A $65 million complex of apartments and stores with a free, public-access parking garage could become a pivotal part of Boynton Beach’s downtown revival efforts.
The proposed eight-story project on 2.6 acres owned by the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency includes 229 apartments, with 20% dedicated to workforce housing, ground-level and upper-deck pools, a clubhouse, gym, 18,000 square feet of commercial space and a 544-space public-private garage.
Developers said they would enhance the city’s Dewey Park, incorporate it into the overall project and make the alley used by Ocean Avenue businesses on the project’s south side more pedestrian friendly.
Two years ago, the CRA paid $3 million for the land on the west side of Federal Highway that is to the north and south of Northeast First Avenue. It is being used as surface-level parking and includes the Congregational United Church of Christ building, which most recently served as the city’s temporary library.
City commissioners, meeting Aug. 11 as the CRA board, unanimously approved giving Ocean Avenue Residences and Shoppes, LLC, 90 days to work with the city, CRA staff, adjacent property owners and the public to refine its unsolicited proposal.
During that time, others can submit their own project proposals. Commissioners could then move forward with the proposal or any other one received, open the process to more proposals, or leave the property as it is.
“We do think this is the center of the doughnut, something that will activate this whole area,” said William Morris of Southcoast Partners, who proposes developing the project with Harold and Max Van Arnem of Van Arnem Properties. “It’s going to be a real people place.”
Morris compared the project to Worthing Place, which “has become an incredible catalyst for the whole downtown area of Delray Beach.” The mixed-use residential and commercial project he helped develop includes public parking and is connected to Worthing Park on East Atlantic Avenue.
The fear of some businesses and property owners near the proposed Boynton Beach project is it will end up a Delray Beach clone.
Susan Oyer’s family owns Ocean Avenue buildings immediately south of the project. She would be fine with the proposal if its height was reduced, but “parts make my head want to explode,” she said.
“You’re trying to make this into a Delray Beach/Atlantic Avenue scenario and I can honestly say I don’t know anyone who likes Atlantic Avenue and goes down there, because of the hot mess it has turned into,” Oyer said. “The people who live there are miserable because now you’ve got clubs all night long making all kinds of noise.”
Kim Kelly, owner of Hurricane Alley Raw Bar & Restaurant on Ocean Avenue, started a change.org petition against the proposal and opposing more downtown residential development. It collected more than 2,000 signatures in less than a week.
“Look around you and realize the buildings and storefronts they have already built are vacant and gives a bad look,” Kelly’s petition said.
She plans to lead a march from her restaurant to City Hall on Sept. 8.
Commissioners saw plenty to like in the 115 N. Federal Highway project that wouldn’t be completed until 2024 at the earliest.
“Overall, I think this project is fantastic. I think this may be what we need to really light that fire in this corridor,” Vice Mayor Ty Penserga said.
Developers hope for a future Brightline railroad station to the west of the property. They also would try to lease Florida East Coast Railway land on the west side of Northeast Fourth Street to add landscaping and more parking for downtown visitors.
Instead of paying cash for the CRA property, developers would build free public parking in the garage. They estimate the garage would have 120 public spaces, costing about $25,000 each, to cover the property’s $3 million value.
The site currently has 114 spaces in its surface lots and adjacent on-street parking, city officials said.