Martino: Council Surrendered to the Developer on Res. 13

On March 5th, the one and only one monthly meeting of the City Council of Palm Beach Gardens was gaveled to order at 7:00 PM and adjourned at about 11:00 PM. For that one and only one monthly meeting of approximately four hours Gardens’ taxpayers paid the five part-time City Council members approximately $5000.00 each in salary and benefits.

The agenda was typical and far from strenuous. Of significance to me and the reason for my attendance were Resolution 13, 2015 and its associated Public Hearing. Resolution 13, 2015 concerned a development in my neighborhood.

In the way of background, Resolution 13, 2015 is/was a petition by a developer to change Phase 2 of an existing and presently approved 3-phase Planned Unit Development (PUD). Phase’s 1 and 3 have been built to completion. Phase 2 is currently approved for a mixed use professional office development of approximately 50,000 square feet on 3.87 acres which is consistent and compatible in uses to Phases 1 and 3. However, Phase 2 is not yet built. Resolution 13, 2015, as petitioned, is completely inconsistent and incompatible with Phases 1 and 3 of this already approved PUD. It proposed to change the currently approved professional office development to a 3-building extremely intense commercial development consisting of 29,216 square feet of which 19,016 square feet are devoted to high intensity restaurant uses and the balance to retail uses. In addition, the developer through Resolution 13, 2015 is/was petitioning for a Major Conditional Use change to allow a 1,000 square foot drive-through restaurant of unknown origin. The 3.87 acre parcel is bounded on the south by Northlake Boulevard, on the north by the Lake Catherine residential development, on the east by MacArthur Boulevard and Phase I of the originally approved PUD consisting of professional offices and a 5,000 square foot restaurant, and on the west by the Blood Bank professional office use complex which is Phase III of the approved PUD.

The City Council had two basic decisions to make; 1) approve or disapprove of the developer’s petition to change from the currently approved mixed use professional office development to a high intensity commercial mixed use development of restaurant and retail uses; 2) approve or disapprove a Major Conditional Use to allow a 1,000 square foot drive-through restaurant. Recognizing the fact that the Developer currently has approvals for Phase 2 of the approved PUD consisting of a mixed use professional office complex, in my opinion, the Developer had little to no legal standing to compel the City to approve his petition for the requested substantial use changes to the already approved Phase 2 office complex of the original PUD. Resolution 13, 2015 presented a challenge to the City Council. In voting to approve Resolution 13, 2015, I am sorry to say that in my opinion, the City Council failed to meet this test. The City Council surrendered the Public’s issues and concerns to the Developer’s interests and profit.

During the Resolution 13, 2015 Public Hearing, 15 to 20 people, of which I was one, spoke for the allotted three minutes. We stated for the record our very real concerns about this proposed petition by the Developer to change the uses of the approved Phase 2 PUD development and the effects these proposed changes would have on one of the older, more established neighborhoods of the City. In my opinion, the majority of the Public’s comments were rational, reasonable, and realistic, highlighting legitimate issues and causes of concern, many of which posed legal probabilities for denial of Resolution 13, 2015 and its associated petitions. The issues and questions raised by the Public concerned traffic, ingress and egress, access and circulation, a restaurant with drive-through, approved professional office uses versus proposed commercial restaurant and retail uses, orienting buildings closer to Northlake Boulevard, hours of operation from 6:00 AM to 11:00 PM, and waivers granted to the developer to allow the petition to succeed.

Upon closing the Public Hearing on Resolution 13, 2015, the Mayor and City Council began to deliberate among themselves, with the Developer and his representatives, and with the City Staff. Further participation by the Public was not allowed even though the Developer and his representatives were granted additional time and opportunity to market against the Public’s issues and concerns that were raised at the Public Hearing. From my perspective, the City Council’s questions and discussions missed the mark regarding the Public’s issues. Little, if any questions were raised by the City Council members’ concerning the high intensity of the commercial restaurant and retail uses that the developer was petitioning for. Traffic, internal and external circulation, building locations, ingress and egress, hours of operation from 6:00 AM to 11:00 PM, and waivers, received only cursory discussion by the City Council. The City Council voted 5 to 0 to approve Resolution 13, 2015 but removed the Major Conditional Use for a drive-through restaurant. However, in conjunction with the denial for the drive-through the City Council encouraged the Developer to return for approval of the drive-through once the Developer had an identifiable tenant. Why?

Resolution 13, 2015 was not merely a petition to amend an already approved and existing Planned Unit Development. This Resolution with its associated petitions was and is a wholesale change in uses completely inconsistent with the original approvals and incompatible with the other built-out Phases of the existing PUD. In my opinion, on this basis alone denial was the prudent and correct vote. However, denial was not to be the vote of this City Council.

I have no doubts that passage of this Resolution by this City Council has changed the character and integrity of this neighborhood in a negative way. Passage of this Resolution by this City Council has once again demonstrated its lack of depth for the true understanding of the health, safety, and welfare of the residents they were elected to represent. Passage of this Resolution by this City Council has and will have a chilling effect on the quality of life for this neighborhood and the entire City. But the Developer has been satisfied.

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