Monday, September 25, 2023

New Royal Palm Place Phase, Delray Wants Motorized Scooters Out

Phase 2 in the redevelopment of Boca Raton’s Royal Palm Place has entered a new phase.

Nearly two years ago, Investments Limited—which owns Royal Palm Place—proposed two new buildings. The larger one would have faced Northeast Mizner Boulevard and included almost 300 residential units.

Last week, however, Investments Limited filed a less ambitious application with the city. This Phase 2 would add a 144-room, extended-stay hotel—no brand yet—atop a parking garage. The structure would face Federal Highway between Southeast Second and Third streets, just west of the mixed-use project that in 2006 was the plaza’s first phase of redevelopment.

According to documents submitted to the city, Phase 2 also would include two “interactive art parks.” One would be on Federal Highway and the other as an extension to the existing “Garden of Humanity.” In addition, the project would bring an “enhanced pedestrian realm, including decorative paving, landscaping, signage and other placemaking elements,” plus right-of-way improvements with enhanced on-street parking, landscape and decorative pavers.”

Robert Eisen of Investments Limited cited “many reasons” for the new plan, most notably that the company “wasn’t sure the downtown was ready for an influx of that many new rental apartments.” Boca Raton has approved several other large downtown rental projects since the end of the Great Recession. Eisen said Investments Limited also “felt that the extended-stay hotel filled a need in the downtown.”

As with the previous plans, a big issue will be parking. Investments Limited calls it the “most important and challenging element” of the proposal.

Royal Palm Place has been “underparked”—as planners say—since its construction in 1966. Investments Limited points out that private projects north of Royal Palm Place displaced public spaces on the street. The company claims, however, that Royal Palm Place would “meet code” for parking if this project is built.

The new garage would add 390 spaces—184 in three underground stories for valet and employee parking—and 205 spaces in four stories above ground for hotel guests and the public. Eight stories would be for the hotel. According to Investments Limited, demolition of retail and restaurant space along Federal Highway also would reduce parking demand by 222 spaces. New, similar space would be on the ground floor of the hotel.

A new parking management program, the company says, would better balance supply and demand. Overall, the changes would bring “improved traffic flow at street level, more direct access to the building for emergency vehicles and better visibility for pedestrians.”

Investments Limited is not asking for transfer of development rights within the downtown. The company is asking for technical deviations from the driveway code to create an “authentic space” that would feature “narrower streets, on-street parking and tighter curb radii to facilitate shorter pedestrian street crossings.” The company wants extra height above the normal 10-story limit by saying the project would follow downtown design guidelines.

With Phase 2, Investments Limited is promising a transformed Royal Palm Place with an “interconnected network of pedestrian-friendly streets,” canopy trees, “potential microclimates at the pedestrian level” and new public art space. I will have updates as the application goes through city review.

Delray down on scooters

Delray Beach wants to ban motorized scooters.

An ordinance is on tonight’s city commission agenda for first reading. Hollywood already implemented a ban because of safety concerns. Scooter rental companies set up near beaches and other heavily populated areas. Riders may be drunk, clumsy or both.

The city attorney’s office cites an American Medical Association study. It reads in part, “The study notes, “This rapidly expanding technology is a disruptive force in short-distance transportation, and policy makers seeking to understand associated risks and appropriate regulatory responses should seriously consider its effects on public health.”

Approval would require two votes. Delray Beach and other cities are racing the Florida Legislature. Bills that would set statewide rules on “micromobility” devices are moving through the House and Senate. The session ends May 3.

Delray budget red flags

Delray Beach City Hall (Photo by Christiana Lilly)

Delray Beach city commissioners won’t decide on a budget until September, but they will hear tonight about a worrisome trend in the city’s finances.

Expenses have increased almost 28 percent in the last five years. Meanwhile, Delray Beach’s population has increased about 10 percent. The increase in public safety alone was 22.7 percent. Police and fire services comprise 58.2 percent of the operating budget. That’s actually a slight decline since 2014.

Loxahatchee decision still out there—somewhere

Loxahatchee Natural Area (Photo by Lee Lietzke)

I had written late last year about proposals by the Trump administration that would open the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge to more uses, including expanded hunting. Regular visitors to the refuge, west of Boynton Beach, worried that the changes could ruin the atmosphere at this refuge from urban South Florida.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, which manages the refuge, had been scheduled to decide on the proposals in February. According to Audubon Florida, the government shutdown delayed the decision and no one knows when it will come.

Wright of passage

Delray Beach officials tout their village-by-the-sea image even as the city grows. Changes from the growth soon will remove a fixture from the old Delray Beach.

Last month, the city commission approved plans for Ocean Delray. The 19 condos will sell for $4 million and up. Ocean Delray will displace the tidy Wright by the Sea Hotel, which had been operating since the early 1950s. The roughly two-acre site south of Linton Boulevard has 200 feet of beachfront.

National Realty Investment Advisors bought the property last October for $25 million, nearly double the market value. The developers note that the last oceanfront condo in Delray Beach was built 45 years ago.

The architect is Randall Stofft. He also designed the Seagate Hotel and Spa near the beach on Atlantic Avenue. Completion is expected late next year.

Missed chances?

Rendering of Rosemary Avenue in CityPlace, which will be renamed Rosemary Square. (The Related Companies)

A recent Palm Beach Post story about CityPlace in West Palm Beach caught my attention.

The owners have changed the name to Rosemary Square, a reference to Rosemary Avenue, which runs through the project. West Palm Beach acquired the property, which had been blighted and dangerous, in the mid-1990s through foreclosure.

At the time, CityPlace was heavily retail. With the changes in commerce, Rosemary Square has become more much more residential and is adding office space. The owners told The Post that they want the project to become a part of the neighborhood and not just a destination.

In fact, that was the city’s hope two decades ago. Then-Mayor Nancy Graham wanted CityPlace to revitalize the area around it. That has happened, in part because the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts is just to the west. The county’s convention center went up south of Rosemary Square and is expanding. There’s a convention center hotel.

Property owners in Midtown had the same vision for Boca Raton—add residents and modernize the commercial space. Midtown would be for those who live there and for the wider city. Boca Raton had an opportunity. Now, the city just has lawsuits.

At last week’s goal-setting meetings, city council members and administrators tried to decide whether Midtown would remain a priority. But what could the city do, given all the litigation? They came to no good answer, because for now there isn’t one.

End of a chapter

To many, Key West means partying and fun. They don’t feel that way at the Delray Beach Police Department.

Last week, Lacy Marie Morris pleaded guilty to DUI manslaughter in the death of Christine Braswell. She had been driving a scooter with fellow officer Bernenda Marc as a passenger. Morris, whose blood alcohol level was twice the legal limit, turned her car into the scooter’s path. Marc nearly died, too.

Morris will serve 10 years. The sentence for Braswell’s family and fellow officers will last their lifetimes.

Roadwork correction

Word went out last week on social media that the state intended to close Palmetto Park Road near downtown for nine months, starting in September. The word was misleading.

The state will be working on the bridge over the El Rio Canal, just east of St. Paul Lutheran Church and School. According to a city spokeswoman, however, at least one lane in each direction will remain open. Obviously, the state can minimize the disruptions by timing the closures for less busy periods. The city’s communications department posted the full story to allay any fears that Palmetto Park Road might be shut down for almost a year.

Wiley E. workshop coming

On May 9, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will hold a workshop about what the city calls coyote “sightings” in Boca Raton.

The event will take place at the Downtown Library from 6:30 to 8 p.m. In the meantime, the city advises residents not to feed the coyotes. Well, yeah.

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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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