By Jane Smith
The proposed Riverwalk project is sailing through the approval process in Boynton Beach, despite residents’ objections to its height and traffic.
The 10-story, U-shaped apartment complex will replace the vacant Winn-Dixie shopping center at the southeast corner of Federal Highway and Woolbright Road.
Residents on its upper floors will have views of the Atlantic Ocean along with the adjacent Intracoastal Waterway. That will allow the project to charge as much as $2,200 in monthly rent for some of its 326 units.
The project’s land-use and zoning changes were tentatively approved at the Jan. 3 meeting by a 3-2 vote. Mayor Steven Grant and Commissioner Christina Romelus voted no.
The second reading with public input will be Jan. 17.
It also will return for votes on its height exception and setback exception requests, along with its site plan approval on Jan. 17.
Riverwalk’s owner is seeking an extra 5 feet above the 10-story limit to allow stair towers and design elements and a setback of 139 feet from Woolbright Road because a Wendy’s fast-food restaurant sits at the center’s north side.
Attorney Michael Weiner gave the Riverwalk presentation at the Jan. 3 meeting.
“The greater good of the city will be served to have the increased height at nodes, or activity centers,” he said.
In late 2014, the parent company of Winn-Dixie announced plans to close some stores, including this location, which shut down in January 2015. Several months passed before the shopping center’s owner, Isram Realty of Hallandale Beach, gained control of the store space.
At the Dec. 27 city Planning and Development board meeting, Isram’s attorney, Steven Wherry, said the Community Redevelopment Agency “approached my client about doing a mixed-use project there; my client was interested.”
But Harry Woodworth, president of the Inlet Communities Association, said at that meeting, “The building is massive. The density can be achieved at seven stories.”
INCA represents 10 waterfront communities in Boynton Beach.
In July, Isram President Shaul Rikman told the CRA board members, who also sit as the City Commission, “We submitted a seven-story project and came back to the city and CRA and said we can’t make it at seven stories. … We need 10 stories to break even. They said, ‘You know what, we’re working on creating nodes (to allow taller buildings) and hold off on it until such thing passes or not.’ ”
Isram waited, and the CRA and city came through.
Just before the Riverwalk project was approved by the city’s Planning and Development board in December, the CRA updated the plans for its entire 1,650-acre district, which covers most of the land east of Interstate 95. Most of the updates were agreeable to the residents, such as turning Boynton Beach Boulevard into a complete street with wider sidewalks, shade trees, better lighting and benches.
But residents opposed the height increases at several intersections and along Ocean Avenue.
The updated plans call for a mixed-use zoning district at the Woolbright and Federal intersection, even though the three other corners were redeveloped recently. The old plan allowed up to 75 feet, or seven stories, while the new plan gives up to 100 feet, or 10 stories.
Woodworth called the Woolbright and Federal intersection “the worst intersection in the CRA district” and urged the Planning and Development board members in December to use common sense and not just rely on traffic studies. The intersection sits just west of the Woolbright bridge that connects Boynton Beach with Ocean Ridge.
But Wherry had already played the money card. At another advisory board meeting in July, he said the redeveloped Riverwalk would increase the city’s tax base by nearly $1.1 million annually.
At the December meeting, Wherry was asked how parking would be monitored in front of the building. He said all residents would have stickers for their cars. “If it becomes a problem, the city will invoke a contingency that is a two-step process,” he said.
Isram is working out the terms of how that process would work with the city attorney, Wherry said.
“The city could survey the area and provide the developer with a 30-day notice,” he said. Then the developer could hire a valet parking company and eliminate self-parking. If it’s still a problem, the developer would have to construct rooftop parking on the building that houses a Walgreen’s and a Jo-Ann Fabric and Craft store.
He said Isram could do that without the tenants’ permission because their leases covered only the interior space, but the potential plan was discussed with both tenants.
The city’s planning director, Mike Rumpf, said the parking question was asked of all developers.
“The applicant must provide a plan or strategy in the event the parking projections were wrong or for some reason demand increased resulting in a shortage,” he wrote in an email.
As to the restaurants in the center, Prime Catch owns its property and will stay.
Wherry gave these updates for the other restaurants: Rice Fine Thai will move to the 500 Ocean project, under construction at Ocean Avenue and Federal Highway; Josie’s is deciding whether to take space in the building with Walgreen’s and Jo-Ann Fabrics or move off-site; Sushi Simon is moving out of Riverwalk; and Primo Hoagies and Bond and Smolders will be given an option to move within the redeveloped project.