By Tim O’Meilia
For the second time in two years, the South Palm Beach Town Council rejected a plan to replace the two-story Palm Beach Oceanfront Inn — the town’s only business — with a luxury 10-story hotel.
The 3-2 vote on Oct. 21 surprised most of the nearly 200 residents packed into the council chambers and a nearby lobby, since most speakers favored the plans for the hotel and the council had previously backed the proposed change in the town’s comprehensive plan by the same margin. The swing vote was Councilman Joseph Flagello, who voted in June to send the project for review by state planning officials.
"I'd love to see this project in the spirit of the code: six stories with one story of parking for seven stories. I'm not against changing the code," he said. "The scope of the project has to fit within the residential character of the town."
He lamented how the issue had divided the town. He said he was cursed at as he left the council chambers.
The vote effectively kills the hopes of the Paloka family, which bought the two-story, 45-year-old Hawaiian Inn and its oceanfront Tides bar and restaurant five years ago. In 2007, they applied for a 16-story condo-hotel, scaled it back to 14, but were unanimously rejected by the council.
The Palokas declined to comment after the two-and-a-half-hour meeting. Mayor Marty Millar and Councilman Brian Merbler voted for the hotel. Vice Mayor Charles McCrosson and Councilman Don Clayman joined Flagello in opposing it.
“It was too close,” Clayman said of the proposed 10-foot setback from the property line. “This is a residential town and we want to keep it residential town. No doubt this would have been the start to more commercial.” Thirty-six people spoke, more than two-thirds arguing that the change would upgrade the looks of the town and add tens of thousands of dollars in much-needed property tax to the town budget.
“Why are we against them turning a caterpillar into a butterfly which in time will elevate the value of our property and bring in taxes to the town?” asked resident Sandra von Triffon.
“It’s revenues, it’s jobs, it’s beautiful,” said Robert Lamelas. Opposition came from neighboring condos, the Horizons East and the Tuscany, and from South Palm Beach Preservation Inc., whose members wore powder blue T-shirts which read “Take Back South Palm Beach.”
“It would be the tallest building in town, have 99 units on one acre and have 74 percent lot coverage, double what’s allowed now,” said attorney Neil Schiller, representing the Tuscany.
“Will it cause flooding on A1A or beach erosion? We don’t know because we haven’t seen their proposal. It opens the door for future commercial use in town.” The town’s current comprehensive plan allows only 60-foot tall buildings although previously built condominiums are up to nine stories. It also allows only residential uses. The motel is classed as non-conforming and cannot be expanded or rebuilt unless the plan is changed. “Your grandiose plans are not for such a small property,” said Louise Bronstein, who lives next door to the motel.