By Sallie James

    A plan to build a Houston’s restaurant on the old Wildflower property near the Intracoastal Waterway continues to draw ire.
    At a Planning and Zoning meeting last month to change the density and zoning of the northern part of the property, many residents voiced protests, citing gridlock in an already congested area. But after much discussion, the board voted to recommend the City Council approve the changes anyway.
    “What about quality of life for people who live here?” asked resident Lee Williams, of the 600 block of Northwest 12th Avenue. “We do not want our city destroyed. There is no going back once you have a higher density use. We have enough restaurants. I implore you to consider an alternative use.”
    The Hillstone Restaurant Group Inc. has asked to build a Houston’s restaurant on the old Wildflower property on the intersection’s northeast corner at 551 E. Palmetto Park Road and lease the land from the city.
    How the nearby and very congested intersection of Palmetto Park Road and Northeast Fifth Avenue could handle hundreds of additional daily trips is something residents in the area have been asking city officials since the project was proposed.
    A traffic study of the intersection is slated for this summer.
    Last month, frustrated homeowners lashed out during an April 9 Planning and Zoning meeting, peppering the board with questions about traffic studies, land use, zoning and density.
    The board considered two issues:
    • Amending the future Land Use Map of the Comprehensive Land Use Plan for a 1.1337-acre parcel on the north end of the former Wildflower property, changing the use from residential low to commercial.
    • Rezoning that parcel from single family residential (R-1-B) to local business (B-1) district.
    The former Wildflower property is composed of two parcels. The southern portion of the property is already zoned B-1 business district. Board members who favored the changes said the two parcels’ land use and zoning should be consistent and compatible for future land usage.
    The board recommended approval on both measures with 4-3 votes, with board members Kerry Koen, Janice Rustin and Arnold Sevelle voting against both measures. Many residents left the meeting clearly frustrated.
    A traffic engineer who presented favorable trip figures to the board conceded that the traffic study he conducted did not take into consideration the ups and downs of the Palmetto Park Bridge, or the effect of rail operations. The study, he said, was based on what is required by Boca Raton city codes and Palm Beach County codes.
    His conclusion was incomprehensible to resident Heidi Klier, of the 200 block of West Palmetto Park Road. She said she routinely gets stuck in horrific gridlock caused by westbound motorists on Palmetto Park Road trying to valet park at a restaurant on the northwest corner of Palmetto Park Road and Northeast Fifth Avenue adjacent to the former Wildflower property.
    “It seems kind of ridiculous that a traffic engineer says nothing is wrong when clearly there is,” Klier said. “This is not going to get any better, and this is not our imagination.”
    Koen, who voted against the proposed changes, said he couldn’t make an intelligent decision on the matter without the results of the traffic study of the Palmetto Park Road and Northeast Fifth Avenue intersection.
    P&Z board member Glen Gromann said that traffic study had nothing to do with the rezoning matter but was instead related to improvements for that intersection.
    Residents disagreed that the two were not related, insisting the two were linked because of the overall gridlock in the area.
    Rustin, who voted against the zoning change, said the city could develop that land into something “interesting and uniquely Boca” instead of changing the zoning and density to allow another restaurant.
    As a condition of approval, board members said the intersection traffic study should take into consideration the ups and downs of the Palmetto Park Road Bridge.
    Hillstone is asking to build a $5 million, 7,000-square-foot restaurant on the former 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 $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.

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