Friday, November 2, 2007

My E-mail to the Organizers of the Charrette

"I want to thank you all for your effort in making our Lake Worth charrette such a great success. Everyone who I have talked to that either listened to the presentation over the Internet or who was there in person is consistent in saying that it is the most positive thing that they remember going on in that room in a long time. For that, we are all especially appreciative!

I would appreciate collecting copies of all of your PowerPoint presentations. I will do some highlights on my blog and will also forward them on to the Mayor, Commissioners and key people within the administration.

Your contribution was invaluable and I think you gained a sense of what a unique place we have here, as well as the opportunities and challenges present. To have such an assemblage of talent qualifies as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity in itself.

Hope the rest of the conference went as well as Wednesday! Sorry I couldn't participate in the remainder, but duty called on many fronts.

Thanks again and keep in touch."

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Lake Worth Tri-Rail Station/Area Charrette

The cover of my presentation as given on the bus ride from Miami to Lake Worth.

Absolutely tremendous! Do you realize that the City of Lake Worth got the benefit of 30 planning and transit professionals from around the North American continent spending about 10 hours of their time in the examination of the feasibility of transit oriented development around our Tri-Rail station? Let's just assume that on average that we would have to pay each of them an hourly rate was $100, which is probably low. That amounts to $30,000 of FREE advice. Let alone the logistics of getting all these people together in one room outside of a national conference environment. I do have to thank John Romano of the Romano Law Group for underwriting of the event and Bizarre Avenue Cafe for hosting the event. Thanks to Palm Beach County for their participation in Charrette event and to the City of West Palm Beach for providing some last minute visual aids to facilitate the process.

I am also pleased to report that the Mayor and all the Commissioners, with Commissioner Vespo coming in near the end of the 3:30 p.m. presentation in the Commission Chambers, heard the report from the team. The amount of information covered was amazing given the relatively short time that was available to address the issues at hand.

They have promised me copies of the various PowerPoint presentations that were made during the day, including the concluding presentation in the Commission Chambers. Those will be the subject of upcoming posts here. Those presentations will also be forwarded to the Commission and administration.

Rather than take the time to recite the many findings of the Charette, I will let the upcoming posts do that. What I would like to do here is talk about the day, some of the comments that were offered to me regarding Lake Worth and where we can go from here.

The Day

It started early with me getting out the door at 6 a.m. Traffic wasn't bad until I got to the north Miami area. About then, as I was going about 15 to 10 mph, the Tri-Rail option seemed more attractive. But, as I reported, I just had too much to carry to make that feasible. So I get to the convention hotel and immediately find the bus labeled "Lake Worth - Tri-Rail". See bus below.

So, I get my stuff on the bus and wait outside for a while. Time was about 7:45 a.m. or so and it was raining a little bit. 8 o'clock comes, my phone rings and it's Lynda Westin who was my contact from South Florida Regional Transit Authority (SFRTA) in coordinating the day's activities. It turns out that the group was waiting inside the hotel by the registration area and I was to go up there to check in. Come to find out, I also was to be fitted with a clip-on mic and a speaker that went around the waist - that is if you happen to be on a college cross-country team or swim 50 laps a day. I went without the mic and speaker set-up, although since I didn't use it during the day it was forgotten and is still in my possession. Then I was given a list of the attendees in the class and the names were printed in this size of type (Doe, Jane - Smith, Mary). That plus some of the names having more vowels than consonants made things interesting. So, once dispensed with those duties, we were off to the buses.

Once on I-95 north, Jeff Tumlin from Nelson/Nygaard (transportation consulting firm) introduced me. He happened to be the technical leader of the session - he is the one that made the excellent summary presentation in the Commission Chambers. I went through my presentation. It was designed so that we would have time on the bus to get to know Lake Worth and the area that the group would be examining during the day. That way we could take less time on a tour around town and get right to work on the tasks at hand.

It was obvious from their questions that this was a very sophisticated gathering of professionals from around the U.S. and Canada - many from California. They were interested in the beginnings of Tri-Rail, the status of the FEC study (east tracks for transit service) and the general make up of the area and Lake Worth specifically. I purposefully gave them the "warts and all" version of our realities here, while at the same time emphasizing the strengths and our unique qualities as well. Below is one of the pages from the presentation which highlights the area the team studied during the day.

We got off at the 10th Avenue exit toward Dixie and went south to turn left on Lake Avenue. When we turned on to Lake Avenue, Jeff Tumlin commented, "This is much nicer than I thought it was going to be - this is a great downtown." We went to the beach, went around the loop road, then headed west on Lucerne to Lake Worth Road, turned around at Palm Beach Community College and then found our way to Bizarre.

