Related story: Dec. 4 decision might, or might not, be last word
By Tim Pallesen
Atlantic Plaza II developers will cut back their proposed density after hitting a wave of protest from residents in eastern Delray Beach.
“We’ll try to come back with something less dense,” developer Jeff Edwards promised after a marathon Nov. 13 public hearing where the Beach Property Owners Association joined opposition to the multi-use project on Atlantic Avenue east of Federal Highway.
Atlantic Plaza II was seeking city approval for 442 apartments and condos, 79,000 square feet of office space and 80,000 square feet of retail space. The City Commission will review a scaled-down proposal when Edwards returns on Dec. 4.
Coastal residents joined homeowners living north and south of the proposed $200 million project to voice concern about an increase in traffic congestion on East Atlantic Avenue.
“This will affect traffic on the Atlantic Avenue Bridge,” Beach Property Owners vice president Andy Katz warned commissioners.
“If traffic becomes a stranglehold, it will keep backing up until it is almost impossible to get over the bridge,” said Benita Goldstein, a bed-and-breakfast owner north of the project.
Some coastal residents fear that police and fire-rescue vehicles might be unable to cross the bridge.
“This is our gateway to the beach from downtown,” real-estate agent Judy Craig said, warning that coastal residents would be forced to detour to alternate bridges at George Bush and Linton boulevards to reach the mainland.
“This is total madness that would destroy our quality of life,” said Craig, who gave the council a petition signed by 813 residents opposing the project.
An overflow crowd warmed up for the Nov. 13 public hearing by carrying “Too Dense for Delray” protest signs during a rally outside City Hall.
Steve Blum, a candidate in the March council election, led the chant: “Hey. Hey. Ho. Ho. Atlantic Plaza has got to go.” Blum was later kicked out of the hearing by Mayor Woodie McDuffie for his behavior.
Speakers at the four-hour hearing were split over whether Atlantic Plaza II would benefit the city.
Greg Weiss, the economic development chairman for the Greater Delray Beach Chamber of Commerce, called the project “a much-needed investment for the future of Delray Beach.”
Rexall Sundown founder Carl DeSantis acquired the 9-acre site and partnered with Ohio-based The Edwards Companies to develop it. Local developer Bill Morris acts as their consultant.
McDuffie and Commissioner Adam Frankel thanked the developers for proposing to spend $200 million to help redevelop the downtown business district.
“This project is important for business development growth because it closes a gap between the Atlantic Avenue business district and the Intracoastal Waterway,” city economic development director Vincent Nolan said.
McDuffie, Weiss and Nolan all applauded Atlantic Plaza II also for bringing much-needed Class A office space to attract businesses to the downtown.
“We need professional people like attorneys. This project brings us the office space we’re looking for,” McDuffie said.
Atlantic Avenue shopkeepers joined in the praise.
“It’s going to be the jewel in the crown of Delray Beach,” said Lee Harrison, owner of the Blue Anchor Pub across the street from Atlantic Plaza II.
“This is progress,” jeweler George Kientzy added. “We’re not a little village by the sea any longer. We’re an international destination.” Kientzy & Co. is located two blocks east of the proposed project.
The city’s planning and zoning director defended the proposed density.
“Density should not be the issue,” Paul Dorling told commissioners. “It’s really about how well the building is designed.”
Atlantic Plaza II is designed like a tiered wedding cake, with building heights ranging from three to five stories. The project would have underground parking in addition to a five-level parking garage. The developer has pledged $500,000 to enhance Veterans Park to the east along the Intracoastal.
As an example of poor design, Dorling showed commissioners a photo of the 12-story Barr Terrace condos across the waterway where residents are vehement against the project.
“There isn’t one person in the building who isn’t worried,” homeowners president Emma Betta said. “Emergency vehicles already have a difficult time getting down Atlantic Avenue. That’s a huge concern if we have more traffic backup.”
One resident, John Papaloizos, hired attorney Ralf Brookes, who recently won court approval for a referendum to overturn the Boca Raton City Council’s approval of a 378-unit apartment project in that city’s downtown.
“Citizens are not happy with this project,” Brookes told commissioners at the hearing. “Their objections will be sustained in court.”
Faced with opposition from residents on both sides of the bridge, commissioners asked Edwards to redesign the project with fewer apartments and condos.
“The density is too high,”Vice Mayor Tom Carney said. “You need to significantly reduce it.”
“I honestly believe you will come back with something that’s OK with all of us,” Commissioner Al Jacquet assured Edwards.
“We can work together,” McDuffie said. “I think you’re awfully close.”