City Commission’s decision could add years to massive construction project

12637453090?profile=RESIZE_710xAtlantic Crossing wanted to use the existing parking lot (left) on the west side of Veterans Park as a staging area for its second phase. The project is immediately west of the parking lot. Developers would have replaced the existing lot with a new lot on the north side of the park (right), eliminating existing lawn bowling and shuffleboard courts. Eventually, as the rendering shows, developers planned to replace the existing parking lot with additional greenspace for the park. Google Maps and Edwards Co.

By Anne Geggis

Lawn bowling scored big Tuesday, winning a reprieve from plans to convert the area’s last remaining courts at Veterans Park into a parking lot to expedite the construction of a mammoth downtown development’s next phase.

A representative for the company developing Atlantic Crossing told the Delray Beach City Commission the mixed-use project could shorten its construction work by two years if the current parking lot for the downtown park on East Atlantic Avenue along the Intracoastal Waterway could be used as a construction staging area for four years.

Previous commissioners agreed with the plan, in theory, that would have redesigned the park and have it back in working condition after construction was finished — and also included a $1 million investment from the developer to improve the park. Those plans eventually would have converted the current parking area into additional greenspace.

“It does expedite the construction portion of this overall phase to completion by two years, which would reduce disruption to the neighborhood, and gets the benefits of the … added tax base on the tax rolls much quicker,” said attorney Bonnie Miskel, representing the developer, Edwards Cos. Atlantic Crossing opened its first phase in May 2023 after more than a decade of planning.

 

New commission changes direction

But, in what is probably the most dramatic reversal so far resulting from a new majority being elected to the commission dais earlier this year, the first look at concrete plans that would eradicate the area’s last lawn bowling courts for at least four years – along with less-used shuffleboard courts – got the thumbs-down from the commission.

Mayor Tom Carney voted against Atlantic Crossing’s plans for residential, retail and office space when he was on the commission in 2012. At the time, he said the Atlantic Avenue development east of Federal Highway that will take up several city blocks was too big. Twelve years later, he recalled that the commission majority agreed to it back then after getting certain promises.

“I was part of the original deal … part of the discussion that we're not going to be touching the park and I think that was kind of a sacred promise,” Carney said. “And I am going to stick with that. We are not going to touch the park and if it makes construction go a little longer. I'm very sorry.”

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 Atlantis resident John Everett bowls during a match at Veterans Park as Richard Flater focuses on his own game. File photo, Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star

A dozen lawn bowlers in the audience — all wearing the same white pullover shirts with their logo emblazoned on the breast — were ecstatic at the action.

“We’re very pleased,” said John Everett, 76, of Atlantis.

He picked the sport years ago as one he could play if he lives to 100, as it challenges eye-hand coordination as players try to hit a small, white ball using a weighted, slightly oblong, softball-sized bowling ball.

“I see a lot of honor in the commission,” Everett said.

Carney, Vice Mayor Juli Casale and Commissioner Tom Markert ran for commission seats promising to constrain overdevelopment’s effects on residents.

 

A missed opportunity?

Miskel, however, said the plan to use Veterans Park temporarily — and relocate the lawn bowling eventually — represented the best way to minimize the effects of construction on residents. Also, part of her presentation included slides showing parts of the park in poor condition.

This “minimizes the intermittent closure of area streets” – including Atlantic Avenue, northbound Federal Highway, Northeast Seventh Avenue and Northeast First Street – from “often shutting down, which happened with the first phase of that construction,” Miskel said.

Commissioner Rob Long supported the proposal.

“It feels like an offer that's being made by a developer to make a $1 million investment in our park and substantially mitigate the impact of an already approved project,” Long said. “ … We know from the construction of the first phase of this, it (the construction) really does impact residents in a substantial way.”

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The Hampton Social (far left) and Le Colonial (far right) restaurants opened as part of Atlantic Crossing's first phase. They are at the northeast corner of Atlantic Avenue and Northeast Sixth Avenue (North Federal Highway) in downtown Delray Beach. File photo, Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star

Past vs. future

Residents who spoke evoked the historic nature of the current complex, which opened in 1962, and Atlantic Crossing’s history that has involved the city giving up roadways and agreeing to increased height and density for the development. Resident Sandy Zeller, 80, noted that the city and Atlantic Crossing had been in a lawsuit and the settlement doesn’t mention changes to Veterans Park. Zeller is an executive board member of the Delray Beach Preservation Trust, which campaigned against the planned changes to the park.

“It does not allow Edwards to come back to the city seven years later (after the settlement) and say, ‘Oh, here's some more things that we want the city to give us,’” Zeller said. “This proposal was categorized by Edwards and Atlantic Crossing as a public-private partnership. This is not a public-private partnership. They're asking the city to give away valuable park land for private development.”

 

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Comments

  • Now if we could get the Commission to care about the Golf Course!
    Bless the lawn bowlers, I've never seen one there  in 35 years. But if they have the power to save their courts, maybe they can teach us how to save the municipal golf course!

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