Back again. I'd like to review some of the meeting that took place last Wednesday (and the very early reaches of Thursday morning) where the PZHRPB denied the COA application for demo and new construction, special use and site plan approval for the "Federal Mews" located at the SW corner of Federal Hwy. and 4th Avenue N. Nicole Janok of the Palm Beach Post did a good job in her article that was published on Friday July 7. We really should be glad to have her as traditionally the actions of our Board have been under reported by the local media. That is definitely the case as it applies to the Lake Worth Herald, but they are trying to get a paper out the door on the night of our meetings and find it difficult to attend due to that.
A lot went on at our meeting last Wednesday and I will attempt to highlight some of the more significant discussions and revelations that occurred during the deliberations of this particular case. In another post, I will review some of our actions on other items on the agenda. I was glad to see a larger than normal assemblage of citizens in the audience - who should be commended for staying through to the later parts of the long meeting to make their comments. What we are trying to do as a City will not work without vigorous public input. Unfortunately, due to other commitments, we were missing three of our usual members for this meeting, so we had the unusual situation of only having 6 members present.
First of all, I would like to give "kudos" to our staff, particularly Darrin Engle. Darrin put together a solid case for the preservation of these structures at 325 and 327 N. Federal Hwy. If you have the Microsoft program PowerPoint, I would encourage you to get a copy of Darrin's presentation in electronic form and watch it yourself. He did an excellent job identifying the virtues and unique qualities of these structures and the importance of their placement on Federal Highway. According to Darrin's research, these properties were, up until the last few years, one property. When the two story structure was built in the 40s, it was probably a tourist home, with the proprietor living in the older structure at 327 N. Federal. Perhaps these properties can someday return to their originally intended use in the form of a modern day bed and breakfast. Time will tell.
One of the more important points made that really galvanized my decision was the rarity of this type of structure and property along North Federal. Now, I have been a proponent of townhouse development along Federal for a number of reasons:
- For the large majority of cases, what has been removed in order to allow for the development of townhouses was not worthy of keeping in the first place - either non-contributing structures or structures that were in need of major code work or that were harbors of crime.
- Where there were historically sensitive structures, demolition was the very last resort and only then after an exhaustive process looking at the conditions present in the structure. Relocation was the preferred method if there was not a way to incorporate the structure into the redevelopment plan.
- Townhouses represent new construction that should be free of code enforcement worries for the foreseeable future, they are a great marginal increase to the tax base (and generally along Federal Hwy. they are out of the CRA district and therefore taxes go directly to the general fund).
- Parking is either enclosed in garages and/or in the rear of the property - with access controlled so that, in most cases, points of access are consolidated or reduced - we don't have cars backing out onto Federal with these projects. Same goes for solid waste removal.
- The zoning allows a multi-family density of 20 units to the acre along most of N. Federal to 18th Avenue (30 units to an acre here) and Townhouses are a use permitted by special exception - meaning that they have to meet additional standards over and above those uses that are permitted "by right".
- For those that say that they represent "the future slums of tomorrow" I say that they eliminated the long-standing slums of yesterday. All real estate experiences cycles - many of our single family neighborhoods east of Dixie 15 years ago were under severe negative pressures due to the existence of high crime rates.
- They introduce a new residential "product" into the community that didn't exist before for which there is a market. We are yet to feel the affects of the economic impact from these "new" people moving into our community and supporting our local businesses. This is one of the reasons I supported the Lucerne (but only when it had a public parking component, which was subsequently removed by the City Commission).
- But, they are not a "panacea" and there are other uses - like professional offices - that will have their time in the sun as that market increases (which we are beginning to see).
- They create a visual and noise buffer for the interior neighborhoods from the traffic and activity along a major thoroughfare.
- "We're balancing the old versus the new here," board chairman Wes Blackman said. "We are a city that was built during the '20s, '30s and '40s; and we need to reflect that in our major thoroughfares."
The headline of "Saved!" could really be "Saved, for Now." There might be a time in the future, who knows how long, where someone could come forward with a project that would include the relocation of the two structures (there were two conclusions drawn regarding the ability to move the structure at 327 N. Federal by two separate professional engineers - one said "no", one said "maybe". In his presentation, Darrin Engle of our staff showed pictures of a large hollow-tile structure being moved a great distance). Another consideration was the existence of canopy trees (Royal Poincianas and a triple Live Oak) that would, as a last resort, be relocated if they weren't part of a new redevelopment plan. If those items were addressed, along with a building that could be considered an architectural asset, then we might have a different story.
The applicant put on a good presentation as well and enlisted the services of experts in the process. Frank Palen, architect and author of our historic district ordinance identified many potential weaknesses in the regulatory framework, which staff is looking at right now. It really is through adversity that you identify potential weaknesses in regulations and this was one of those cases. I have identified many of these already and most will be incorporated inot our revisions of the land development regulations. These changes, coupled with the changes contemplated by the Master Plan process, will help to shape these forces of change to the benefit of the City in the long run.
In the short run, we will likely still have a problem with the use of these two properties. The owner testified that increases in taxes of 206.7% and 402.3% (from 2003 to 2005) on 325 and 327 N. Federal, respectively, have caused hardship as they reflect the development potential of the property - not the existing use. She has also had problems renting to and keeping "quality" tenants. So, while the structures are saved for now, we will likely be dealing with these in the future.
So, this might turn out to be a Pyrrhic victory. But, better that than what was offered.
If you attended the meeting, I would like to see what you think, as well as seeing what others think that didn't attend.