By Mary Thurwachter
A proposal two years in the making to turn the old Kmart shopping center into a mixed-use development with 231 apartments finally came before the Lantana Town Council on July 11.
But when council members couldn’t agree on how to proceed — and with staff recommending the project be rejected — they postponed a vote on it until Aug. 8. A council workshop will be held at 5:30 p.m. prior to the regular 6 p.m. meeting, where a vote is expected, so members can have more discussion about the project, dubbed Lantana Village.
The 18.6-acre site is owned by Saglo Development Corp. of Miami and being developed by the Morgan Group.
Cushla Talbut, an attorney with Greenberg Traurig who is processing the application, said “the $65 million investment would provide significant tax revenue increases for the town and revitalize a site that is definitely in need of some love.”
Development Director Nicole Dritz strongly recommended denial, saying the project was “not in line with the spirit or intent of town codes” and appeared to be a way of getting about 100 more apartments than would normally be allowed in the residential portion.
The plan calls for the old Kmart building to be demolished to make way for five, four-story buildings with elevators and an entry from Greynolds Circle. Amenities would be a dog park, gym, pool, upgraded parking lot and a pocket park on the north end of the site at the northwest corner of Dixie Highway and Hypoluxo Road. The apartments would be fenced in for security reasons.
Besides construction of studios and one- and two-bedroom apartments, the plans include cosmetic improvements for retail portions of the property, including Winn-Dixie, West Marine and the Lantana Pizza buildings. Four out-parcels — Bank of America, Dunkin’ Donuts, Burger King and a vacant restaurant formerly home to IHOP — are not part of the application.
Among the community benefits the project would provide, Talbut said, are enhanced landscaping with more than 500 trees, four electric car charging stations, and 24 units dedicated to workforce housing for professionals such as teachers, firefighters and police officers.
“We’re going to provide 1% of the construction cost for public artwork,” Talbut said. “Buildings will be constructed to certified national green building standards. Residents will be able to enjoy the proximity of retail shops and restaurants as well as some great community benefits such as the pocket park and artwork.”
This site is particularly challenging for a number of reasons, mostly due to the age of the buildings, Talbut said.
“The buildings went up in the 1970s and at that time there really was no landscape requirement,” Talbut said, “so you have parking lots and no landscaping. That was a challenge, to put as much greenery as we could on this.”
Additionally, some of the retail operations, such as Winn-Dixie and West Marine, have long-term leases.
Dritz warned the proposed project is essentially three properties separated by fences with separate entrances and exits.
“Typically, a planned mixed-use development is a site with multiple uses combined together in a very cohesive design that encourages visitors to travel throughout the site and establishes a very clear sense of place,” she said.
“We feel that this project, however, almost draws an imaginary line around three entirely separate parcels that are otherwise unrelated,” she said, referring to the Winn-Dixie area, apartments and the Lantana Pizza area. “In fact, it feels this is an attempt to garner those 231 units on a site that only approximately 133 units would be allowed otherwise.”
She said very minor changes are proposed to the Lantana Pizza property and the Winn-Dixie area storefronts.
Vice Mayor Pro Tem Lynn “Doc” Moorhouse agreed with Dritz’s assessment.
“We can do a lot better,” he said.
“I just can’t get past a gated community in the middle of Lantana,” Vice Mayor Karen Lythgoe added. “It just doesn’t fit.”
Council member Kem Mason said he needed more time to digest all the pros and cons.
“I’ve heard a lot negative here tonight about this proposal but at the end of the day when they had the town meeting at Lantana Pizza, they got applause afterwards,” Mason said of the developers. “There are a lot of people who want this.”
He said he didn’t think it would be fair to vote on the site plan that night.
“I would like to table it until we can have another workshop very soon. Don’t make these people wait a long time,” Mason said.
Mayor Robert Hagerty said he wasn’t opposed to postponing the vote but had issues with putting a gated community inside a commercial space. He also was worried about traffic.
Lythgoe and Mason were concerned that council member Mark Zeitler, absent because of an accident at work, wasn’t there to vote on the matter.
Mason’s motion to postpone the vote until Aug. 8 passed 3-1, with Moorhouse dissenting.