RPB Council OKs Expansion Of Nursing Home

The Royal Palm Beach Village Council.

On Thursday, July 13, the Royal Palm Beach Village Council approved several items related to the planned expansion of the Royal Palm Beach Health & Rehabilitation Center, previously known as the Royal Manor Nursing Home, but not before requiring an added “living wall” condition to more fully screen the facility from its neighbors to the west in Counterpoint Estates.

The facility, located at 600 Business Park Way off State Road 7, is recently under new ownership, and plans are underway for an expansion of the facility, adding a rehabilitation portion to the existing nursing home.

The council considered three items as part of the expansion approval — a series of landscape waivers, a variance to eliminate a border wall, and a site plan modification with a special exception use approval.

Speaking on behalf of the applicant were Patrick Cunningham and Frank Baynham from the planning firm Redd & Associates. The existing nursing home is 40 years old, built in 1983. It is a 10.24-acre parcel at the end of Business Park Way, surrounded by residential on three sides.

A number of zoning and code changes over the past 40 years have made the facility a grandfathered, non-conforming use. The waivers, variance and site plan considered at the July 13 meeting were designed to bring the nursing home in line with current rules and allow the expansion to move forward. Plans for a 15,291-square-foot expansion add 20 beds to the existing 120-bed facility and allow space for a variety of rehabilitation services.

The first portion of the discussion was regarding three waivers from the current landscape code: a 20-foot buffer instead of 25-foot buffer at the south end of the property to allow for fire truck access; the elimination of a required berm in some areas so as not to disturb existing mature vegetation; and to allow greater spacing of canopy trees, again due to the existing mature vegetation.

Village staff recommended approval of the landscape waivers, as did the Royal Palm Beach Planning & Zoning Commission.

Paul Knudsen of Donwoods Lane in Counterpoint Estates, a resident since 1985, spoke against each of the items related to the nursing home. He said the architect could have designed it so the waivers were not necessary.

“If they simply designed the building correctly, the waivers would not be required,” Knudsen said. “The nursing home has been a great neighbor for a long time, and we don’t want that to change.”

The council did not have major concerns regarding the landscape waivers, which were approved 5-0.

There was a great deal of discussion regarding the next request, a variance to eliminate a required 8-foot masonry wall along north, south and west property lines. This is a current requirement for industrial properties next to residential areas. However, the business has been in existence for 40 years without a wall.

Village staff did not support this variance, although the Planning & Zoning Commission did support it 4-0.

Agents for the applicant pointed out that this particular use, a senior housing facility, in any other zoning district would not require a wall. The purpose of the wall, Cunningham said, is to protect residents from unsightly views of traditional industrial uses.

“The purpose of the wall is to protect the nearby residents from adverse impacts,” he said. “The actual use is not what the intent is for the 8-foot wall. There is no outdoor activity, there is no visual blight.”

Cunningham added that the wall would require removing some of the existing vegetation, and the proposed setbacks are well more than required.

Knudsen also objected to the elimination of the wall.

“The new construction at the facility entirely to the west places the building at 52 feet from the existing property line to the Counterpoint residences,” he said. “There is also an outdoor recreation area that extends even further west toward these residences.”

Knudsen noted that unlike the Counterpoint neighbors, the neighboring residences in the Willows to the north have both the parking lot and the retention bond, giving them a much larger buffer.

Cunningham explained that the recreation area noted by Knudsen is an outdoor enclosed patio with an opaque six-foot fence.

Councilman Jeff Hmara asked if some of the required wall could be put in.

“The problem is that the new addition is much closer to backyards than the current building, which isn’t a concern,” he said. “Can a wall be built only at the point where the new building comes close to the neighbors?”

“You can require that, and they would need to figure out a plan,” Village Manager Ray Liggins replied.

Councilwoman Selena Samios suggested more landscaping in that portion.

“We could do a ‘living wall’ in that area,” she suggested.

Cunningham suggested swapping out the landscaping materials for a higher, more dense type of barrier just in that area.

Village Attorney Amity Barnard said that the proper course of action for that would be to allow the variance removing the wall, and then adding the “living wall” condition to the site plan approval.

The wall removal was approved 4-1 with Councilman Richard Valuntas opposed.

The final item was the site plan modification, special exception use and architectural approval for the project.

Cunningham explained that the nursing home was a permitted use in an industrial area when it was built. In 2015, the village removed it as a permitted use when “convalescent home” became “senior housing facility.” At that point, the existing facility became a non-conforming use. When the new owners wanted to expand the facility, they couldn’t do it. Therefore, a zoning text amendment was approved last year to make a “senior housing facility” permitted as a council-approved special exception in industrial areas.

The site plan adds the 15,291-square-foot expansion through a new building directly to the west of the existing facility. It will be used for the rehabilitation program. Also included is a new, expanded parking lot.

The architectural approval includes a series of exterior updates, such as paint, a new metal roof, doors, screen walls and courtyard improvements. The parking lot will be brought up to the current code with extra spaces included.

Cunningham noted that the building could be up to two stories, but it is shorter than allowed at 1.5 stories. He pointed out the architectural updates include the entire facility, not just the expansion area.

The site plan was approved by the Planning & Zoning Commission and supported by village staff with the addition of the “living wall” condition of a clusia hedge along the southern half of the west property line. The council updated that condition to include the entire west property line.

Knudsen did not like that the new building is being built entirely to the west. He was also worried that the expansion could add “hospital services” to the facility, which is not allowed in the code.

“Please represent the residents of the village over corporate, for-profit interests,” he said.

Planning & Zoning Director Bradford O’Brien said that hospital services would not be allowed at the facility.

“This is a rehabilitation portion of a senior housing facility,” he said. “These surgical procedures are not occurring at this location.”

The site plan, with the updated “living wall” condition, was approved unanimously by the council.