By Mary Thurwachter
Measures paving the way for an apartment complex at the Kmart Shopping Center narrowly won approval at the Jan. 13 Town Council meeting.
Another close vote came last September, when the owners of the 18.6-acre site at the northwest corner of Hypoluxo Road and South Dixie Highway received initial approval to change the town’s future land use map from commercial to mixed-use development. That day, the ordinance passed after its first reading by a 3-2 vote, with council members Lynn Moorhouse and Ed Shropshire voting no.
At that time, Kmart, which anchors the shopping strip, hadn’t revealed plans to close. But after Christmas, the store announced it would shut its doors Feb. 17.
The council, after the second reading in January, voted 3-2 (with Moorhouse and Shropshire again voting no) to change the land use map from commercial to mixed-use development. On a first reading the council approved a zoning change for the property as well. That vote was 4-1, with Shropshire the lone dissenter.
“I’m concerned about density,” Shropshire said. “This project is not appropriate for this area. I can’t be in favor of it.”
But Lantana Mayor Dave Stewart worried what would happen without some kind of update for the worn shopping center, built in the mid-1970s.
“I look at the alternative of what happens when Kmart is gone and it sits there,” Stewart said of the empty store. “This is what bothers me. It’s zoned commercial and you just don’t know what can come in there.”
Stewart said he would rather give the shopping center owners “a shot to have a presentation of some sort that’s going to be palatable to everybody. I’m just going to tell you: It’s not going to be 200 units. That’s not part of what I envision. I don’t envision everything else. I need to see the details. But this is the first step to get the car off the assembly line.”
While council members made it clear they do not favor a 200-plus apartment complex, they were open to considering plans smaller in scope and density. A site plan has not yet been put forward, although preliminary drawings that had been shared at a neighborhood meeting were shown to the council on Jan. 13.
“We can’t submit for a site plan unless we get these approvals,” said Cushla Talbut, an attorney from Greenberg Traurig representing the center’s landlord, Lantana SDC LLC. “We have had a neighborhood meeting on Nov. 12 where we shared some initial site plan concept renderings. But that’s all we’ve done at this point.”
The idea, Talbut said, is to “take the Kmart parcel and to redevelop it to multifamily residential, while doing some updates to the commercial facades where the Winn-Dixie is and where the Lantana Pizza shopping center is located.”
The preliminary plan for the Kmart section of the parcel shows five four-story residential buildings with 209 units and elevators, Talbut said. The drawings also show a clubhouse, pool and 508 parking spaces.
“The other component to this is the update to the commercial facade,” Talbut said, showing before and after images of the Subway along Hypoluxo Road and the middle area of the center, south of Kmart. “These would have very modern, clean lines and a neutral palette for a kind of coastal beachy feel that goes with the town of Lantana,” she said.
Attorney Ryan Bailine of Greenberg Traurig, also rep-resenting the center’s landlord, said drawings were shown because “we thought that our initial architectural concepts, specifically the new facades and how we would bring back the commercial component, were really, really good. We thought that staff as well as the residents would like the reconceptualized commercial component and that’s why we felt that we put our best foot forward from a design perspective, so you all had an idea what we’re looking at.”
Council members expressed worries about traffic congestion at the proposed development.
“You’re going to have to come up with some creative way to move traffic around,” Stewart told developers. He also said he didn’t want to see the strip mall follow in the footsteps of other once-vibrant shopping centers in the county built in the 1960s and 1970s.
“I will not support anything that is not top shelf and I feel is going to be good for the residents of Lantana now and in 40 years,” Stewart said.
In other news, the town welcomed a new clerk, Kathleen Dominguez, a Florida native and Lantana resident who worked for the town of Palm Beach for five years, most recently as town clerk.
She has a bachelor’s in public communications from Florida Atlantic University and is a certified municipal clerk.
Dominguez, 38, is married, the mother of a 3-year-old, and has two schnauzers.
“My husband and I purchased our home in Lantana in August 2013,” she said. “We love the laid-back feel of the town, the parks and our safe quiet neighborhood.”