By Jane Smith
Hudson Holdings was so confident that the City Commission would postpone reviewing its Midtown Delray project that it printed fliers with the new date: March 6.
“In mutual agreement with the City and in the best interest of Midtown Delray Beach, tonight’s hearing has been rescheduled,” the flier copy read, referring to Feb. 6, the date of the regularly scheduled commission meeting. The flier was found on the chamber floor about 6:20 that evening.
“The flier was made ahead of time and was intended to be handed out if we were granted the postponement,” said Steve Michael, a principal of Hudson Holdings. “Someone from our team must have dropped it.”
The agenda item did come up for discussion about 8 p.m., with city commissioners voting 4-1 to postpone the project review to give planning staff time to evaluate three proposed changes and an update to the landscape plan.
Hudson Holdings appealed to the commission after the city’s Historic Preservation Board rejected Midtown Delray’s plans twice last year.
Commissioner Shelly Petrolia was the dissenting vote. She looked out into the chamber and saw it filled with residents who had hoped to speak on the project. “It’s not right,” she said of the delay.
The attorney and expert witness for the Historic Preservation Trust drove up for the meeting from Miami, said JoAnn Peart, the trust president. “They are costing us a fortune,” she said.
Mayor Cary Glickstein said the project had created a wedge in the community.
“If we have somebody that is proffering positive changes, I think it’s incumbent on the commission to give them the opportunity to do that,” he said.
Michael said his team made changes based on input from two community meetings about the size of the new buildings in Midtown Delray. The latest meeting was held Feb. 1 at the Sundy House, a historic building and home to the first mayor of Delray Beach.
The developer is proposing to drop three of five prior waiver requests, said Neil Schiller, an attorney recently hired by Hudson Holdings. Two waivers are for buildings that exceed the city’s building width of 60 feet.
Building 9, on Southwest First Avenue, now will be split into two buildings; Building 8, on Southwest First Street, will be broken into three buildings; and the building facing Atlantic Avenue will now meet the city’s requirement of 30 feet for the fourth-floor setback, Schiller said.
The changes will result in modest square-foot losses for Midtown Delray, according to revised plans submitted to the city.
• Meeting the setback requirements for the fourth floor will result in 1,675 square feet less of office space in the Atlantic Avenue building.
• Splitting Building 9 in half will give the project 800 square feet less of retail space on the first floors of the two buildings. The top two floors of the split buildings will be dedicated to office space instead of residential. That will result in a combined loss of 1,530 square feet.
• Creating three buildings from Building 8 will give Midtown Delray nine residential inn units with a total of 17,832 square feet. Previously, the development had 12 units with a total of 28,057 square feet.
Midtown Delray sits at the southwest corner of Swinton and Atlantic Avenues in the southern half of the Old School Square Historic Arts District. The area is designated a local historic district. It recently was nominated to be on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Historic Preservation Board rejected Midtown Delray primarily because the new buildings at three and four stories would be massive compared with the one- and two-story historic structures. Board members also did not like that the historic homes would be moved twice: once to make way for an underground garage and the second time to move back to their original locations on new foundations.
In addition, the lush landscaping would be stripped off the western side of a South Swinton Avenue block while the underground garage is built. The developer would pay the city $124,050 to compensate for tree removal, down from $139,800 in December when the Historic Board reviewed the project.
Before reviewing the Midtown Delray agenda items on Feb. 6, city commissioners declared the individuals they had communicated with about the project in a process called ex-parte communication.
The usual names popped up: Hudson Holdings, Schiller, Michael, the project’s land-use attorney Bonnie Miskel, Historic Preservation Board Chairman John Miller and board member Price Patton, and Historic Preservation Trust President Peart.
Then, Commissioner Mitch Katz mentioned Blake MacDiarmid, a campaign strategist whom Vice Mayor Jim Chard is using for his mayoral run. Katz said MacDiarmid called to talk about all things Delray Beach and then asked what was controversial. Katz mentioned Midtown Delray.
Chard didn’t mention MacDiarmid in his ex-parte report.
“We don’t talk about commission business,” Chard said. “We talk about meet-and-greets, polling and things like that.”
Price Patton is a founding partner of The Coastal Star.