The proposed hotel consists of an eight-story building, 75 feet in height to the finished floor of the roof top garden, and includes 108 hotel rooms, 2,650 square feet of meeting space, and a 4,961 square feet restaurant/bar facility facing the waterfront. Along the waterfront promenade, the project proposes a public plaza which includes a water fountain, landscape, and seating.
From the applicant’s justification statement:
“The proposed hotel with waterfront restaurant allows a much more urban design that will help activate the new waterfront promenade and Flagler sidewalk. The hotel will actually be set back nearly 25′ from the water, and will provide space for outdoor dining within the hotel footprint that will directly engage the public promenade. The eyes and ears of hotel guests and restaurant patrons on the waterfront promenade and on Flagler 24 hours a day, seven days a week will greatly enhance public safety. The economic and cultural activity will support the renaissance of downtown West Palm Beach waterfront…”
“Waivers from setbacks from Flagler Drive. The current CC-2 setbacks date back more than 30 years, to a time when more suburban standards were applied to the urban core of the City. The Code calls for an extreme 54′ building setback from Flagler between the ground and 40 feet.. Strictly applying these suburban standards to the unique shape of this parcel would create a strange and unfeasible building”
It is staff’s professional opinion, an 18 feet setback in an urban environment such as Flagler Drive is appropriate and desirable for the downtown area. The location of the building closer to the street will provide additional surveillance to the street and it will enhance the interaction between the private property and the public ROW
The project is unusual in downtown in that the Zyscovich downtown master plan (DMP) does not apply to the site. Instead, due to its history, it is governed under another set of zoning standards and zoned as City Center-2 (CC-2). This zoning standard is not form-based as is our current DMP and would have likely required a tower-in-a park type development (think Trianon for an example).
Wisely, the developer has opted to utilize City Center- Planned Development zoning and the project is better for it. The proposal will engage the street, with an entrance on Flagler Drive and active use (restaurant). The public park will be a welcome addition to connect a very disused area of the waterfront that does not feel open to the public at present. This project will result in more public use of the waterfront and the infill of a good portion of the surface parking lot that currently exists.
One regrettable aspects of this project: The parking garage on the waterfront. More of the frontage along Flagler Drive could be active space, rather than the parking garage proposed, but at least it will be screened with a green wall. Having a parking garage facing the water is a really poor use of our greatest community asset, our waterfront. Those parked cars will get a great view all day long! but that doesn’t help the waterfront at all. This space could be used in a much better way. Project for Public Spaces has a great section of whitepapers on best practices for creating lively, engaging, and valuable waterfronts. Rule number one is to not make your waterfront auto-dominated, and to engage the space with mixed use buildings with active uses, not high-rise towers with single uses.
Most of our zoning code (except the DMP) says a whole lot about setbacks and open space, but very little if anything about the quality of the frontage and engagement with the public realm.
Setbacks won’t get you a superb waterfront. Great projects that shape and engage the waterfront will. A superb waterfront is an asset that makes an entire community more valuable as a result.
As new projects are coming for our waterfront, myself along with aGuyonClematis and others are pushing for a look at our codes for development along the water, and a move to a form-based code that would ensure a quality public waterfront by-right, rather than a subpar project through an adversarial process. The win-lose negotiation strategy needs to stop (ie, propose something absurd, force a compromise, receive more development rights) and we need to move toward a plan that has more predictability and less conflict. Learn more about how this was achieved, to large degree, for our downtown.
All that said, compared to what could have been built here under the CC-2 zoning, this is a big improvement. I hope we can improve upon some of the items mentioned above, as staff has requested some improvements to the site plan.
Plans and renderings: