Houston’s site plan

There is a site plan for the proposed Houston’s restaurant where the Wildflower once stood along the Intracoastal Waterway in Boca Raton. The plan is preliminary; city departments still are reviewing it. But many important details are emerging.

First, the numbers. The restaurant would be 7,160 square feet, with about 1,500 square feet of outdoor dining and drinking space. It would have 124 seats inside, 38 on the patio and another 36 on the bar patio. There would be 131 parking spaces—more than the city requires—and there would be no valet parking. The tight confines of the location—near East Palmetto Park Road and Northeast Fifth Avenue just west of the bridge – would have made a valet system tough to include.

There would be only one entrance for cars, from Fifth Avenue at the northwest corner of the site. The vehicle lanes would be a little shorter and tighter than normal. Indeed, the applicant—California-based Hillstone Restaurant Group—has asked for a technical deviation to allow 11-foot lanes. There would be parking for bicycles.

But there would be no dockage for diners who wanted to arrive by boat. The city council had expressed a collective wish that the site could accommodate boaters, and thus avoid conflicts with the city marina at Silver Palm Park on the south side of Palmetto Park Road.

Hillstone, though, said “significant and dangerous currents” in that section of the Intracoastal would make building a dock problematic. Hillstone also argued that the “beauty of the view would be disrupted” by a dock. The site plan does include perhaps a higher council priority. There would be a pedestrian walkway through the site, so as not to cut off public access to the waterfront. Benches would be along the walkway.

The restaurant itself would be angled generally toward the northeast, where the Intracoastal curves. Parking would be to the south and west. Farther west would remain the vacant lot at the corner of Palmetto Park Road and Fifth Avenue. The 0.6-acre parcel is owned by Fifth Avenue Associates. It is assessed by the property appraiser’s office at roughly $1.5 million, and a city spokeswoman said Boca would be interested in buying it “if the price was right.”

Judging by the renderings (one is above), the restaurant would have the same stylish, contemporary look as the Houston’s near Town Center Mall, which Hillstone also operates. Another Hillstone property is Palm Beach Grill on Royal Poinciana Way. For all its importance, especially to residents who live near the site, the site plan is just one key part of the proposal. The other is the lease agreement. Boca Raton wants a proper financial return for its $7.5 million investment to buy the 2.3-acre site in 2009. According to the city spokeswoman, the staff hopes to have a lease deal ready for the council’s review in September.

The spokeswoman said the hope is for the council also to get the site plan next month. Many city departments and several outside parties—among them Florida Power & Light and the Lake Worth Drainage District—must review the plan, but for most the review is cursory and has been completed. The most serious review is coming from the city’s development services and traffic departments. The city and Hillstone held a preliminary compliance review meeting on June 30.

Regarding traffic, Hillstone commissioned one traffic study in April and another in July. According to the city, the results from the second didn’t change in terms of how many vehicle trips the project would generate. There were “minor changes” in such areas as sidewalk connections, crosswalks and bike racks.

The city also is conducting its own study of traffic in the area around the property, with the goal of making changes to improve what already can be a chokepoint at Palmetto Park and Fifth. Before the site plan goes to the planning and zoning board for recommendation to the council, Palm Beach County must agree that the project would meet the county’s traffic performance standards. The county’s review is underway.

It has been four years since the city sought bids for the Wildflower site, having waited until the worst of the recession had passed. Yet the only bid came from Hillstone. At its May 2014 goal-setting session, the council made finding a tenant for the property its top priority. In April, the council approved rezoning to accommodate the restaurant. After six years, things are moving quickly.

iPic appeal scheduled

Last week, I wrote about the planned appeal by iPic of the Delray Beach Planning and Zoning Board’s rejection of the company’s theater-centered, mixed-use project south of Atlantic Avenue between Southeast Fourth Avenue and Southeast Fifth Avenue. City Manager Don Cooper confirmed Monday that the city commission will hear the appeal at its Aug. 18 meeting, not the Aug. 11 meeting.

Atlantic Crossing site plan delay

Delray Beach’s attempt to secure a new site plan for Atlantic Crossing seems to have been delayed.

The city and the developers had been negotiating to have the developers restore an access road on the west side of the project at Northeast Sixth Avenue. Things were progressing, but then the city commission made no decision on a traffic consultant’s recommendation. Also, the developers sued the city.

Mayor Cary Glickstein had hoped to have the issue worked out by September. Cooper said Monday, however, there is “no new information,” and he expects no action by the city this month.

County fire-rescue services resurfaces

A year ago, Delray Beach examined the idea of contracting with the county for fire-rescue services, and the city commission rejected it quite forcefully.

Yet at the Aug. 11 meeting, Cooper will brief the commission on. . .contracting with the county for fire-rescue services. Cooper said it will be for “discussion purposes only,” with no vote taking and no commitment from the city or the county. Delray Beach has not received a proposal from the county. At the same time, negotiations continue with the firefighters union, whose contract expires Sept. 30. The city is asking for savings in pension costs, as the city received during last year’s contract negotiations with the police union.

In an email, Glickstein said that despite last year’s unanimous rejection, the commission “was open to seeing a more comprehensive analysis.” The one-year proposal of 2014 “made little sense.” Glickstein said this year’s version is “being driven” by city and county administrators “without union intervention” and would be presented as a permanent change. He will “welcome the analysis.”

Glickstein believes that in a decade only Boca Raton and West Palm Beach still may have their own fire departments. “There are compelling reasons,” he said, for consolidation. “Purchasing-scale economies, far better dispatch and communication network for emergencies, unloading pension and collective bargaining distractions, far better training facilities, to name a few.” The loss of local control, he acknowledged, “is a big factor.” Overall, though, “It will come down to economics.”

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.