Tuesday, April 16, 2024

New iPic plan imminent and dust-up over Delray’s approval process

Revised iPic   

By midnight Wednesday, the iPic project could be on its way back to the Delray Beach City Commission.

       The city’s Site Plan Advisory Review Board will consider the revised plan for Fourth and Fifth Delray—the project’s official name—one week after cancelling its meeting. Fourth and Fifth Delray is the only item on the board’s agenda.

       Senior Planner Scott Pape, who is supervising the iPic project, said it is “unusual, not unheard of” for the board to meet one week after a scheduled meeting, rather than on the customary twice-a-month schedule. “We add meeting dates on occasion,” Pape said in an email, “to accommodate months when we have numerous projects and/or projects that we anticipate will have a large community turnout.”

       IPic has generated that sort of community interest and probably will again for Wednesday’s meeting. The staff recommendation is for the board to approve the new site plan, still with conditions. In December, the board approved three waivers related to setback and other issues yet asked for other changes. According to the staff report, the developer and the city have worked out those changes.

       One concern was a loading zone for the mixed-use project. The developer has eliminated some parallel parking spots on the Martini property and turned the space into a loading zone. This change alone shows that if iPic had not been able to acquire that 0.14-acre Martini site, the project likely would have died.

       The property is south of the 1.59 acres iPic would purchase from the Community Redevelopment Agency. Compatibility has been the issue all along, and the Marini land may be just enough to make the project compatible.

       Another issue was providing a five-foot sidewalk on the north alley within the project. According to the staff report, the developer has put this into the plan. The developer also has addressed issues involving the turning radius inside the shared parking garage and access for emergency vehicles.

       Most of the conditions that the staff recommends the board attach to approval were in the first evaluation from December. IPic would have to submit its parking management plan to the CRA. During construction, iPic would have to ensure access through the north-south alley for deliveries to businesses in the 400 block of East Atlantic Avenue. IPic would have to ensure public access to the project’s third-floor terrace and garden. IPic would have to evaluate the valet and parking garage operations within six months and make recommendations to correct any problems. IPic would have to conduct a traffic study of the Fourth Avenue and Fifth Avenue intersections at Atlantic Avenue if the city asks for the study during the first two years of operation.

       The city did modify one condition. IPic would have to provide a security guard between 4 p.m. and 10 p.m. to keep cars from stopping to drop people on Fifth Avenue. The main entrance is on Fourth Avenue. The city had given IPic the option of asking to remove the guard if there were no problems. The guard now would be permanent.

       If the board approves Fourth and Fifth Delray on Wednesday, the project might not make the Feb. 2 city commission meeting for hearing any appeals of the site plan approval. The next commission meeting is Feb. 16. If the commission approves the site plan, the city must give 30 days for any appeals of that approval. The developer hopes to get a building permit by Dec. 31.

Convoluted approval process?

       It may be causal or coincidental that Delray Beach’s review of its development approval process comes as the city finally nears a decision on the iPic project.

       An iPic representative complained at one point that Delray’s process is convoluted, with separate review boards considering only some aspects of a project. That confusion extends to the commission. Last summer, the commission approved only certain changes for iPic: allowing a movie theater downtown and increasing the height limit. The plan itself then began a separate path through the city.

       Last week at its workshop meeting, the commission heard recommendations from the Planning and Zoning Department. Director Tim Stilling wrote that the recommendations are designed to “improve the development approval process, establish greater process predictability and consistency and better manage the process and related expectations.”

       Despite the timing, City Commissioner Shelly Petrolia said iPic did not prompt the review. Having spoken with some developers, however, Petrolia believes that Delray Beach’s system is “antiquated.”

       The most significant recommendation is to combine the site plan review and planning and zoning boards. Another recommendation would reduce from five to four the categories of site plan classes. Still another would streamline the site approval process, while another would speed up consideration of larger, more complex projects that require multiple approvals.

       Petrolia is a “little less inclined” at this point to merge the two main advisory boards. “It hasn’t been proven that they make it cumbersome, and it cuts out a level of citizen participation.” Yet she agrees that the current setup makes for “piecemeal” review that can burden a developer without providing much benefit for the city.

