12213900267?profile=RESIZE_710xFormer Atlantic Plaza buildings are being torn down to make way for the second phase of Atlantic Crossing. Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star

By Larry Barszewski

Veterans Park visitors have lost their easy Atlantic Avenue access to parking there now that Atlantic Crossing has begun its second phase of construction, which includes the demolition of the old Atlantic Plaza and an adjacent office building.

The demolition work forced the closure of the park’s Atlantic Avenue entrance, which was actually the entrance to the old plaza’s parking lot, which is now part of the construction zone.

While pedestrians on Atlantic still have easy access into the park next to the bridge, the only route for drivers is entering Northeast First Street from Federal Highway and proceeding east along Atlantic Crossing’s northern construction border to the park.

The city can’t create a park entrance on Atlantic Avenue because it would be too close to the bridge over the Intracoastal Waterway, Public Works Director Missie Barletto said in an email to The Coastal Star.

Some residents have complained that Northeast First Street at Federal Highway is one of the city’s most dangerous intersections, site of a fatal crash in 2016, which will discourage people from using the park. Barletto said the city will keep an eye on that concern.

“Once the project construction has been completed and the new area is fully occupied, the city will conduct a traffic analysis to determine whether a traffic light is required at NE First Street and northbound Federal Highway,” Barletto wrote. A state investigation after the 2016 fatality said a traffic light wasn’t warranted, but led to additional signage for the intersection.

Once Atlantic Crossing is completed, visitors may be able to drive through the former Northeast Seventh Avenue — which is now in the middle of Atlantic Crossing, but is expected to remain open to vehicular traffic — to connect with Northeast First Street, rather than having to use Federal Highway.

Parking is still available on the west and north sides of the park, and the Atlantic Crossing developer has sectioned off 20 additional parking spaces on the northeast corner of the project near the park for park visitors.

Some of that parking may be blocked off as construction proceeds, including for a planned underground parking garage next to the parking lot.

“As the company will need to establish a safe zone in order to place pilings for this part of the project, a portion of the western parking area will be required to be restricted from public use,” Barletto said. The city anticipates other parking will be provided to retain the same amount of public parking.

What the parking will look like ultimately still hasn’t been determined, with the city awaiting Atlantic Crossing’s proposal.

“They’re working on their finalized plan set for that and have not submitted it to us yet. So, we haven’t been able to make any kind of judgment call on that or bring it back to commission for discussion,” Barletto told commissioners at their Aug. 15 meeting.

The parking spaces to the west of the park are expected to be turned into a landscaped area that acts as an expansion of the park, with paths connecting the park and Intracoastal to the new retail and residential space.

“The ultimate vision is that all of that asphalt that separates Atlantic Crossing from Veterans Park … would become all park space. … There would be pedestrian connections, but the cars would sort of stay on the other side. It could be a fantastic improvement, but they need to bring the drawings in and go through the process so that you could see them and we can confirm that they meet the rules we discussed for parking,” Barletto said.

An earlier site plan presented to commissioners and included on Atlantic Crossing’s website would replace the parking to the west with additional parking on the park’s north side, replacing its shuffleboard and lawn bowling areas. The current situation hasn’t yet affected the Lady Atlantic tour boat that docks at the park because it has been undergoing annual inspections and maintenance since July 27, but tours are expected to resume in September. The boat’s owner, Joe Reardon, did not return phone calls seeking comment.

In other news:

• Commissioners approved a settlement agreement with former City Manager George Gretsas at their Aug. 8 meeting. The city is still negotiating over the release of the terms of the settlement, City Attorney Lynn Gelin said, and will not release a confidential memo detailing the terms of the settlement until that is complete.

• Danica Sanborn, executive director of the Sandoway Discovery Center, told commissioners about improvements at the center, which is on State Road A1A a couple of blocks south of Atlantic Avenue, that include a stingray touch tank. She also said the center would like to expand the work it does with sea turtles and get permission from the state for hatchling releases, possibly done with an assist from Gumbo Limbo Nature Center in Boca Raton.

• The commission gave initial approval to a new ordinance that no longer allows the bridges over the Intracoastal Waterway to be closed for special events, but some commissioners said they might not support it when it comes up for final approval. The main event affected would be the Delray Beach Festival of the Arts, which is held in January.

The festival’s sponsors plan to move the event farther west on Atlantic Avenue, to the west of Federal Highway.

“I think it’s overkill,” Vice Mayor Ryan Boylston said of the proposed ordinance. “Closing a bridge has to come before the commission anyway.”

• Commissioners reviewing City Manager Terrence Moore applauded him for the work he has done, especially for his presence in the community, in awarding him a 4.1% pay increase to $239,429.

• The Community Redevelopment Agency is accepting applications through Oct. 31 for its new Redevelopment Advisory Committee. It is being created in response to the commission’s removing non-commissioners from the CRA’s governing board. The new five-member board, which will make recommendations to the commission, will be made up of CRA property owners.

• The amount of money the city plans to use to renovate the north end of City Hall has grown from $2 million to $4 million and will include enough space to allow for growth for the next several years, Barletto said. Also, the city no longer plans to replace the Crest Theatre’s air conditioners, which have all been repaired, she said.

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