RPB Seeks Public Input Regarding The Future Of State Road 7

TCRPC Project Manager Dana Little addresses residents at Nov. 17 workshop.

During the height of the pandemic, with the Regal Cinemas on State Road 7 shuttered and no return to normalcy in sight, the owners of the property informally approached the Village of Royal Palm Beach with an idea to change the village’s comprehensive plan to allow developers to raze the theater and replace it with residential apartments.

While that particular request did not move forward, village officials anticipate similar requests as developers respond to lower demand for brick-and-mortar stores — known nationally as the so-called “retail apocalypse” — and the currently high demand for apartment-style housing.

In response, Royal Palm Beach has contracted with the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council (TCRPC) to help the village navigate the many complex pressures from developers, residents and transportation planners.

“This move is proactive,” Mayor Fred Pinto explained. “We don’t want to be caught flat-footed as pressures to redevelop the corridor mount.”

The village teamed up with the TCRPC to host a public kickoff meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 17 at the Royal Palm Beach Cultural Center as it moves toward developing a community-based vision for redevelopment along the SR 7 commercial corridor. The TCRPC is tasked with a study that advances transit improvements and provides detailed recommendations for future land use and land development regulations, as well as zoning modifications, to implement the vision.

The issue is bigger than Royal Palm Beach, however.

“The Mall at Wellington Green is in receivership and sits on a parcel of land that is large enough to fit a small city,” TCRPC Project Manager Dana Little said.

He went on to describe how market forces such as the “retail apocalypse,” COVID-19 and the brisk housing market mean that the village needs to plan ahead as pressures to redevelop the corridor mount.

The study addresses SR 7 from just north of Okeechobee Blvd. to just south of Southern Blvd. Locals can expect significant changes along this segment of the corridor in the future. While a widened and completed State Road 7 extension north is expected to add 6,000 trips a day to SR 7 south of Okeechobee, there will also need to be transportation solutions created for any new trips generated from allowing high-density residential along the corridor.

Residents should not expect plans to include any significant widening of SR 7. One slide presented by Little described how building more lanes will “suck in” additional traffic and create, rather than solve, gridlock. “Building more lanes to combat congestion is like loosening your belt to combat obesity,” he said.

The TCRPC has particular expertise in planning solutions that address congestion by decreasing demand, encouraging people to get out of their cars and take transit. 

Little, an urban planner, went on to describe how the Palm Beach Transportation Planning Agency is looking at the possibility of light rail from downtown West Palm Beach, west on Okeechobee to SR 7, then south to the vicinity of the Mall at Wellington Green at Forest Hill Blvd. If the county goes ahead with providing premier public transit, he said the village should consider allowing “transit-oriented developments,” which feature high-density residential and mixed-use projects.

The village also needs to look at “first and last mile” public transportation needs. This would address how Royal Palm Beach residents get from their homes to, for example, new rail stations or premium transit stops.

Only a small handful of residents attended the kickoff meeting. Both expressed concern with the traffic and crime that urbanization of the corridor might bring.

“I do appreciate the proactive planning. My major ask is that we maintain our hometown feel as we redevelop SR 7,” said financial planner Althea Ceasor, a village resident for 17 years.

Diane Queller agreed, but also made the case that the village needs more affordable housing.

In response, Pinto promised to maintain the village’s small-town image. Royal Palm Beach Manager Ray Liggins reminded residents of the village’s mission statement, “The Village of Royal Palm Beach strives to provide its citizens with a clean, safe, family-oriented community.”

He summed up the purpose of the project. “If we do not plan an alternative to big box retail on SR 7, the development community will,” Liggins said.

Next steps on the project, budgeted at $110,000, include an effort in the near future to formally survey village residents, followed by another public meeting in March.

In order to learn more and/or comment on the Royal Palm Beach State Road 7 Commercial Corridor Study, visit www.royalpalmbeach.com/sr7.