By Jane Smith

    The owners of the Riverwalk Plaza are proceeding with their plans to convert the aging waterfront shopping center into a mixed-use project dominated by rental apartments.
    They plan to ask for a variance to be able to build 10 stories, with the first two floors dedicated for a parking garage. In that area, on the southeast corner of Federal Highway and Woolbright Road with the Intracoastal Waterway on the east, Boynton Beach zoning code allows only 75 feet or seven stories.
    City staff have suggested widening the apartment buildings so that they won’t need the extra height or creating “view corridors” to allow passers-by to see the Intracoastal Waterway.
    But Isram Realty, of Hallandale, insists neither can be done. Walgreen’s with its long-term lease and extensions “has rights to the parking area” for 42 years, said Steve Wherry, Riverwalk’s land use attorney.
    View corridors also are not possible without constructing a taller building, Wherry said. Isram needs to have the 326 units to make project financially feasible. Fewer units would lead to higher rental rates and they “are not supported in this market,” he said.
    Isram, which submitted plans to the city in December, hopes to have a review before the city’s Planning and Development Board in May and then onto the City Commission in late June. David Katz, an ally of former Mayor Jerry Taylor, chairs the board. Taylor was the mayor when Isram filed its plans.
    The Riverwalk project is in the third review step, which is not unusual given the project’s size and outstanding questions, said Michael Rumpf, planning director.
    If the project stays on its current schedule, the city staff analysis would be completed May 20 and the board review on May 24, according to Rumpf, who provided answers via city spokeswoman Eleanor Krusell.
If all the issues are not resolved, board review would take place on June 28. Then it would go to the City Commission in July.
    Staff have considered amending the height standard to allow for additional height for Riverwalk, which is “within areas identified as ‘nodes’ ” in the CRA plans that are being updated, Rumpf said. Isram would need to satisfy the intent of the mixed-use regulations and land use compatibility while minimizing impacts on adjoining properties.

Few details provided
    Wherry and Isram principals, including founder Shaul Rikman and Riverwalk’s architect, attended a late March community forum, sponsored by the Boynton Coalition for Responsible Development.
    More than 300 residents who live on both sides of the Intracoastal attended to learn more about the project. Isram brought a court reporter, promised to address all of the issues and provide responses to the group. Only Wherry spoke, but he did not provide details about the project.
    Isram spent about $300,000 on architectural drawings and was losing approximately $600,000 a year in rental income after Winn-Dixie left the center, Wherry told the crowd.
“That’s close to $1 million Isram invested into the possibilities that are for Boynton Beach,” he said. “The allowance for increased height will be narrowly drafted and tailored to our location.”
    Most of the residents who attended were concerned about the height of the project, the traffic it would generate and that its rental nature would attract transients.
    “The developer didn’t talk about the project,” said Harry Woodworth, president of Inlet Communities Association in Boynton Beach. He thinks city staff will “literally change the code to make it fit.”
    He’s frustrated that the city would allow a 10-story project in that area. “I don’t want the process to be negotiated,” he said. “I want the city to get back to following its master plan and zoning codes.”
    After the forum, Rikman said, “There is a lot of misinformation. The residents don’t have the true facts.”
    A few weeks later, Wherry said Isram would provide responses to officials at the public meetings this summer. “Those who have opposed the project had their voices heard,” he said.
    At the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency meeting in April, its executive director, Vivian Brooks, didn’t update the new commissioners on Riverwalk because all had said they attended the community forum.
    “Staff comments have gone back to the developer after the (city’s development application review team) meeting,” said Brooks. “I’m not sure when the developer will return them and another DART meeting would be scheduled.”
    Woodworth told the CRA board members that his group believes Riverwalk is being rushed through the process. “May 24 is the date when they plan to take it to the Planning and Development Board,” he said. “This project is going like a freight train with every avenue for public input shut down.”
    The Boynton Coalition for Responsible Development met with Isram principals, Wherry and city staff on April 22, hoping residents’ concerns could be addressed.
    None of the dozen issues raised was deemed to be valid nor did the developer agree to modify its plan, according to the Boynton Coalition statement issued April 28.

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