Walkable West Palm Beach


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Palm Harbor Marina struggles for a parking solution

At the City Commission meeting on April 28th, the commission voted in favor of the rezoning to CC-2 PD on first reading. Commissioner Mitchell made clear the first reading is just a starting point, however, and will not be supported on second reading unless substantial beneficial changes are made to the project.

Many in attendance and the commissioners expressed concerns, mainly around parking. People spoke out against the parking garage structure., echoing sentiments we’ve written about. An appraiser noted that the parking structure is the main factor that would de-value Waterview up to $7.5 million. Numerous public comment expressed concerns about ingress/egress into the parking garage off 3rd street.

Commissioner Mitchell made very good points about the public accessibility of water and her commitment to it. She noted the age of the parking structure to the north of Waterview, and how it will eventually reach the end of its useful life, probably sooner than later.  A more district-wide parking solution was hinted at that would remove the proposed garage as well as right the wrong that was done many years ago when the parking structure was built to the north of Waterview Towers.

Related to this project, the Downtown Action Committee just this past week approved off-site parking for a hotel project, this at the corner of Olive and Datura street downtown. All spaces for this project are to be provided in the Evernia Street municipal garage, except a handful of spaces that will be on a small surface lot on-site. This makes a lot of sense as a demand analysis shows that this garage has ample capacity, especially at night when it is most needed. The capacity is well below 50% nearly all the time, and even lower at night. So it can be done.

Commission voted to continue the Palm Harbor Marina discussion to the 26th, on Mitchell’s suggestion. Jeff Speck’s walkability report will be released on the 27th, and so it makes sense for the City/CRA/DDA to have time to incorporate these recommendations into whatever solution is proposed. The City should vote to continue this item as needed so the full report can be digested and a better solution found for all parties.


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A better way to develop the Palm Harbor Marina site

According to the Palm Beach Post, Palm Harbor Marina has two options before the City: The original proposal that would conform to a 75 foot height limit, and a revised proposal that would create a parking podium to internalize parking, but in doing would rise to a height of 92 feet.

Earlier this month, I covered the original proposal (75 feet) and discussed some of the pros and cons. I wrote that, compared to what could have been built here under the CC-2 zoning, this is a big improvement and overall, a decent project. But my hangup has been the parking garage on the waterfront, and I suspect it’s a common sentiment. After all, who wants to look at an ugly parking garage when we could have a public use activate the space, such as people dining by the water, enjoying the views, generating economic activity and creating jobs? It appears the developer is taking some heat, as the second option is an attempt at concealing/minimizing the negative impact of the parking garage to the adjacent properties.

 

Folks at the Waterview Towers don’t want a tower over 75 feet tall when they bought under the assumption nothing over 75 feet tall would be built next door. That’s totally understandable. The developer wants to maximize profit and get the maximum yield from their land. Also understandable.  The general public, and I’d venture the City Commission, don’t want a parking structure along a public promenade, devaluing it. After all, the CRA plans to draw people northward along the waterfront and reactivate it. From the Old City Hall ITN:

In 2011, the CRA hired a consultant to propose design enhancements to the City’s beautiful Waterfront Park. One of the recommendations was to extend the “park” north along Flagler Drive and to connect the park with those parcels north of Banyan Blvd. In addition the goal is to create additional park land to draw pedestrians north to attractions planned for the newly expanded park areas which will extend to 3rd Street. A copy of the preliminary plan is available under separate cover.

Putting a garage in this location is anathema to this plan.

Rather than providing on-site parking, the developer could provide spaces in an off-site parking facility, such as the Old City Hall redevelopment site. Already, the developer has proposed to provide some of its parking off-site:

The applicant is proposing to pay into the City’s parking trust fund for the 32 parking spaces not provided on site, as permitted by Section 94-485(i) of the zoning code.

The City and CRA have also anticipated a shared parking arrangement with the Old City Hall site and consultants noted the capacity available and the expansion opportunities in the Banyan garage. From the Old City Hall site ITN:

The City owns a 400 space parking garage directly across the street from the Site. On February 22, 2010, Lansing Melbourne Group issued the Banyan Street Garage Demand Study and a technical memorandum on the feasibility of the vertical expansion of the garage. (See Exhibits A & B). The study indicated that the existing demand in the garage comes primarily from the Clematis Street entertainment businesses and that there is substantial capacity during daylight hours during the week. The structural analysis showed that the existing structure could accommodate the addition of another level to the garage adding 120 spaces to today’s capacity for future growth or redevelopment. Today, the garage has 162 monthly parkers (40% of capacity). A total of 97 spaces have access throughout the day and week while the remaining 65 spaces have Monday through Friday access only.

There is an opportunity for a shared parking configuration with the development to utilize some of the parking in the Banyan garage. Proposers should review this option and analyze the best parking configuration for their proposed development.

The off-site parking option would remove an ugly, dead use from the public waterfront,  while activating it with a hotel and restaurant, making the waterfront more valuable in the process. It would also be consistent with CRA plans to extend and activate the public waterfront northward.

