Update: At the Aug. 2 city commission meeting, commissioners unanimously approved a 60-day postponement to review the developer's appeals of relocations and demolitions. In an Aug. 2 email, Bonnie Miskel, the land use attorney for Midtown, wrote that the developer wants to revise its site plan and take it through the city's approval process.
By Jane Smith
The developers of Midtown Delray Beach have a grand vision for their project.
“We want to provide a bridge from the Northwest and Southwest neighborhoods to those along East Atlantic Avenue,” said Steven Michael, a principal in the project’s developer, Hudson Holdings. “We want to re-energize the West Atlantic Avenue neighborhoods … bring the historic homes back to life.”
But a city board has denied the site plan that the project needs to go forward, and the project’s future is scheduled to be decided at the Aug. 15 City Commission meeting.
If approved, the 4.4-acre project would sit prominently at the southwest corner of Swinton and Atlantic avenues, putting it at the entrance of The Set, the new name for the Northwest and Southwest neighborhoods.
When complete, Midtown would have 35,049 square feet of retail; 22,525 square feet of restaurants; 21,872 square feet of office space; 44 dwelling units; 50 condo units in five residential-type inns, and 109 hotel rooms in two buildings. Parking for most of the project, formerly called Swinton Commons, would be built in the first block of South Swinton Avenue underneath a group of historic homes that would be moved. Other garages would be built under a proposed residential inn and a hotel across the street from each other at the corner of Southeast First Street and First Avenue.
The developers also hope to put in a wide pedestrian plaza in a nearby alley they’re asking the city to legally abandon.
But Hudson Holdings might not be able to break ground this year, depending on the commission’s action.
Preservation Board backs part of plan
The city’s Historic Preservation Board reviewed the Midtown plans in late June because the project forms the southern part of the Old School Square Historic Arts District.
The board denied three major portions of the plans, including the site plan.
Its members approved moving three historic buildings and the demolition of six historic buildings. They also agreed to demolish two buildings on the south side of Atlantic Avenue, but denied a request to move five historic buildings, including The Rectory and the Cathcart House. Finally, they voted against demolishing two other historic buildings.
The developer’s attorney filed a last-minute appeal on July 12 in a letter that mentioned only a combined seven moves and demolitions. However, Michael said the letter addressed all of the denials, including the site plan, by its use of the phrase: “COA (certificate of appropriateness) denials.” He said he is proceeding as if the commission will review the entire project’s plans.
But Mayor Cary Glickstein said it’s not possible because the commission cannot review items not included in the appeal.
“The city attorney made clear the city’s position, which has not changed,” Glickstein wrote in an email. “The site plan denial was not timely appealed by the applicant; whether oversight or intentional, the site plan, as denied by Historic Preservation Board, cannot be considered by the City Commission.”
In addition to the seven denials, the commission will review the approvals for the three relocations and the demolition of the six historic structures. The commission also will take up waivers needed for two residential inn-type buildings wider than 60 feet. According to city rules, buildings in historic districts are limited to 60 feet wide.
In addition, the commission will vote on the alley abandonment in the hotel block, even though the city has a policy against abandoning alleys.
During the Historic Preservation Board hearing on Midtown, board member Andrea Harden expressed concern the four-story commercial building at the corner of Atlantic and Swinton would overshadow The Rectory.
“New construction should be compatible with existing structures,” she said.
She voted against most of the demolitions and relocations because the historic structures help to define the district.
To make it clear to residents and visitors that the historic district has been altered, the board members put an addendum on each of their approvals requiring: a historic marker or equivalent in the Old School Square Historic Arts District, dedicated space in the Cathcart House or The Rectory for exhibits, and sponsorship of a dedicated individual to give talks about the changes.
The only path forward, Glickstein said, “is to resubmit a site plan application with substantive and material changes to what [was] denied … or wait one year from the board denial date and resubmit the same or alternate plans.”
Midtown ensnared in sober home action
Last fall, Midtown became entangled with the Palm Beach County State Attorney’s Office’s Sober Homes Task Force.
Two brothers, Bryan and Patrick Norquist, were arrested on patient-brokering charges. The arresting document listed two addresses inside the project: 20 S. Swinton Ave., the headquarters for Hudson Holdings, and 48 SE First Ave., former home of the Mariposa assisted living facility.
The city does not have a reasonable accommodation filed for either property or to anyone named Norquist, according to its planning director. Soon after the arrests, the Swinton Avenue sober home filed a change of address to Boynton Beach.
Michael said he knew about the sober home on Southeast First Avenue, but denied that any recovery operation was run out of the Hudson Holdings headquarters. He also said he’s losing rental income since the sober home on Southeast First Avenue was forced to close.
Meanwhile, another of Michael’s projects is on the back burner. In May 2014, Hudson Holdings bought the historic Gulfstream Hotel in Lake Worth with real estate investor Carl DeSantis. The most recent activity happened this past spring, when Lake Worth’s Community Redevelopment Agency used grant money to demolish two aging structures on the site. The renovation approvals expire in April.
Michael said he is concentrating on Midtown Delray. “It’s a legacy project for me,” he said. “I live in this town.”