RPB Zoners Object To Smaller Apartment Sizes

The Royal Palm Beach Planning & Zoning Commission, sitting as the Local Planning Agency, recommended denial Tuesday of plans to reduce the minimum square footage of apartments in the 392-unit multifamily portion of the Southern Blvd. Properties project.

The Wantman Group, representing property owners and the final developer, received land use and zoning approvals from the Royal Palm Beach Village Council on Dec. 17 to build a development with single-family and multifamily portions on about 110 acres on the south side of Southern Blvd. in the area currently known as Acme Ranches. The 392-unit apartment complex is planned for about 29 acres nearest to Southern Blvd.

The developer asked the zoning commission to recommend approval of an average of 800 square feet for one-bedroom apartments, 1,000 square feet for two-bedroom apartments and 1,215 square feet for three-bedroom apartments, which is less than the village code allows.

Site Development Coordinator Kevin Erwin said that the village code requires a minimum of 1,000 square feet for one-bedroom, 1,200 square feet for two-bedroom and 1,350 square feet for three-bedroom apartments, but under Florida Statutes, the minimum square footage can be waived through a developer’s agreement.

Erwin added that village staff is not recommending approval, but the developer contended that the community will have extra features, such as open space, a large pool, tennis and volleyball courts, walking paths and outdoor gathering areas to make up for the reduced floor space.

“In order to achieve the desired amount of amenities and spacing for the proposed development, a reduction to the size of several of the multifamily units is being requested,” Erwin said, quoting the applicant. “The reduction in size is needed to address demand within the current housing market as families and individuals seek to maximize their relationship with their local community and outdoor experiences, rather than desiring to live in housing with excessive levels of space and impervious land area.”

Erwin said that village staff disagrees with the developer’s contention that the project will meet or exceed a majority of village code requirements.

“One of the things that they’re saying is that it will provide more than the code requires for open space and recreation space,” he said. “It’s very minimally above the minimum open space requirement by village code. Staff doesn’t feel that is an offset sufficient to warrant a developer’s agreement.”

Erwin added that the developer’s contention that it is adding amenities to the apartments are actually amenities that are common in apartments, regardless of the size.

Erwin also took issue with a precedent cited by the developer.

“The Enclave, if you recall, was allowed to reduce the unit sizes. However, that development had an important difference,” he said. “They had an extra four or five acres of outdoor open space and recreational opportunities, which was pretty close to double the requirement for that development.”

Angela Biagi with the Wantman Group said that the developers are asking for zoning of 18 units per acre, which went through preliminary approval by the council on Dec. 17, but they are actually closer to the village’s 12 units per acre density standard.

“We have 13.1 units per acre, which is self-imposing that density on the project, and that’s going to be a condition of our land use application,” Biagi said. “Because of this, we have additional land area with which to provide some of the amenities. This community is really going to be a high-end luxury community with a lot of resort-style amenities.”

She noted that the builder for the project is the Related Group, which is well-known in South Florida for innovative architecture and high-end apartments and condominiums.

Max Cruz with the Related Group said that since 2011, land costs have increased about 14 percent, while construction costs have increased 15 percent.

“Income growth during the same period has increased only 5 percent, so it’s critical that to deliver the highest-quality living, to look into units to justify the price for a luxury rental market,” Cruz said. “They don’t want oversized homes but amenities that will let them escape within the community.”

Commissioner Richard Becher asked why a market survey was not part of the submittal.

“What do we have to go by but our code, which we have to follow?” Becher asked. “There is no documentation to support your position.”

Commissioner Jackie Larson said that she was not sure the proposal is a good fit with the village.

“I’m sure what you’re presenting is lovely, and I’m sure other communities are successful, but you are in Royal Palm Beach. We have a number of things that are specific to Royal Palm Beach because we want it this way. This is a family community. You’re looking at people who want that extra space.”

Commission Chair Joseph Boyle said that the commission could only recommend what is allowable under the village code. “We don’t have the right as our group to say that our code is bad,” Boyle said, adding that the square footage is a drastic reduction to the village code.

Becher made a motion to deny the application, which carried 4-0.