Later on in the day, I happened to be sitting next to an architect whose practice is in Vancouver - part of an international architectural firm with offices around the world. I asked him what he thought of the experience and he said, "The day was great. You know, when we got off the expressway, I asked myself why are we coming here? Then, when I saw the downtown, I knew why." Without prompting from me, he then asked, "What about the beach? That looks so sad." I told him I know, didn't want to bore him with the details about how we can't get out of our own way to make it a better place.

We got off the bus and settled in to the second floor of Bizarre. Received some general orientation presentations about what transit oriented development is all about (those will be posted here as soon as I get them), had a nice working/organizing time during lunch. It was good to see John Paxman, Ron Exline and Dr. McDungagle there from the Planning and Zoning Board. Commissioner Golden spent some time in the afternoon, getting a sense of what was going on. These pictures are all from the working session that took place after lunch and before the presentation in the Commission Chambers later in the day.

The gentleman in the medium blue shirt in the foreground of the picture above was from California. He expressed his enthusiasm for the charrette and the mobile workshop during the presentation in the Chambers. He said that he goes to a lot of these things and its the best one that he's ever been to - they were actually able to get in and work on something worthwhile and produce a result. He also, immediately after I took a seat near him before the presentation, asked, "Where are the cameras? Aren't your meetings broadcast on cable? That's the first thing that I would change." I couldn't agree more.

Anyway, as soon as the PowerPoint presentations land in my in box, I will be posting them here.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Happy Halloween!

From Lincoln Road in Miami Beach. I just got these two pictures of three dogs
dressed up for the holiday, but there were many people out with their kids in costume, a DJ (playing Ghost Busters about every third song). I stopped by before I headed back up to Lake Worth.
Also spoiled myself with a sashimi dinner - see pic below.

Notice the orange hollowed-out (Hallowed-out?) to look like a jack-o-lantern.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Plans for Tomorrow - Rail-Volution Conference

Well, things are a little different in terms of plans and logistics for tomorrow, but I think it's going to turn out o.k. or better. I kept focusing on the need to automate what would normally be a traditional PowerPoint presentation - minimizing moving parts for presentation on the bus. Through this video software program that I downloaded, I thought that would be possible.

As I was assembling this PowerPoint and the minutes turned to hours turned to days, I thought better of that and am gong decidedly low tech in terms of the presentation method. What better way that to print out the PowerPoint and present it that way. No messing with whatever is on the bus, no disappointments and anxiety the morning of. What is missed though is all the nifty animations and gizmos that I implanted in the PowerPoint.

But, there is an alternative to that and it involves a new technology, to me, that will allow an upload of the entire presentation to a website that will contain my narration in real time. That way, anyone can access it as if it were a live presentation and they will have the benefit of seeing things how they were meant to seen. I plan on working on that over the coming weekend, so stay tuned. I will be sure to provide a link here.

The other change in plans, and I am disappointed in this, is that I will not be riding Tri-Rail to Miami tomorrow morning. Gone is the attempt of early-rising at 4 a.m. (that I will not miss) and taking the 5 a.m. southbound to Miami, going to the Metrorail and then a cab to the hotel. That would have been "walking the walk" as they say. I've done the trip many times on the weekends before and found it quite enjoyable. This decision was made since it turns out that I would need a "pack mule" to accompany me as I am now toting enough copies of the presentation for people on the bus, along with Lake Worth books from the Greater Lake Worth Chamber of Commerce (they have a lot of them in their office for sale for $10, you might want to check them out) and some CDs spotlighting Lake Worth. That, plus my stuff including laptop and related ephemera, puts it over the scales in terms of using Tri-Rail. So, I will be going in my car, which allows me to leave at a little more leisurely hour. Now I will be riding the bus back to Miami and then will have to drive my car back in the evening. But, that's how it goes.

We miss out on attempts to photo-journalize this Tri-Rail adventure. That will have to wait for another day.

So you ask, "Wes, why should we care about this?". And I say "I don't really know why." However, I do know that there is great interest in this conference and the attention that is being paid to Lake Worth is a wonderful opportunity for us to all learn more. There is nothing wrong with learning and that is what tomorrow is all about. Remember the final presentation will be at 3:30 p.m. in the Commission Chambers.

I'll have my camera with me during the day so expect a post highlighting what transpired along with some digital pictures.

