Walkable West Palm Beach


Solving waterfront hotel parking issues requires vision, creativity, leadership

In the latest in a series of unfortunately designed development projects, the Palm Harbor Marina was approved last month 4 to 1 for approval. Following quotes from the Palm Beach Post story give context to this approval:

“I really love the way the hotel looks. I really hate the garage,” Mayor Jeri Muoio said. With a lot of parking downtown, she said, “I don’t think that’s what we want on the waterfront.”
At the 22-story, 132-unit Waterview Towers, “we call it the ‘green monster,’ ” board vice president Jerry Waldman told commissioners. “You’re blocking 90 feet of waterfront for no reason.”
Rick Greene, the city’s director of development services, told commissioners developers may, by a formula in city code, be forced to build that many parking spaces to serve the number of rooms. But the commission waived that requirement, voting only for “no less than” 50 spaces.
“You would not be averse to reducing the number of spaces?” Muoio asked Samuel E. Poole, III, attorney for the developers.
“We would not,” Poole said. “However, we cannot give you a number this evening. We ask that you work with us.”

The parking garage has been the biggest objection from the community regarding this project for some time.  I’ve written about some better options for the parking structure for months, hoping the commission would be able to facilitate a better answer. After all, the developer proposed 175 spaces, with a payment-in-lieu to the city for the remainder of spaces to get them up to the 207 required. This demonstrates they don’t need as many spaces as required. The arbitrary nature of that 207 number is a topic for another day.

The unfortunate part of this approval is that with more foresight, the commission could have relaxed the parking requirement ahead of time and leveraged that to achieve a better project for all parties involved. Instead, and this was baffling, the idea of reducing parking minimums was not brought up until the last 10 minutes of the meeting, and then in a hasty vote, the commission approved a reduced parking limit to 50 spaces. The commissioners, Keith James in particular, seemed so concerned about ‘losing this hotel’ that they were willing to give away the public interest in a better project, so that the project is approved now. Hotel/good design is not an either/or proposition. Look no further than the Darth Vader building to see the damage a poorly conceived project can have on surrounding urban fabric. Short term gain, long term consequences that spillover to adjacent blocks and have negative effects to the property tax base to the whole downtown.

Sure, but they need that parking, or they can’t build!

Indeed, a hotel needs parking. The question is how can the parking needs of the hotel be accommodated in such a way that the design of the project doesn’t devalue the public waterfront. Numerous options and combinations exist.

A study was done by a parking consultant that shparkingowed the Banyan garage could accommodate an additional 120 spaces with a new level built. That doesn’t even count existing capacity that may exist. Add 120 spaces and 44 surface lot spaces to get 164 total, very close to the 175 the developer wished to provide left to their own devices. In addition, there are also hundreds of private and public spaces in the very near vicinity, shown on map at left. An operator of the many parking lots and garages within a two block radius could lease extra spaces or sell them to the developer.

A crude approximation, using a load factor of 75% overnight and 85% for the Banyan garage, indicates there are plenty of spaces to satisfy the parking needs in the vicinity. This doesn’t factor in the restriping of Flagler, which would also create dozens more on-street spaces in the vicinity, perhaps eliminating the need to build the ugly surface lot to the south side of the project.


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These underutilized spaces could satisfy the parking demand now. Over the longer term, the developer could lease or purchase spaces from the parking structure sure to be part of the Old City Hall proposal. The original proposals included approximately 600 spaces directly across the street from the Palm Harbor Marina site. An internal parking structure (appropriately wrapped with active uses) could potentially accommodate both the Palm Harbor Marina parking needs AND Waterview Towers parking needs as its parking structure reaches the end of its useful life.

Another option would be to build the Palm Harbor Marina hotel on top of a parking podium wrapped with active uses. This could potentially handle existing parking needs of Waterview Towers as well. But it would require Waterview residents to agree to a taller hotel because the parking podium would quickly take up most of the development capacity on the site at 75 feet.

There is still hope the parties can come to a solution that will not create a waterfront site that is dominated by the separate parking garage. It’s just much less likely now.


Commission approval meeting:


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Bad planning decisions haunt West Palm Beach waterfront

The bad planning decisions of the past shouldn’t dictate the future of our city’s most precious asset, its waterfront. Unfortunately, the Palm Harbor Marina project, with its very regrettable waterfront parking garage, may be approved by the commission Tuesday without substantial changes to the original plan approved at first reading.
Past articles and background about the project.


Guarantee this will not look as good as the rendering

Guarantee this will not look as good as the rendering


Years ago, the city entered into a long term land lease and granted rights to develop the current surface parking lot. This parcel of land is exempt from the Downtown Master Plan as it was encumbered by this land lease. From the Palm Beach Post:

The city’s 100-year lease with Leisure Resorts dates to 1968…The marina is exempt from a five-story restriction that voters approved in 1996 and can build as high as 75 feet, though it must allow a view of the water between Banyan Boulevard and Second Street.

To my knowledge, meetings held have only included the residents at Waterview Towers, the developer, and Commissioner Mitchell; trying to arrive at a consensus to make a project happen.  Ana Maria Aponte, City Urban Designer, to her credit has made the project better from what could have been built as of right under CC-2 zoning. But ‘better’ is far from ideal, and at a prominent site on the waterfront such as this, we should accept nothing short of excellent.

Several options are available to remove the parking garage from the waterfront or at least to wrap the garage with active uses. I previously wrote in April (“A better way to develop the Palm Harbor Marina Site”):

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. 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.

As a second alternative approach, a parking podium could internalize the parking in the hotel, and wrap the parking with active uses (such as waterfront restaurants) to effectively hide the parking. It appears this approach has been rejected, as there are objections about going from 75 feet to 92 feet in height.

Had this project been entitled and approved under the current Downtown Master Plan regulations, any parking would be required to be screened, and design requirements would ensure a quality public realm where the building meets the street.

Unfortunately, these past planning mistakes hang around our neck like an albatross. Rather than a reasonable compromise to line the parking structure with active uses, effectively hiding the parking and making for lively ground floor uses, the public will get a dead use – a parking garage – along our public waterfront. Attempts to mitigate this by screening with a green wall help marginally, but cannot change the fact that this is a horrible use of the downtown waterfront. From Project for Public Spaces, a well-respected urban planning organization: Mistake #1 in waterfront design is ceding the waterfront to automobiles instead of people:

The waterfront should be one of the main destinations in any city, not a place to pass through in a car. Yet many cities…have greatly hindered access to their waterfronts by capitulating to the auto. Raised freeways, wide roads, and parking lots dominate waterfront views, cutting people off from what should be a wonderful public asset.

We only get one chance to get it right. We can do better.

[Share your opinion with the commissioners. Write them here, and show up to the commission meeting on Tuesday].

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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.


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].



Hotel at Palm Harbor Marina will add vitality to West Palm waterfront

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”

Staff opinion:

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:

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