10829800084?profile=RESIZE_710xThe covered walkway in front of the Hand’s building may soon be gone. Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star

By Jane Smith

As Delray Beach considers a proposal for a new historic district downtown, the city continues to lose potentially historic properties along Atlantic Avenue.
In August, the new owner of the Hand’s building at 325 E. Atlantic Ave. sought approval to remove the building’s arcade and the angled entranceways of the storefront to make them flush, and the City Commission unanimously allowed the changes.
The building, constructed in the Masonry Vernacular style in two phases, dates to 1921 and 1948, according to an R.J. Heisenbottle survey of historical buildings recently completed for the city.

Related: Picturing a better way to preserve history | Atlantic Avenue’s place in history on verge of formal recognition

The arcade — the covered walkway in front of the building that provides shelter from the weather and has arched openings along the ends and facing the street — had been one of the models for the city’s 2015 downtown zoning changes, based on community input. Residents valued the pedestrian experience the arcade provided in terms of shelter while it contributed to the street’s character.
To take such a “drastic” step to remove the arcade “takes away the charm of the street,” resident Alice Finst said at a July 27 city board meeting. “What we will have is one more set of awnings. What does that do for us?”
But Steven Cohen, who paid $11.5 million for the property in April 2021, questioned the structure’s value at the Aug. 16 City Commission meeting.
“The arcade is fine for when it rains,” Cohen said. “But it’s not conducive to retailers who want good sales.
“I can, by right, knock the building down and replace it with a three-story building and put two stories of offices above it,” he said.
His architect, Gary Eliopoulos, a former city commissioner who has restored many historic buildings in the city, said, “The elephant in the room is the arcade.” The arcade was added in 1974 and is not historic, he said.
Eliopoulos planned to apply for a building permit in late September that would include the demolition.
The arcade’s removal will increase the building’s non-conformity with the current setback requirements of at least 10 feet, Anthea Gianniotes, the city’s development services director, said in an Aug. 26 email. The proposed setback is slightly under 8 feet.
“The arcade has a value to our community,” she wrote.
Will the Hand’s building still be considered historic without its recessed windows and having a flat front façade?
“This does not seem possible,” Gianniotes wrote.

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