RPB Starbucks Moves Forward Despite Concerns Over Traffic

The Royal Palm Beach Village Council.

The Royal Palm Beach Village Council went into extensive details Thursday, March 16 regarding three requests by the developer of the new Starbucks in Village Center. The planned stand-alone coffee shop building will be located at 11710 Okeechobee Blvd. and includes a drive-through with direct access from Okeechobee.

The majority of the discussion focused around a parking variance and concerns over stacking of cars in the drive-through, which was a major issue with the site’s neighbors. The project won the reluctant approval of the village’s Planning & Zoning Commission in February, but not before that board added several requests to limit the variance.

Brian Terry of Insite Studio presented the request on behalf of the developer, Investment Equity Group III, to reduce the number of required parking spaces from 42 to 17, explaining that the requests of the Planning & Zoning Commission to eliminate outdoor seating and remove a dumpster to reduce the request were not an option with the developer.

He noted that parking requirements in Royal Palm Beach for a stand-alone restaurant are significantly higher than what a Starbucks needs, as there are only about 50 seats in the building, including the outdoor seating.

“The Institute of Transportation Engineers sets industry standards. We looked at the coffee shop requirements,” said Bryan Kelley, a traffic engineer with Simmons & White. “It needs 13 spaces during the week and 22 on weekends.”

He noted that leaves a “significant surplus,” even on weekends, because the nearby medical offices will not be open.

However, Roger Livingston, a local resident and one of the owners of the Denny’s restaurant in the same plaza, said he expects that the lack of parking at Starbucks will hurt his business.

“I’m the closest to this Starbucks, and I have cross access and parking within a few feet of that Starbucks that is going to be severely impacted. There is a lot of traffic, a lot of people using parking spaces, and delivery drivers who are going to use my parking area. The other parking is cut off by the drive-through,” Livingston said. “There is nothing that prevents it from queuing up in my parking lot and causing a zipper effect to get back on Civic Center Way. With the amount of traffic, plus DoorDash, I’m going to be one long drive-through, and it’s going to be a safety hazard for families.”

Councilwoman Selena Samios said she understood the business owner’s concerns.

“We have two other [Starbucks] in Royal Palm Beach, one in front of Costco and one on State Road 7. It’s primarily busy during the day, because that’s when the free wi-fi users are there all day,” Samios said. “We need to create better usage. I use that Denny’s. I think the issue is the cross-access.”

Mayor Fred Pinto pointed out that the diagrams providing traffic flow did not show the Denny’s restaurant, and the council dug deep into the potential traffic flows and ways customers would potentially drive in and out of both the restaurant and the coffee shop.

“I think the challenge before us is to come up with a design solution that will address these issues, particularly the safety,” Pinto said.

He also suggested designating spaces for delivery service drivers. “There is a whole sector of parking spaces that aren’t used,” he noted.

The parking variance request was approved by a 3-2 vote, with Councilman Richard Valuntus and Councilman Jeff Hmara dissenting. Hmara later asked that the record show he wanted to change his vote, but knowing it would not affect the outcome, the issue was not re-opened for discussion.

The second Starbucks request, a landscape waiver, looked to reduce the amount of vegetation required by the code. The variance was approved with a condition for extra foliage to be added elsewhere on the parcel.

The final request was for a site plan modification that included directional signage in an effort to encourage patrons to follow a safer flow of traffic in the cross-access parking lot.

Kelley provided data from Starbucks regarding stacking at two other locations in similar areas.

“Maximum queuing that was observed at any one time was 12 [vehicles] for one site and 13 for the other site,” he said. “I want to be clear that is a moment in time. Throughout most of the day, most of the morning, it was less. It is our expectation, during peak time, that we would potentially get 12 or 13 vehicles. We do not believe this is a constant issue.”

After extensive discussions, the site plan was also approved. There are a number of conditions in place, which include closing the drive-through if more than 10 incidents occur there within a 365-day period, excluding the first 30 days after opening. Incidents include severe stacking onto Okeechobee Blvd.

The Starbucks is expecting to open for business some point during the fourth quarter of this year.

“Let’s make this work,” Pinto said. “Let’s make this work for the neighboring restaurant as well.”

In other business:

• The council received a synopsis from its independent auditing firm Marcum LLP for fiscal year 2022. The village had unrestricted equity totaling more than $68 million, which was noted to be very strong. The robust year for the village was thoroughly audited, and no concerns were noted.

• The council approved an ordinance amending part of the village code regarding vehicle parking on publicly owned spaces, swales and vacant lots.

“This does a couple of things. Our code requires on-street parking to be parallel with the direction of traffic. People have argued that diagonal counts as parallel. This adds specific direction,” Village Attorney Keith Davis said.

He also explained parking on private property. “This would change it to two hours without the owners’ permission, and no overnight parking on swales,” Davis said.

Long-term parking without the private property owner’s permission would be a code violation and dealt with through code enforcement.

• The council also approved an ordinance updating the language defining “accessory structures.” The ordinance provides specific details that shed structures should not be more than 150 square feet or more than eight feet tall. Pinto made sure the ordinance would go into effect moving forward and not be retroactive.

“A large building should meet the setbacks of the zoning district,” Village Manager Ray Liggins said. “We have made exceptions for sheds and accessory structures. When you have a 400-foot garage, it is not an accessory structure. We are built out and people are looking to build. We want to head it off before it happens.”

• Prior to the regular meeting, the council held its annual organizational meeting. Councilman Richard Valuntus and Councilwoman Jan Rodusky were sworn-in for new terms, after being re-elected without opposition. Rodusky was appointed to the post of vice mayor. Diane DiSanto was once again officially appointed the village clerk, and Shernett Lee was named the village treasurer.

• The council also held a moment of silence in honor of Stanley G. Hochman, the village’s longtime director of finance, who passed away on Friday, March 10. He was finance director and village treasurer for 22 years.

“He was a fixture and a big part of all the successes the village has achieved over that period of time,” said Pinto, who also offered condolences to Hochman’s family.


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