RPB Council OKs Car Wash, Postpones Public Art Project

The Royal Palm Beach Village Council.

At the Royal Palm Beach Village Council meeting on Thursday, Dec. 15, the council approved a car wash project despite opposition from its neighbors and decided to rethink a planned public art project.

El Car Wash RPB LLC was granted approval to redevelop an old, vacant bank site located at 151 S. State Road 7. The new car wash facility will include a 3,399-square-foot standalone automated car wash and a self-service detailing area. The developers intend on designing a sustainable facility and keeping as many of the existing canopy trees as possible.

However, nearby residents were not happy with the idea. Victoria Grove HOA President Donna Maes spoke on behalf of her community.

“We are opposed to a car wash at that location. Right now, there are five car washes within Royal Palm Beach, within 2.7 miles of Victoria Grove. The area is getting built up,” Maes said, adding that there are already many accidents nearby. “I’ve been here before. Is it necessary? No. Apartments are necessary. Car washes are not. We are like the stepchild down here — we keep getting passed over. We always try to be good neighbors, and we weren’t even approached on this. I can speak for 616 homes, and we are definitely against the car wash.”

Maes was followed by fellow resident Patricia Henry, who also expressed concerns about the project. “I got this e-mail at 4 p.m., and I work in Broward. I jumped into the car to be here,” she said. “The roundabout is already dangerous. The car wash is an insult to the people who live here. We purchased with the intent to increase in value, not decrease.”

While Maes and Henry asked the council to deny the car wash, Royal Palm Beach officials said that while the village can place conditions on this type of approval, it can’t outright reject it.

Mayor Fred Pinto, who lives in that area as well, said he understood their concerns, but also that the council does not have ultimate power.

“In terms of statutes, we have no ability to determine the number or types [of businesses]. It’s an open market,” he said. “A lot of times our citizens make an assumption that we have arbitrary power to do certain things when, in fact, we don’t. In full disclosure, I am a resident of Victoria Grove. I am aware of the points that were raised. But the point of the matter is Victoria Grove is not a stepchild. Redevelopment is happening around the entire village. I want to put it in context. The issue tonight is a technicality. Have the requirements been met?”

Village Attorney Keith Davis clarified that there is nothing in laws or existing codes — including distance separation requirements — that legally permits the council to deny the car wash application.

George Missimer of the planning firm Cotleur & Hearing spoke on behalf of the applicant.

“There is extensive research done on the market competition in the area. This product that we are bringing, a self-service car wash, is a very nice facility and very well maintained,” he said. “We understand the resident’s concerns, but then again, we are taking a property that has been run down… and we are revamping it.”

Pinto said his initial reaction to the project echoed that of other residents, but he still saw no legal reason to deny the project. Councilman Richard Valuntas concurred. “I feel your pain. I don’t want that traffic, and no one wants that in their neighborhood, but I don’t see any way in justifying a denial,” he said.

Pinto emphasized limitations on what actions they can take.

“There is nothing we are going to say here tonight that is going to make you walk away feeling good about this, obviously,” he said. “People make statements like. ‘This is going to hurt my property values.’ This is not going to hurt property values.”

After additional discussion, the council requested a limitation on hours of operation, and the applicant agreed. With the addendum that the facility must close its operations at 9 p.m., and allow one additional hour for employees to close, the application was approved.

Also at the meeting, the first hearing for the commission of public art pieces to be placed at the Royal Palm Beach Cultural Center, located at 151 Civic Center Way, hit a few bumps on its way to fruition.

Mario Lopez Pisani, the village’s public art professional, presented the photography project by New York-based artist Xan Padron. The project includes a $30,000 budget to purchase three pieces of artwork — one by commission and two others that are already in the artist’s inventory.

When Lopez Pisani explained that one piece was filled with photos of West Palm Beach residents, the council inquired about having only Royal Palm Beach residents in the images instead. The flag photo collage was popular with the council, but again, not with non-RPB residents in the images, if possible.

Village Manager Ray Liggins mentioned shifting gears a bit to include the one commissioned piece, but to see if the artist was willing to commission more than one for the same price point. Lopez Pisani agreed to reach out to the artist and find out what it might cost to change the agreement details. He explained the commissioned piece is approximately $11,000 of the total project cost, and there might be an option to work within the remaining money to make the artworks more local-community focused.

With the change in criteria from the council, the art project was tabled until the next council meeting to allow for time to negotiate a new agreement with the artist.