By Tim Pallesen
City commissioners gave final approval to new downtown development rules on Feb. 24 despite a threatened lawsuit by the owner of Old School Bakery.
The new rules limit the heights of future buildings to three floors on Atlantic Avenue and to four floors elsewhere in the downtown business district.
New residential buildings may have no more than 30 living units per acre, compared to as many as 92 units per acre allowed in the past.
The new rules require developers to provide public open space. Buildings must be constructed farther from the street so Delray’s future downtown will become friendlier to pedestrians.
The three-floor height limit on Atlantic Avenue was a late addition to the new rules, which have been discussed for a year and a half. Four floors have been allowed since 1990.
Billy Himmelrich, the Old School Bakery owner who owns property at Atlantic and Northeast First Street, told commissioners that the new three-floor limit takes away his right to redevelop.
“I had a development plan that these changes are not respecting,” Himmelrich said. “I don’t believe this is right.”
His attorney, Robert Sweetapple, delivered the threat to sue. “I’m sure it would be politically correct to take my client’s building rights and give them to the public,” Sweetapple said. “But this is a taking of rights, clean and simple.”
Others in the audience urged commissioners to ignore Sweetapple. “Don’t let the lawyers come in and try to scare you,” commission candidate Mitch Katz said.
The final vote was a unanimous 5-0.
“Atlantic Avenue is what made this town what it is,” Commissioner Adam Frankel said in defending the new height limit. “I don’t want to see any skyscrapers.”
As Himmelrich’s court reporter recorded the meeting, commissioners were cautious not to say anything that could be used against the city in a lawsuit.
Commissioner Jordana Jarjura stressed that city officials are only “protecting Atlantic Avenue’s historical character and our village by the sea.”
Mayor Cary Glickstein said the downtown will continue to grow and prosper despite the restrictions.
“Sustainable growth is not measured by height and density,” the mayor said.