Change in State Law Prompts City To Reconsider Old City Hall Site
July 25, 2013
(West Palm Beach, FL) – A new change to state law that now prohibits voter referendums on building heights is prompting city leaders to rethink plans for the Old City Hall site.
At the next meeting of the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA), the Board will consider pulling the property off the market, citing several factors that have recently changed.
Last year the city asked developers to submit ideas for what could be built on the site located along Banyan Boulevard between Flagler Drive and Olive Avenue.
The guidelines given to developers were general and allowed them to submit proposals that exceeded the current five story height limit for the property. Earlier this year, the Board picked two developers to continue in the process.
The current proposals from both developers both exceed the five story limit.
The CRA Board (which is made of members of the City Commission) agreed to allow voters to decide by referendum whether they wanted to waive the height limit. But now a change in state law makes that vote impossible.
In June, Florida Governor Rick Scott signed off on a change to state law which prohibits cities from holding voter referendums on building heights.
“The rules have changed. We need to talk about what is best for the city while ensuring we find a new way to include the public in the discussion,” said West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio. “If the new law doesn’t allow the public to tell us at the ballot box what they want, we need to talk about whether we should continue the process.”
Another factor leading to renewed discussion is the recent appraisal of the land, now estimated to be worth approximately $12 million dollars. That is $5 million dollars more than one developer is offering, and $2 million dollars more than the other is offering.
“For me, it’s all about the economics. The appraisal and the offers are not even close,” said West Palm Beach Commissioner Ike Robinson. “The gap between the two definitely makes me want to revisit this.”
West Palm Beach Commissioner Keith James agreed.
“For me, there are two things that need to be highlighted. One is the appraisal and the other is the change in state law,” said James. “We need to discuss this as a Board because those are two significant changes.”
A third factor affecting the process involves what could be build right across the street.
The Palm Harbor Marina, which is located between the Old City Hall site and the water has said they want to build a hotel on their property. Unlike the Old City Hall site which currently has a five story height limit, the marina is not limited to five stories.
According to the memo attached to the CRA agenda, “it may be prudent to know what the marina tenant intends to construct and measure its impact on the City Hall site prior to committing to a development on the City Hall site.”
If the CRA Board decides to withdraw the project, the land would remain in the hands of the CRA until the Board decides to revisit the project. The Board is expected to discuss the issue at its July 29th meeting.