By Dan Moffett
Developer Gary Cohen came to the April town meeting in South Palm Beach armed with two lawyers, an architect, an assistant and a 5-foot wooden pole.
Cohen and his Paragon Acquisition Group want to build a six-story condominium building on the site of the old Palm Beach Oceanfront Inn. But the developer says he has a problem: The town’s code allows 60 feet for the six stories, but Cohen says he needs 65 feet to make his design work.
The pole was the visual aid he used to show the Town Council the size of his problem.
The town’s 60-foot limit doesn’t allow enough room to build six floors with 10-foot ceilings, the size Paragon says it needs to attract upscale buyers.
“People are just not interested today in luxury condominiums that are under 10 feet,” attorney Mitch Kirschner told the council.
“I can’t recall that we’ve done a luxury condominium in an area as nice as this with ceilings less than 10 feet,” said architect Jorge Garcia of Miami.
“We’re asking for your help to get us out of this conundrum,” attorney John Herin said.
What Cohen and his team want council members to do is ask South Palm Beach voters to change their town charter to allow a 65-foot structure. That means putting an amendment on the ballot for the November election.
Before Cohen bought the property in 2013, the previous owner, Pjeter Paloka and Kosova Realty, proposed building a 14-story condo and touched off an angry backlash that ultimately led voters in 2010 to approve new height limits, including the 60-foot cap. Council members are reluctant to go through another firestorm.
“Seventy-nine percent of the citizens voted this in our charter,” Councilwoman Stella Gaddy Jordan said of the limit. “I don’t think I can make a ruling against them.”
Councilman Woodrow Gorbach, a real estate agent, pointed out that most of the units in the town have 8-foot ceilings, not 10-foot.
Cohen told the council he has been a good neighbor since buying the dilapidated hotel and hasn’t asked for any other concessions.
“We’ve been here for three years now,” Cohen said. “We’ve spent time and we’ve spent money working on this project. You can see what we’ve done the last six months — which is demolish the building, clear the site and build a sea wall. These are substantial things.”
Vice Mayor Joseph Flagello told Cohen that residents aren’t inclined to rush into a decision, and neither are the council members. Flagello said they would discuss the request again at their May 24 meeting.
In other business:
• Town Manager Bob Vitas said the council has settled on a list of 14 projects for its long-term plan. Ranking at the top are preparations for shoreline stabilization and evaluation of the fire district study.
Vitas said 14 of the 16 oceanfront property owners have agreed to easements that will allow the survey work to begin for the beach project, and he hopes to have the other two onboard by the end of May.
• The town will honor veterans at a Memorial Day ceremony, 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. May 30 at Town Hall. Keynote speaker is State Sen. Jeff Clemens, and complimentary refreshments will be served. Ú
By Dan Moffett