July Council – FPL Campus and Other Issues

Lasting until well past 10:30 pm, the July council meeting covered a lot of ground, but the most significant was Resolution 35, the approval of the current stage of the proposed headquarters campus for Florida Power and Light.

FPL Campus

Approved were four aspects of the plan:

  1. Design guidelines (a detailed description of the development standards for the site, including setbacks, height, landscaping, signage, lighting, uses, architecture and screening)
  2. Maximum building heights (165 feet for 12-15 stories)
  3. Use restrictions for the site (professional office – more restrictive even than the current light industrial designation)
  4. Inclusion of a “helistop”

A “helistop” differs from a “helipad” evidently, in that normal use is just pickup and dropoff. No fuel is stored on the site and the helicopter(s) are not parked there when not in use.

It was noted that the change in use restrictions is an improvement, as the current designation would have allowed businesses in the “light industrial” category which could have been more intrusive and less attractive.

A fortune 200 company like FPL locating a headquarters complex in the Gardens is a good thing for the city. It will host many high paying jobs and given the “captive” nature of the workplace (ie. including cafeteria, clinics, etc.), the traffic impact during the work day will not be excessive.

Several residents of nearby areas such as Garden Woods expressed concern about helicopter noise and the height of the buildings but most were appreciative of the project, including the Northern Chamber Chief Beth Kigel and Gary Hines of the County Business Development Board. The Council voted 5-0 to proceed.

Avenir Discussion

During the “City Manager Report” portion of the meeting, the proposed development at Vavrus Ranch came up, as Mr. Ferris is proposing that staff in conjunction with the Treasure Coast Planning Council, solicit input on impact from surrounding communities. Avenir, as it is called by developer WAL Development Group of Coral Gables, would build 7,600 homes, professional office space, a 300 room hotel and a pediatrics center on the site of about 7 square miles. This could amount to 20,000 residents, about 40% of the current population of the Gardens. Many of the council members panned the project, saying they had “never seen the likes of this” (Jablin), and that it was “way too big” (Levy). “we’re not on the same page – not even in the same library.” (Russo) The current master plan for the site would allow about 500 homes and this is a massive change from what was envisioned for the western part of the city. Traffic, drainage, environmental concerns all are problematic.

What seemed to come across clearly in this discussion was that the developer has really not done due diligence in bringing the council into the loop. Going public with plans of this magnitude before even a courtesy call on the members is a tad arrogant. David Levy summed it up the feeling pretty well: “Ice cubes in Miami in the summer probably have a better chance than that project,” he said. “I think it’s DOA.”

Other Actions

  • The modernizing of the 70’s era PGA Plaza at Prosperity and PGA was approved. Home to the coming Trader Joe’s, this site is to get a fresh new look, with design and landscaping improvements and more retail space.
  • Parking modifications to Downtown at the Gardens was approved, specifically adding a small strip along Kyoto Gardens Drive near Cabo Flats.
  • Zoning changes were approved for development of the Palm Beach Orthopaedic Institute Medical Campus on the Klock property on the north side of Burns Road.
  • Approval was given on second reading for the erection of the monopole antenna on the city hall municipal complex.

City Manager Annual Review

Toward the end of the meeting, after 10:00pm, City Manager Ron Ferris received his “Annual Review”. This mostly pro-forma exercise is an opportunity for the council members to pile their accolades on the City Manager, who Eric Jablin calls the “finest city manager in Florida if not the country”. David Levy praised Ron’s leadership of the Gardens – “one of the most highly regarded cities in the state”. Marcie Tinsley praised his “out of the box thinking” and said he was “a great problem solver”. Joe Russo mentioned his “great job on the police contract”, and said the city employees “love him and work hard for him.” Finally, Mayor Bert Premuroso, applied four objective measurements: budget, staff morale, open communications, and truth, finding our city manager excellent in all of them.

Mr. Ferris’s contract expires in 2016.

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