By Sallie James
Boca Raton will spend $50,000 on a traffic study to determine how an already congested downtown intersection could be modified to accommodate the crush of traffic from a proposed waterfront restaurant.
The Hillstone Restaurant Group Inc. wants to build a Houston’s Restaurant on the Wildflower property at the northeast corner of the intersection of Palmetto Park Road and Northeast Fifth Avenue. It would lease the land from the city.
Officials questioned how the intersection could handle hundreds of additional daily car trips if the restaurant is built.
“It’s a challenging intersection,” conceded Deputy Mayor Constance Scott. “But there are solutions.”
At a Sept. 9. meeting, City Council members voted to proceed with lease negotiations and a development proposal for a site plan.
Now city officials are trying to determine what “solutions” could mitigate additional traffic on Northeast Fifth Avenue. Among the options are the acquisition of extra land through eminent domain so more turning lanes could be added on Northeast Fifth Avenue to relieve gridlock, Boca Raton Mayor Susan Haynie said.
Vacant property on the northeast corner of the intersection might offer the relief that is needed, she said. That land is owned by Cal Haddad, who also owns Fifth Avenue Place on the intersection’s northwest corner. Haddad could not be reached for comment.
During the meeting, some residents decried the restaurant plan, saying the intersection is already too narrow and congested to adequately accommodate existing traffic.
North/south bicycle lanes on Northeast Fifth Avenue taper into nonexistence on the intersection’s north side at Palmetto Park Road, forcing cyclists into the traffic lanes because the roadway is too narrow.
The Trattoria Romana restaurant on northwest corner of the intersection already creates traffic tie-ups when valets and restaurant patrons block traffic as they attempt to turn into and pull out of the restaurant parking lot on Northeast Fifth Avenue. Adding to the problem are intermittent backups created when the Palmetto bridge to the east goes up to allow the passage of boat traffic on the Intracoastal Waterway.
Longtime resident Steve Alley, whose sister was struck by a car there years ago as she bicycled, proposed building a roadway under the bridge that would link the Wildflower property on the north to Silver Palm Park on the south. Restaurant patrons could then be funneled under the bridge, through Silver Palm Park and onto Northeast Fifth Avenue on the intersection’s south side, Alley said.
With hundreds of apartments proposed but not yet built for an area just west of the intersection, the area will be horrendous to navigate if changes aren’t made, he said.
“There’s another piece of property there waiting to get developed. There are six random points of egress on a busy road that is already too narrow,” Alley said.
Alley and other residents worry that overflow restaurant patrons may park at Silver Palm Park, taking up parking spaces allocated for boaters and park goers. The passive park is equipped with a boat ramp and caters largely to boaters, anglers and pedestrians.
“All of a sudden, the people who want to use the park can’t use the park,” Alley said.
Several residents also voiced concern that the restaurant proposal did not include plans for dockage, fueling fears that restaurant patrons would take up dockage at Silver Palm Park.
Resident Yvonne Boice said the overall proposal is ridiculous because the intersection is already plagued by severe traffic problems.
“It’s like putting the cart before the horse,” she said. “How many hundreds of cars are going to go there and how are they going to get there when the bridge goes up? It’s certainly not advantageous to the residents and the community that lives here.”
Hillstone wants to build a $5 million, 7,000-square-foot restaurant on the Wildflower property, with 3,500 square feet earmarked for indoor customer service and 800 square feet of outdoor seating. The eatery would have 128 parking spaces.
Under the proposal, Hillstone would lease the property from the city for approximately $500,000 a year for 20 years with five, five-year optional extensions. The restaurant would be open seven days a week for lunch and dinner.
By Sallie James