       Commissioner Jordana Jarjura notes that the December site plan review of iPic was “very similar” to discussions before the planning and zoning board on the conditional uses the commission approved five months ago. At that time and under the current system, Jarjura said, the overlap was “appropriate.”

       However, a review board that considered just architecture, Jarjura said, would leave for the planning and zoning board “comprehensive plan amendments, rezonings, site plan approvals, parking reductions, conditional use approvals—the actual meat and functionality of the project. Certainly, the board charged with reviewing and amending the city’s land development regulations and comprehensive plan should be the board enforcing those same regulations.”

       Petrolia has heard that the city’s process is cumbersome in other ways: “It can take four months just to submit something for a permit. Then it can take the staff three or four weeks to write up the approval.” She wonders if the system can allow for one presentation at which the city addresses all issues. “We need to fix those things first before we start eliminating things.”

       Jarjura said Delray Beach has “64 different development applications with zero rationale as to who hears what and when.” She argues that the commission doesn’t need to vote on small projects, such as “minor renovations” that meet code and sign rules. Everyone from commissioners to developers to residents, Jarjura said, “should be able to easily understand the process and participate in it.”

       Boca Raton started a similar evaluation of its Development Services Department after hiring a new director, Ty Harris. The city had become known for annoying everyone from major developers to home repairers. Both cities seek to balance necessary review with the needs of developers who could lose money with each unnecessary delay. Petrolia has a good description of the cities’ mutual goal: “efficiency.”

Reading together

In recent years, cities and counties have sought to build a sense of community by encouraging residents to read and discuss one book. Boca Raton is the latest, and the city’s library staff has started small.

       I mean in length. The choice is Very Good Lives, an illustrated version of the 2008 commencement address that J.K. Rowling delivered at Harvard University. The author of the Harry Potter series and other works subtitled her address “The Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination.”

       Rowling certainly knows about failure. Before her writing made her a billionaire, she was a welfare mother in Britain cranking out the first Potter book in cafes while her daughter slept in a stroller. Many publishers rejected the book, but Rowling pressed on.

       Boca will hold panel discussions about the book and its message. Perhaps residents can look beyond the city by relaying that message to members of Congress. There’s so much failure to learn from, due to the combination of polarization and incompetence, and constituents only can imagine a country with a functioning Congress.

More Ag Reserve shenanigans

       As many had expected – me included – there is a new attempt to overturn the will of Palm Beach County voters who in 1999 taxed themselves to keep as much farming as possible in the Agricultural Reserve Area.

       On Friday, the county’s planning commission debated a change that would make parcels—of 15.3 acres, 13.4 acres and 11.3 acres—more attractive for commercial development. The owners want the change. The reserve’s master plan envisioned just two large commercial developments. Allowing smaller ones could make the reserve more suburban and less agricultural.

       The commission gave the owners some, but not all of what they wanted. Still, the county commission will have the final say in eight days. I will have more on this subject next Tuesday.

About the Author

Randy Schultz was born in Hartford, Conn., and graduated from the University of Tennessee in 1974. He has lived in South Florida since then, and in Boca Raton since 1985. Schultz spent nearly 40 years in daily journalism at the Miami Herald and Palm Beach Post, most recently as editorial page editor at the Post. His wife, Shelley, is director of The Learning Network at Pine Crest School. His son, an attorney, and daughter-in-law and three grandchildren also live in Boca Raton. His daughter is a veterinarian who lives in Baltimore.

Randy Schultz
Randy Schultz
Randy Schultz, a native of Hartford, Connecticut, has been a South Florida journalist since 1974. He worked for The Miami Herald until 1976 and for The Palm Beach Post from 1976 until 2014, where he served as managing editor and editorial page editor. Since 2014, he has written a politics blog, commentaries and other articles for Boca magazine. His writing has earned first-place awards from the Florida Magazine Association and the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors. Randy has lived in Boca Raton with his wife, Shelley Huff-Schultz, since 1985. His son, daughter-in-law and their three children also live in Boca Raton.

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