Supporters of the Related Cos. One Flagler office tower proposal packed City Hall on Wednesday as the developer pitched its top-tier, 25-story tower for a site near the downtown waterfront zoned for 5.
Outnumbered opponents criticized the limited advance notice of the Downtown Action Committee meeting. They said the project would violate the intent of a referendum against waterfront high-rises and would exacerbate traffic and block views. The opponents included residents of nearby condominiums, and billionaire downtown landowner and developer Jeff Greene, who plans a competing, $250 million office and hotel project several blocks off the waterfront.
Supporters included representatives of the Chamber of Commerce, Downtown Development Authority, Northwest Community Consortium, former Major Joel Daves and others, many of them wearing “I support One Flagler” buttons, who said the project would be an attractive addition to the waterfront that would bring high-end companies, construction and permanent jobs and property tax revenue and preserve the historic church it would rise behind.
The board did not vote on the agenda item, which was scheduled just for Related to lay out the broad outlines of the project. But it was disclosed that Related filed an application Tuesday to rewrite the city’s downtown zoning map in a way that would let the company overcome the height restriction and pursue the project.
The city in October rejected a plan that would have allowed the New York-based development firm to build a 30-story version of the tower. The plan would have allowed builders to get approval for additional height by preserving and buying development rights from historic buildings. Dozens of residents opposed it, in favor of keeping tall buildings off the waterfront.
Related now is proposing the 25-story, 275,000-square-foot tower on the site, at South Flagler Drive and Lakeview Avenue, behind the First Church of Christ, Scientist, with a downtown zoning rewrite to make it possible.
Harvey Oyer III, West Palm Beach land use lawyer for Related, said the project would block few views and generate 1,000 high-paying jobs and $2 million in annual tax money for the city, while providing the skyline with an iconic structure designed by David Childs, architect of Manhattan’s Freedom Tower and 7 World Trade Center.
Consultants hired by the developer have recommended a number of strategies to ease traffic, he said.
These include adding computer software to more efficiently sync traffic signals, staggering office work hours, shave off some of the city’s Tent Site property on Okeechobee Boulevard for an additional turning lane onto Quadrille Boulevard and get the Coast Guard to stop Intracoastal Waterway drawbridge openings during peak traffic hours.
“You don’t need to move your mega yachts and hold up thousands of people” during rush hour, Oyer said.
On Tuesday, Oyer had submitted to the city’s Development Services Department a proposal to revise the city’s downtown master plan to include an “Okeechobee Business District.” The idea — mentioned only in passing at Wednesday’s meeting — is to create consistent zoning that allows high-rises up and down Okeechobee Boulevard, he said after the meeting.
The city’s original 1995 downtown plan included such an area, then referred to as the “Okeechobee spine,” but subsequent changes altered zoning on various blocks, resulting in “a hodgepodge of varying zoning regulations,” he said. One of those changes resulted from a public outcry about waterfront building heights and a referendum that limited the zoning on the church property where Related now wants to build, to five stories.
Oyer contended that failure to make Okeechobee zoning consistent will lead that section of downtown to be “under-utilized, under-valued, economically under-perform while miring the area in traffic gridlock.”
Nancy Pullum, who heads a development watchdog group called Citizens for Thoughtful Growth, needled the Downtown Action Committee for having Related make its pitch for One Flagler without providing information about the zoning change needed to make it happen.
“There’s no vote taken, but suitors are trying to woo you without all the details you need,” Pullum said. “To have a presentation with no backup, with no information to the public or to you leaves people saying, ‘What?’ …We’ve been consistently asking, ‘What’s the plan?’ …If the concepts are introduced only to select people, it kind of dampens the spirit of meaningful public participation.”
Publication: Palm Beach Post
Author: Tony Doris