Curry Park rendering (2014 handout)
City officials are mulling a proposal to change zoning on prime real estate west of Currie Park near the Flagler Drive waterfront in West Palm Beach.
Despite the land’s enviable location in a high-traffic, high-value zone, about 30 acres between Flagler on the Intracoastal Waterway and North Dixie Highway have seen no development for about a decade.
“There’s acres and acres of vacant land with litter blowing around it in an incredibly vibrant part of the city,” said Harvey Oyer, land use attorney at Shutts & Bowen. “If you’re wondering why, it’s because the zoning code doesn’t make any sense. And that’s what the city is attempting to correct.”
When the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency board meets Tuesday, members will consider a proposal to lift zoning restrictions like the four-story height limit for buildings in the Currie Park development area.
“There’s a challenge for people to develop very expensive dirt and be limited to those types of returns,” said Jon Ward, executive director of Redevelopment Management Associates, the contractor running the city’s CRA. “Why in the world during an aggressive development period would fabulous prime waterfront property not be developed? The reason is it’s just not profitable to do it.”
Supporters say the change would make sense for developers who would be able to create taller buildings without changing the density and bring to market more versatile mixed-used projects with retail, office and residential space.
The proposal stemmed from a weeklong charrette in March to create a coordinated development strategy for the northern part of West Palm Beach from 15th Street to the city limit. The CRA said it has support from neighborhood groups and the city’s planning department to rewrite the zoning rules and will ask commissioners to approve the overhaul.
“The need of the community has changed,” said Ronald Nixon Sr., president of the Northend Coalition of Neighborhoods. “The community … is looking for a different view, a different way that the area looks, a different way that the area feels.”
The long-term plan would connect Currie Park to Northwood Village on the west and encourage millions of dollars in private real estate development along the tree-lined and arcaded boulevard over the next five to seven years.
“We’ve heard from the developers,” Redevelopment Management Associates project manager Allison Justice said in a promotional video issued Monday by the mayor’s office. “They’re at the table right now.”
At least two landowners have hired a design firm to evaluate potential projects for their sites, but both are awaiting the outcome of the city’s zoning review.
Eastern Financial Florida Credit Union owns nearly 4½ acres at 2121 N. Flagler Drive, and BBX Capital Corp. controls just under 3 acres at 2501 N. Flagler Drive.
“You have this beautiful park, but the code effectively requires a bunch of locked front doors facing the water,” said Oyer, who represents both landowners. “At this point we’re sitting back and waiting to see how the city changes the code. Then we will design the concept in compliance with the new code.”