By Shelly Petrolia
“Florida’s New Sweet Spot” is how the Wall Street Journal described Delray Beach in a headline. The article went on to describe three perfect days in our city, noting it had been transformed and “now has a distinctly different vibe.”
That vibe can be observed in the mix of creative people in Pineapple Grove and felt in special places of cultural significance, like newly renovated Cornell Museum. You can watch the vibe in motion at the drum circle or listen to it at a concert on the grounds of Old School Square. You can visit the Historical Society or walk the five designated historic districts in Delray to soak up vibrations from Delray’s past.
Visitors strolling our charming tree-lined downtown, with institutions like Hand’s Stationery, The Colony Hotel and Huber Drugs on the same blocks with hip new stores and hangouts like Urban Outfitters, Capital One Cafe and Subculture Coffee, experience the Delray vibe. And the nightly sing-alongs at Johnnie Brown’s as the train rumbles by are part of the Delray lore visitors take home.
In my capacity as mayor, I often wrestle with how to guide the city forward and yet stay true to Delray’s “distinctly different vibe” that has garnered our city so much recent national attention. I believe elected officials must be faithful and responsible stewards of the city, respectful of the decades of hard work before them. And in my case, a preservationist at heart.
But Delray faces many challenges, and it’s going to take the cooperation of the entire village — elected officials, stakeholders, business owners and residents — to keep Delray from becoming indistinguishable from so many other South Florida cities.
We see developments encompassing whole blocks threatening to canyon-ize certain streets in Delray. Our historic districts are now targets of inappropriate development, despite their restrictive zoning. There was a recent challenge to the three-story height restriction for buildings on Atlantic Avenue, and a proposal for bike lanes on historic Swinton Avenue almost caused 150 trees to disappear.
And the list goes on. We win some battles, and lose others, but this is how the charm of the city is slowly eroded.
In the near future, the Northwest/Southwest neighborhood will finally be developed — a huge undertaking to finally unite West Atlantic and create a project that honors the historic home of our African-American community. This is an exciting opportunity, but we must remain vigilant that this project hits all the marks.
Delray has such an engaged citizenry: They are the guiding force who often sound the first alarm that something is not in keeping with Delray’s authenticity.
If the City Commission does its part, we can shape the future of our city instead of having it shaped for us. Let’s keep the vibe going.
Shelly Petrolia is mayor of Delray Beach.