By Thomas R. Collins
Mention the condition of U.S. 1 in Boynton Beach and Delray Beach to Lantana Town Manager Michael Bornstein, and it’s all he can do not to roll his eyes.
Such tall buildings. So many condos. Not enough tenants. Not enough good jobs created. In that respect, Lantana is preparing to be the anti-Boynton.
With so much residential space already crammed into the coastal areas, especially along U.S. 1, Lantana is turning in the opposite direction: Its idea for the future along and near the road is for commercial and light industrial zones where people will be able to work.
“That’s why you probably haven’t seen a lot of large, flash-in-the-pan things like in other cities,” Bornstein said. “We said we want a sustainable, meaningful business model for our town — and that wasn’t right for us. So we’re on the long, maybe slow, track here.
“But what will happen, we believe, is going to be something really good for our residents. And not just the residents of our town, but regionally.”
The stretch of U.S. 1 through Lantana and Hypoluxo isn’t lined with empty lots and nearly finished condo projects or, worse, unfinished ones. The towns have stayed, for the most part, out of the way of the housing bust.
In Hypoluxo, just one project has come out of the ground on U.S. 1 in the last five years: Villagio Del Mar, a small collection of 38 townhomes finished in 2006.
Only one project that was planned was stalled by the market free fall: a townhouse and commercial mix called Porter Place at Hypoluxo Road and Overlook Road. “Everything went south before they went to any actual construction,” Hypoluxo Deputy Town Clerk Deb Fick said. “When things started going bad, they just held off just in case. And it was a good thing.”
In Lantana, they’ve generally said no to higher densities since the dense, mixed-use project The Moorings was approved in 2002, declaring that the amount of development now allowed in their state-approved comprehensive development plan is all they’ll build.
“Our council wanted to keep Lantana to scale. They genuinely said: We’re not going to overdevelop,” Bornstein said. “You’ll never see anything like The Moorings again.”
There have been some projects to stall along the road, though. A self-storage business on U.S. 1, on land owned by developer Anthony Pugliese, has been approved but not built. And an industrial park approved a year ago near the north border of Lantana along the west side of U.S. 1, land also owned by Pugliese, hasn’t been started either. At The Moorings, vacancy signs advertise commercial space on the ground floors on the east side of U.S. 1.
Realtor Lorraine Freed, who lives in The Moorings and handles listings there, is reluctant even to talk about sales there because “the market is really bad.”
The units are occupied — “the units have been selling more here than anywhere else,” Freed said — but prices have dropped 30 percent to 40 percent from what they once were. What was selling in the $300,000s might be sold in the low $200,000s now, or lower, she said.
“The upside of it is, I see this community turning into the diamond in the rough that it was always going to be,” Freed said. “It’s a beautiful community, it has kept its beauty.”
But by and large, the storyline of U.S. 1 in Lantana, has been one of patience and a respect for the town’s history and character.
The town envisions a low-scale commercial area along U.S. 1, between Lantana Road and Pine Street, that it’s calling a “train depot district,” which town officials hope will be anchored by a train station along the FEC railroad tracks. The station would be built as part of the state’s double-tracking project. It’s simple economics, Bornstein said. A recent study performed for area municipalities found that for every dollar of taxes paid, commercial and industrial properties require just 36 cents in services, while residential properties require $1.38 in services for each dollar, he said.
Wayne Cordero, owner of the Old Key Lime House not far from U.S. 1, likes the town’s philosophy.
“I think they’re committed to more preserving the history of Florida rather than monster projects,” he said. “It’s easy to form more concrete and overbuild. It’s difficult to fill them.” Not every idea along U.S. 1 has been well-received, though.
Residents crammed into Town Hall this spring to protest a land-use change to commercial to make way for a $90 million resort and spa with a 300-room hotel planned for between South Dixie Highway and the Intracoastal Waterway north of Hypouxo Road, which is now a Catholic Cenacle Sisters retreat.
They worried it wouldn’t actually become a high-end resort, leaving open the possibility of a less desirable commercial project. One resident called the land use “totally incompatible.”
A rezoning hearing is scheduled for Sept. 14.
But, at least for now, the town does not bear the scars that nearby towns bear.
“It’s a house of cards if you’re not careful,” Bornstein said. “We don’t have the problems that other cities have created chasing a market cycle.”