sidewalk in order to add a drive-through on the south side for the proposed dry cleaning facility. Erwin noted that, while the reduced parking totals would still be a higher percentage of overall parking than the code allows, it is still a reduction of needed parking when factoring in the increase of square footage — and the loss of a sidewalk to boot.
“Previously, 21 percent of the parking was in the rear, but there could be instances where not just employees are parking in the rear,” Erwin said. “The new proposal, there’s 19 fewer spaces, which would be 17.18 percent, and while that is more than the 10 percent allowed by code, you’re still reducing the total number of spaces available.”
He added that, while the code says such buildings need only one sidewalk for 10 percent, if it’s larger, more sidewalks are required. “It’s a minimum requirement,” Erwin said.
Hearing said the rear parking question was “a minor request,” noting that customers traditionally do not park in the back of such buildings.
“There was a sidewalk planned there, but it would never have functionally served to bring customers from the back,” Hearing said. “Those spaces are for employees, who will be able to enter their stores in the back. I would urge you to consider, when was the last time you, as a customer, parked in the back of this type of building?”