Walkable West Palm Beach

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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.


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:

A12a A12 A11c A11b A11a A11 A1a A2 A3 A4 A8 A9 A1 A0 A0.1

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Related/Rybovich project Flagler Drive frontage

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Related/Rybovich project Flagler Drive frontage

At a recent community meeting concerning this project, this image was taken and provided to WalkableWPB.

As I don’t have all the details on this proposal yet, I’m holding off on an analysis of it at this point.
Take a look at this image and give your initial thoughts in the comments.

This project is coming down the pike very fast. Public meetings are scheduled as follows:

Community Meeting to Ask Questions and Get Answers:

Date: Wednesday December 11

Time: 6:30 PM

Location: 425 24th Street – Center for Creative Education


Planning Board Meeting:

Date: Tuesday December 17

Time: 6:00 PM

Location: City Commission Chambers at City Hall