Lake Worth Population Growth 2000 to 2005

This is how Lake Worth's population growth stacks up in relation to other Palm Beach County municipalities and the State of Florida as a whole. This information is from the University of Florida, Bureau of Economic and Business Research - considered the authority when it comes to population estimates between censuses. The total number is probably under-counted originally and the City is undertaking a recount of its own to correct deficiencies from the 2000 Census. No word as to where that effort stands at this point in time. (click image for more detail)

More Evidence that Development is NOT Out-of-Control

These are some tables that I put together for the presentation tomorrow with information provided by the Planning Department. It's worth noting that the approvals for residential projects in 2005 were given at the peak of the market, most before Wilma hit. Most agree that marks the start of the slide of the residential market locally. Some of those units have not been built; others have built out partially. Some will likely be revised or disappear entirely, as explained below.

In terms of the commercial square footage, the total is relatively modest for the City of our size. Note the small parcel size - which reflects that we are essentially an in-fill development community. A comparison of the past three years of development approvals in the unincorporated areas of Palm Beach County, West Palm Beach, Delray Beach and others would display a sharp contrast with Lake Worth's record.

There also seems to be an attitude around that a person sitting in a position of authority, like Chairman of the Planning and Zoning Board, has the ability to attract, promote and get projects approved all on their own initiative. Nothing could be farther from the truth as market conditions dictate the pace of development at any point in time and exiting zoning laws lay out the basic expectations of what can be developed and what cannot be developed. And that one person is part of a voting board of seven others that greatly influence the final decision, as well as the public comment taken during the time the project is reviewed before the public.

Zoning is essentially blind of the market. The protection communities have is that if a project is approved, it has a limited amount of time to get built. In Lake Worth, projects must have a building permit within one year of their original approval. They can ask for one extension and prove extenuating circumstances. If not granted or not applied for, their approval expires and the community waits for the next project to come along.

I thought you would find this interesting.

Noel for Halloween?

Monday, October 29, 2007

Agendas for Tomorrow's Sneaky City Commission Meetings

Same back-up as when these items appeared on the regular Commission meeting agenda. No additional information or clarification. Good luck attending the 4:30 p.m. meeting. I am tied up and can't get there - might make the one at 6 p.m.

(And, no, that train pic is not misplaced from my presentation - it's meant to signify "railroading", if you know what I mean.)

Good Monday Morning...

I've been pre-occupied with preparing this presentation for this coming Wednesday as an introduction to the charrette on Transit Oriented Development around the Tri-Rail station. The pieces are falling into place now - I just got to make sure the logistics are all in place for presentation on the bus! That will be an accomplishment, for sure. It turns out that I will likely take the early (like 5 a.m.!) Tri-Rail, get a transfer at the Metro-rail and get a cab to South Beach on Wednesday morning - that's when the bus leaves to come up to Lake Worth with all the charrette participants on it. And, if everything works out the way it should, I will be on it too!

I thought you might be interested in some of my presentation narrative. Once the PowerPoint is all finished, I will find a place to post it. Somewhere you will be able to see all the GROOVY animations! Here is the first part that deals with introduction and City history:

  • Introduction and Welcome
    • Wes Blackman, AICP, Planning and Zoning Consultant, Principal CWB Associates, 15 year resident of Lake Worth, 8 years on the Planning, Zoning and Historic Resources Preservation Board – last 5 years as Chairman, candidate for City Commissioner in early 2007
    • Thrilled with the prospect of engaging the attendees of the Rail-Volution 2007 Conference in the challenges that the City faces in establishing a Transit Oriented Development area around our existing Tri-Rail Station.
    • What this presentation will do is give you an overview of the community and surrounding area that will serve as a background and a foundation on what you will be talking and conferring about today.
    • We’ll start with a bit of history of the community, look at the Lake Worth of today, influential transportation facilities over time, market conditions and related information, land use characteristics – with a special focus on the area around the Tri Rail station and Lake Worth Road corridor.
    • We’ll also take a virtual tour around the City and wrap up with a brief summary of description of the local public policy landscape.
    • Then, I’ll be able to take your questions and hopefully provide some answers at the conclusion of the presentation.
    • Again thank you for your interest in Lake Worth and if you would like to learn more about the current goings-on in Lake Worth, I encourage you to visit my Lake Worth blog. It can be found at
  • Lake Worth History
    • Beginnings
      • The beginnings of settlement in South Florida came around the turn of the 19th to the 20th Century. Development in the vicinity of Lake Worth originated in the late nineteenth century with the extension of Henry Flagler's East Coast Railway through Palm Beach County to Miami by 1895. Although Flagler did not construct a hotel in Lake Worth, the arrival of the railroad resulted in increased economic and development activity.
      • What is now Lake Worth began as the town of Jewel. Samuel and Fannie James are considered the first residents of the area. They were former slaves, established the first post office in the area and owned a significant amount of land in the wilderness along the Lake Worth Lagoon.
      • In 1911, Samuel James died and his wife Fannie sold the core area of their land to Palm Beach Farms Company. It was then that Harold Bryant and William Greenwood started to formulate plans for the City along the water. Platting of the central part of the City began with its characteristic 25 foot wide lots. These were originally thought to be cottage areas by the water that would be given away to those who bought larger tracts in the area known as Greenacres – now its own City immediately west of the Lake Worth. However, the “cottage” lots proved more popular and those sold at a premium. Thus, Lake Worth was born.
      • Soon to be popularly called the “Wonder City”, in January of 1912 Lake Avenue was graded and rocked and by August of that year the City’s initial platting was completed. It provided for 55 miles of streets and nearly as many miles of alleys – along with nearly 7,000 lots.
      • In October of 1912, the City's name changed from Lucerne to Lake Worth after post office representatives learned there was already a town in Florida called Lucerne. During the fall of 1912, Lake Worth became a thriving City with its first school, a 24-foot by 36-foot building constructed of Florida pine on "M" Street between Lake and Lucerne Avenues.
      • The year 1912 ended with the publication of the City's first census showing 308 residents, 125 houses, 10 wagons, seven automobiles, 36 bicycles and 876 fowls. In 1913 concentrated efforts were being made to organize the Lake Worth Light, Water and Ice Company.
      • Politics began to creep into Lake Worth in 1913 when the first vote was taken to decide whether the City would have a franchise granting a Commission form of government. The first City Officials were elected in April 1913 when the City received its first Charter.
      • Soon, Lake Worth built its own power plant. The first ferry was used to cross the Intracoastal Waterway in 1913 to reach the Atlantic Ocean and beachgoers were charged five cents to take the ferry. At 6 p.m. on May 18, 1914, the electric current was turned on.
      • In early 1915, the first lighted sign was installed across Lake Avenue and Dixie Highway. Its job was to advertise the City of Lake Worth
      • The first bridge across the Intracoastal Waterway was built in July, 1919 and was one of the longest wooden toll- free bridges in the United States.
      • The initiation of the construction of U.S. Highway 1 in 1920 spurred a tremendous amount of growth and development through the flourishing tourist trade. By 1925, U.S. 1 stretched from Maine to Miami. Florida’s Turnpike and Interstate 95 completed the automobile transit facilities over time.
      • Other significant events in the history of Lake Worth are a major hurricane in 1928 that decimated many of the original wooden structures, the Depression of the 1930s – which in many ways began in south Florida in the mid 1920s due to over-speculation in real estate and trouble with getting building supplies.
    • The Beach
      • This led to increased access to and interest in the City’s Atlantic Ocean beachfront. The City still owns this 19 acre property from the ocean to the Lake Worth Lagoon, also known as the Intracoastal Waterway. It remains a public park. Issues of the status of the property and how the City should redevelop the property have consumed the public and political dialog in the community for years. It is still an on-going issue.
      • From a transportation point of view, it does represent a prime public destination at the “end of the line” – at least to the east. So while the pictures go by showing the various iterations of the Casino Building at the beach, I will offer a little history.
      • Soon after its construction in 1922, the Casino developed into a major tourist attraction due to its location, architecture, and status as the best municipally owned casino in the state. Although gambling was initially conducted in the Casino, it was outlawed by the mid 1930s.
      • After World War II, increases in population led to tremendous growth of the City and to the popularity of the City’s beachfront. A hurricane in 1947 destroyed much of the second story of the original building and it was rebuilt in its current configuration. Now the building is suffering from years of neglect and from deterioration due to its oceanfront location. Since Hurricane Wilma in 2005, the second floor which contains a ballroom, has been closed to the public due to hazardous conditions.
      • The City has an agreement with a private developer to lease and maintain the bulk of the beach property west of the boardwalk for a twenty year period. In exchange for lease payments of $500,000 a year to the City, the developer will build around a total of 65,000 square feet of building, which includes a 40,000 square foot new casino building, small retail space, café, restrooms, pool equipment and locker rooms. (Refer to site plan as slide). Improvements to the site and parking areas are also on tap and will be funded with a variety of public monies.
      • The status of the project is in legal limbo right now due to actions brought forth by citizens and a request for declaratory relief by the City regarding the applicability of a local law related to referendums as a result of petitioning to overturn a zoning and land use change on the property.
      • It is not known when this project would go forward and some wonder if it ever will.
Don't forget the poll in the upper right hand part of the blog is still active through Wednesday night. When things return to normal, I'll do a sum up of my feelings on the topic.

Also - Don't miss the two SNEAKY City Commission meetings on this coming Tuesday. A clue - don't look for the City's website for any back-up - these meetings are only posted on the calendar section with NO BACK-UP. So much for representative Democracy.