“A Leap Too Far”: Royal Poinciana Village Overlay

Dear NAPB Members,

Below is a very thoughtful article by Bruce McAllister published Sunday Dec.19th in the Shiny Sheet. It clearly outlines the potential problems with the proposed Overlay and zoning changes. Please read it and plan to attend the Town Council meeting onJan. 11th, 2012 at Town Hall. There is a TIME CERTAIN of 10:00am to hear this issue so you will not have to hang around all day.

Royal Poinciana Village Overlay a ‘leap too far’ for Main Street Redevelopment – By BRUCE MCALLISTER

On the Town Council’s agenda last Wednesday, fortunately deferred but only to Jan. 11, is “An Ordinance … Amending The Town Code … By Creating [the] Royal Poinciana Village Overlay…”

It should be deferred again.

There’s been a long delay in resolving this subject and the Testa family is understandably frustrated, but the proposed ordinance clearly is a “leap too far.” Specifically, there are obvious and better ways to address both Testa’s concerns and the appearance and prosperity of Royal Poinciana Way generally.

First, the initial and relatively simple problem of Testa’s inactive gas station has morphed into a proposal for a radical and needless transformation of the Town Code over a much larger area.

Second, Testa’s application is based on a severe distortion of the facts. According to the town-sponsored study by Calvin, Giordano & Associates Inc.: “The Applicant has stated that Royal Poinciana Way has become a stagnant commercial area and increasingly difficult for businesses to survive.” This, at least from my own observations and talks with John Archer, the president of the Royal Poinciana Way Association, and other RPW merchants, is simply not so. RPW is fully rented and occupied. The persons who need help are the owners of shops on North and South County Road.

On a visit to Testa’s charming via a few nights ago, it was buzzing with the energy of a new gallery opening. RPW is alive and well with authentic character that exists from the earliest days of Palm Beach.

Third, the CG&A study states that “The Comprehensive Plan acknowledges that comprehensive and cohesive redevelopment criteria would avoid a piecemeal approach to redevelopment.” But a “piecemeal,” i.e., gradual and contextual, development is precisely what ought to be preferred as an alternative to any massive, sudden or dramatic change. Gradual redevelopment and careful renovation with the guidance of the Architectural Commission can and should both allow improvement and maintain the character of Palm Beach’s original Main Street.

This is by no means a call for “no change at all.” Even recently arrived residents can remember the 2007 Royal Poinciana Charette, wherein residents and out-of-town experts agreed that “no change” is not an option. We inherited a beautiful and living paradise and our love of that heritage must allow it to breathe.

Simply stated, Testa’s empty and abandoned gas station is the primary existing problem on the street. The Testa family ought to apply for, and be granted, permission to restore and redevelop its property — but only in keeping with the historical character of the street. To use Testa’s as a springboard for larger new development, including the construction of three- and four-story buildings spread over Palm Beach’s graceful, historic and welcoming main street, however, would be a travesty.

I appreciate the legal and other problems associated with “spot zoning,” but surely the town has other legal tools, such as a zoning variance, to permit the redevelopment of what is now an eyesore (the gas station), and permit the modest compatible redevelopment of the area.

The agenda item should be withdrawn by its sponsor and a much narrower approach to the renovation of the Testa property should be formulated by the family, in keeping with the spirit of the long and warm relationship between the town and Testa’s. – Palm Beach Daily News [click here for original article online]

Bruce McAllister’s further comments regarding the overlay and Testa’s are most instructive.

“It occurs to me that the Town is verging on making one of the mistakes that conservatives usually attribute to liberals. To conservatives, liberals ignore the fact that government tends to act on a larger and more complex scale than necessary to address the problem at hand. If government action is required to address a problem, therefore, it should act on as narrow and incremental a basis as possible. (that’s difficult to do, admittedly, because government policies should apply equally to everyone, but that’s a subject for another day).

The RPW overlay is a perfect example.

The immediate issue is Testa’s and its gas station. The Town should address that issue head on, granting such variances and special exceptions as are appropriate to the character of the neighborhood and the extent of need. The gas station simply should not be allowed to exist as an empty eyesore indefinitely, waiting for the overlay pot of gold. The remainder of the block should be approached similarly, respecting the differences even from building to building.

The result would be more certainty not less, as the street’s destiny would be seen as guided more by its history than by the plan or plans of developers suddenly given wide latitude in size and design.” -Bruce McAllister


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