By Mary Thurwachter
Things are finally beginning to take shape at Water Tower Commons, the 72-acre retail and residential project on Lantana Road east of Interstate 95. Fences are down, the main entrance road is being built for construction access to the residential areas, and the first phase of residential development, with 360 rental units, is expected to come out of the ground soon.
And on Sept. 24, the Town Council gave residential developer The Related Group thumbs up on plans for the second phase of residential development, with 348 units on 18 acres. The plan calls for four multifamily buildings, 18 big houses, a main clubhouse, resort pools and open recreation areas.
Sandra J. Megrue of Urban Design Kilday Studios told the town the architectural style of the second residential phase would be coastal postmodern, inspired by Robert A.M. Stern and Graham Gund, two architects who designed buildings at Disney’s Celebration.
Water Tower Commons has been in the offing since 2014, when Lantana Development, a partnership between Southeast Legacy, headed by Kenco Communities’ Ken Endelson, and Wexford Capital, bought the land. They paid the state $15.6 million for property, which previously housed the A.G. Holley tuberculosis hospital.
Also approved for the second phase of residential development was the landscape plan, which will feature a variety of trees including various palms, live oaks and crepe myrtle along with an assortment of shrubs.
Developers were able to get the Town Council to sign off on two of three special exception amendments, one for a reduction in the number of parking spaces to allow 2.15 spaces per unit, and another allowing three additional monument wall signs.
The town, on a 3-2 vote with Mayor David Stewart and council member Lynn Moorhouse dissenting, turned down the third request — for a 6-foot decorative fence along North Eighth Street in lieu of a masonry wall.
“I can’t agree with a fence on Eighth Street,” said council member Phil Aridas. He said it was a privacy issue and was concerned about traffic noise. He suggested a metal fence might be less expensive, but that didn’t matter to him.
Ken Tuma, a principal with Urban Design Kilday Studios, said the metal fence was chosen from a design perspective, not to reduce costs. A wall would limit the view from the architecture, he said.
Moorhouse, who preferred the metal rail fence over the concrete wall, agreed, saying, “The sun doesn’t shine through a wall very well.” Besides, he said, with hurricane doors and windows residents wouldn’t have to worry about traffic noise.
Stewart said he felt good about the residential portion of the project, but asked what was happening with the commercial portion.
“We’ve talked in the previous years about commercial development, from an upscale Walmart to other type of businesses, and I’ve yet to see one business come out of the ground,” Stewart said.
Tuma said the climate for retail has been challenging.
“There’s no doubt we have been in the middle of change in the retail industry and this project has been on the wrong side of that change,” Tuma said. “But things are much more positive now. We want to let you know that there has been a significant amount of interest, particularly as the project has come to fruition.”
Having the residential units on site, Tuma said, has made the commercial development “much more marketable because of potential people living within the community.”
Michael Langolf, vice president of the development for the mixed-use project, echoed Tuma’s sentiments.
“The retail environment has been challenging for us over the last couple years and with the grocer that was originally signed leaving,” Langolf said. “But we have a lot of interest. I do have a letter of intent for a grocery store as a replacement. I can’t at this time announce the name as we are still working through that document.
“But I think with the main street going in, and certainly now with this exciting new phase, it will even further enhance the overall community. We’re seeing a lot more excitement from other types of users that I think the town would welcome.”
One fellow very excited about Water Tower Commons and other recent development in Lantana is Chamber of Commerce President Dave Arm, who spoke at the meeting.
“This is beautiful,” Arm said after viewing the plans. “I’m impressed as heck. I’m hearing a buzz in town that we haven’t heard in a long time about this project, about the whole Water Tower Commons, the fact that they’ve got Eighth Street developed, that they’ve got the palm trees in and started construction of the entrance road. Everybody is talking about this in a positive way and even the negative Nellies, and we have quite a few of those in town, are really starting to come around.”
Arm said what was happening in Lantana lately is terrific, from the new 7-Eleven at 112 E. Lantana Road, to the new Dollar Tree being built where the old Grumpy Grouper was located beside the railroad tracks near the southeast corner of U.S. 1 and Lantana Road.
“All this new construction is finally starting to get some attention and to get some money and development, and I think it’s all terrific,” he said.