The Royal Palm Beach Village Council approved a variance request last week for the proposed senior housing facility in the Cypress Key mixed-use development project along Southern Blvd.
The request asked for the allowance of the front façade of the proposed facility to not face a collector or arterial street to count toward meeting the village code.
At the Thursday, Oct. 19 meeting, Christopher Ressler of Studio Plus said that the guidelines for such facilities limit outside interaction.
“We’re actually prohibited to having streets too close to our windows or any sort of outside interaction because it’s not appropriate for the nature of the residents,” he said. “So, that is why we are reducing the glazing and having the entrance more consistent with the west side in the master plan.”
Ressler added that the first floor of the proposed senior housing facility will primarily house Alzheimer’s patients and patients with special-care needs.
The second part of the variance request asked to only have to comply with one out of three village code design features. Normally, the code requires that two of the three be implemented in the master plan of this type of mixed-use development. The proposal provides a projected covered public entry with a minimum of 25 percent of the wall space devoted to windows, which will not face toward an arterial or collector street.
The plan does not provide the two other normally required features of windows at a minimum of 40 percent of the affected façade or a covered walkway attached to the facility.
Vice Mayor Richard Valuntas wanted clarification regarding this part of the variance request.
“How is limiting or reducing the number of windows going to help… the patients as far as their security goes,” he asked.
Ressler explained that the requirements are coming from the large facilities section of the code. And, in the variance, the request states that those types of design features encourage public engagement with the facility, which is not the intention for the senior housing facility and the nature of the patient rooms, specifically on the first floor.
“We have a larger than your typical-size window for each of the residents’ rooms, but we do not meet the 40 percent glazing, which is more along the lines of what you would see on a nice commercial storefront, which is big storefront glass, where almost half of your wall is window,” Ressler said. “What we are recommending is much more in line with a residential facility.”
Councilwoman Selena Smith wanted to confirm that each residential living situation had a window throughout in the site plan.
“It’s required by law to have windows for our residents’ rooms,” Ressler replied. “Like I said, these are large, residential-style windows. They’re just not at the 40 percent of a wall that you would get from a large, storefront window.”
Councilwoman Jan Rodusky asked Ressler to explain why Alzheimer’s patients and memory care patients are situated on the first floor and not the second floor.
“In case of a need for evacuation, it’s much easier to control, and it’s much easier to get them out in the required timelines from the state, in case there is, God forbid, a fire in the building,” Ressler answered.
Mayor Fred Pinto asked about backup generator guidelines. A new mandate was set in place by Gov. Rick Scott regarding generators at senior living facilities following fatalities at a Broward County nursing home after Hurricane Irma.
“We will be required to meet all of the new guidelines,” Ressler said. “We’re working through that now. My client has many of these facilities across the state and the country, so they are revising that because they will be required to meet the 72 hours for designated areas.”
Ressler said the master plan implemented screened-in backup generators prior to the new state mandate.
“That is going to be one of the issues that is taken up in the next legislative session, because what we’re dealing with right now is an emergency order from the governor,” Councilman Jeff Hmara said.
Hmara made a motion to approve the variance request for the planned senior housing facility at Cypress. It was seconded by Smith and passed unanimously.
In a related matter, the council also approved the building architecture for the Cypress Key senior housing facility after a public hearing. The building architecture met the standards set in the village code for structures larger than 20,000 square feet, with the exception of the approved variance.
Pinto asked when Ressler thought the facility would be open for business.
“That’s up to Palm Beach County Fire-Rescue right now,” Ressler said. “We just got our comments today after submitting in August. So, once we respond to those, hopefully we will get an approval from them, and get it into your building department before the end of the year and start construction early next year.”
In other business, the council approved an amendment to the village code for maximum occupancy and recreation requirements for senior housing facilities. Village staff recommended this change after Planning & Zoning Commissioner Richard Becher made comments about the proposed persons per bed in one room at the proposed senior housing facility planned by Hunt Midwest on Okeechobee Blvd.
“The way the code was reading, there could be four people per room,” Village Attorney Jennifer Ashton said. “We, of course, do not want that to happen, given that these rooms are tiny. The one change tonight will be to make it clear that there will only be two people per bedroom at any one time.”
Staff also recommended a change to the recreation requirements, such as providing tennis courts or shuffle board courts. In the Hunt Midwest site plan, none of these types of recreation facilities will be present, and a zoning text amendment was initially passed to limit these types of facilities to one for the proposed site plan.
“Under the old code, they would have had to provide a minimum of two,” Ashton said. “We allowed the text amendment to go forward and be finalized because that was an applicant-driven text amendment, but since their site plan doesn’t incorporate any of those things, staff would like to add those back in.”
This part of the code affects assisted living and independent living facilities. However, the new amendment to the code will not affect Hunt Midwest’s already proposed site plan.
Rodusky made a motion to amend village code for maximum occupancy and recreation requirements for senior housing facilities, seconded by Hmara. It passed unanimously.