The developer could build in the entire footprint where there is now a parking garage, allowing for more rooms and higher yield on cost, and eliminating the need for a costly structured garage with expensive car lifts. Good for the developer. And more rooms for our downtown merchants. Lastly, and importantly, there is no reason this project should go above 75 feet in this scenario. It’s a win-win scenario.

Site plan

Site plan

We are working on ways to make better use of our streets downtown, and the upcoming recommendations from the downtown walkability study will certainly include ways to slow down and make Flagler Drive a better, safer, more pleasant experience. A slower and safer Flagler Drive is easier to traverse for pedestrians, hotel patrons, and hotel valets. This should help with objections about locating parking facilities off-site, and will also be consistent with the CRA goals to draw pedestrians north.

A great waterfront is a public asset because it confers benefits to the entire community at large. We don’t create great waterfronts because we are rich. We become rich (as a community) because we create great waterfronts. This enhanced value is captured by the expanded tax base of the entire downtown, and the city as a whole.

Let’s create a great waterfront we can be proud of for years to come.

[If you agree, please forward your thoughts to the City Commission and the Mayor, and come to the Commission meeting at 5 pm if you can].

 


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We talk downtown WPB with Jeff Speck

[Thanks for coming out last night for ‘Walkable Wednesday’! It was stimulating conversation all around. Next month – same time, different place: J Flynn’s Irish Pub on Clematis at 6 pm on March 26th. And don’t forget tonight’s “c’est la via” event downtown, and Critical Mass this Friday. Follow community building events on the blog calendar.]

Last week, Jeff Speck was in town to start his walkability study of our downtown. As part of this process, he met with stakeholders in the downtown to get up to speed on the facts on the ground, and opinions on what is most needed to improve walkability. Aaron Wormus, Joe Roskowski, Joe Chase, and I met with Jeff at Terebinth, the new art gallery/organic cafe on Dixie and Evernia Street downtown.

If you haven’t read Walkable City yet, put it at the top of your list. I have a copy if you’d like to borrow it. This book along with the Smart Growth Manual are two of the best books for understanding how to make great places for the layperson and they’ve been a big influence.

Here is a recap of the ideas we discussed at the meeting:

First up on the list: Maintenance issues downtown, especially the lack of priority for street shade trees. This is one of the most noticeable detriments to a decent walk.  See this report for a sample of the tree issues the downtown community has identified.  Jeff devotes an entire chapter in Walkable City to street trees, and states: “It’s best not to pick favorites in the walkability discussion – every individual point counts – but the humble American street tree might win my vote.” It’s great to have a renowned urban planner working on this plan for improving our downtown.

Joe Chase discussed the lack of connectivity between Banyan Boulevard/Clearlake office park area and Clematis Street, and the missing bicycle link between these two areas. It may be difficult to improve walkability in this area, but bikeability seems very achievable and an easier fix.

Parking: I made another call for higher standards for surface parking lots downtown. We have an abundance of surface parking lots, poorly maintained and without any landscaping. Our code only requires new surface parking lots to be screened (which we shouldn’t be building more of anyhow) but says little about landscaping and shade tree buffer on existing lots.  We should also consider the feasibility of installing a green wall on the Evernia and Banyan parking garages, as Naples has done. Lastly, require city employees to pay market rate for their parking, or at least provide a parking cash-out. May be politically difficult, but it would be a shot in the arm to Clematis retail. I’ll need another post to go into the reasons why.

Two-way Olive and Dixie. Another idea that deserves its own blog post, and has been kicked around and talked about for years.

Aaron Wormus brought up the Sunset Lounge, and the CRA plan to revitalize it. This led to a discussion about how to reconnect the Northwest neighborhood with neighborhoods to the south and east. We all emphasized the importance of maintaining our street grid, not abandoning streets and alleys. We supported following through on the downtown master plan to create new streets west of Sapodilla and break up the mega-blocks, and creating the frontage road on the west side of the FEC right of way.

Joe Roskowski had much to say about Okeechobee Boulevard and how unpleasant and unsafe an experience it is to cross, on foot or on bike. Everyone strongly agreed. Same goes for Quadrille Boulevard. Even after the FDOT grant project, it maintains a highway speed geometry, with excessively wide lanes, much too wide curbs, and angry drivers who don’t like bicyclists sharing the road.

What would you have told him? Tweet @JeffSpeckAICP.

That’s a recap of the meeting. Jeff’s report is due to be released sometime this summer, most likely in June. Stay tuned – we will need everyone’s help to see that the plan is carried through.


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The tent site brief background

A couple articles below for background on the “Tent Site”. The Downtown Master Plan calls for this site to become a Class A office tower with about half the footprint preserved as a park or open space. From the DMP:

INTENT

Redevelop the City owned sites on Okeechobee Boulevard to enhance this entrance to the Downtown and provide a public amenity.

1. DEVELOP THE TENT SITE AS A SIGNATURE OFFICE BUILDING The Tent site should be developed with an iconic building to strengthen West Palm Beach’s image as an office center. TDRs may be used on the property.

2. DEVELOP THE TRIANGLE SITE AS A PUBLIC AMENITY Develop the Triangle site as an open space with a low-scale civic use.

From The Palm Beach Post:

Longtime rivals vie for coveted West Palm Beach land.

CRA wants a closed bidding process

Tent site ss