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 showed 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.
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: