I have been asked what my opinion is about the Related Project by many people. I thought I would use this opportunity to write about it in my inaugural blog for my new Campaign Website. I have many issues I would like to engage in with you, the residents of West Palm Beach, to help me work better for you. Of all the issues we face in the City, there is nothing more important to me than Transparency in our City Government, and Accountability for the work we do. Although I have received a lot of letters, emails and phone calls about the Related Project, the fact is I won’t get a chance to influence the outcome of the Mayor’s decision about moving this project forward. However I do want to take the opportunity to share my opinions about this matter and let you, the residents of West Palm Beach, know that I think it is important that we listen to you and hear what you have to say.
The City Commission will not get a chance to vote on this until the Mayor takes it through the DAC Downtown Action and the Planning Commissions.
I believe the considerations related to this proposal are far reaching and impact the entire City. I have in excess of 2000 letters, emails, Voice Messages, and petitions of people supporting, in essence, Mom, Apple Pie and the Beach Boys and equal number opposing, in essence, Godzilla and the Termination of Earth. Neither position is helpful to me in making my decision nor are these things relevant to the decisions before us. As elected officials we have to take the long view and we have to think about what is in the best interest of everyone. It is clear to me that the City is being torn apart by this process.
I completely disagree with Land Use and Zoning changes to our City codes through political campaigns. This project, this zoning change for this particular site, or project, has become a political campaign complete with Polls, petitions and general community discourse, just like any political campaign. I am not about to support land use zoning and planning changes being done in this manner.
The Downtown Master Plan (DMP) recommends that the DMP be reviewed comprehensively every 5-7 years- it has been 10 years since the last comprehensive review. In this time period we have had a recession and now have a high speed passenger rail with 32 trains coming through a day. It is obvious from the work we did on the Okeechobee Corridor Study and Charrette that there are many more implications to changes made on Okeechobee and the balance of the City. If the 5 story height minimum is going to be overturned for this one project, how do you stop the changes to Trinity Church, Trinity Park and all the real estate owned by the city along the waterfront? For example, the area in front of McKean Towers, the Fishing Club, the Chamber of Commerce, the little park in between them and the Old City Hall Site, along with the Helen Wilkes Hotel site —and ultimately what the City does to the Banyan and Narcissus Garage.
In the 2017/2018 Draft CRA Strategic Financing Plan, we are shown a cost budgeted at $80 million dollars for a new parking garage at Narcissus. This is currently 5 stories. Does that mean that the City is going to increase the height and expand the mass of that building as well? $80 million dollars for a 5 story parking garage is highly unlikely. The voters voted twice, but what the voters never did was set aside funds for the preservation, conservation and purchase of lands to be preserved for the good of the City as a whole.
Each time you take one bite of the apple you pretty much end up with patch work zoning, or zoning by developer weight (i.e. $$$$). If you are financially able to take on a huge project that alters the landscape of the City and goes against the voters, you surely need a better plan that includes very clear benefits that help the City achieve its goal. The Related process opens the door for a plan that is buried in this year’s CRA budget. The CRA workshop that I have requested for months from Administration was scheduled on the same agenda with the Related Project. Our community deserves better transparency. These CRA plans, as devised by the Mayor and Jon Ward, do not contemplate a well-developed and researched plan that was ventilated with the Commissioners or the entire public This $80 million parking garage is contrary to the Mayors own position on the costs related to the Transit Oriented Development (TOD) Parking component of their project. The funds that the TOD will generate in the form of Taxes make it sensible to fund this investment through that Incremental increase. (TIF) – Tax Increment Financing, makes the TOD a real investment by our CRA, for the entire City. The Mayor and Jon Ward have reversed 15 years’ worth of community and public engagement, working in tandem with multiple government entities for a project that will exceed the wishes of the public. The TOD is 100% private and as such will generate a tax base that is going 100% to the City’s bottom line. The City’s $80 million parking garage will be all public money and it will be to going to a project owned by government, a non-tax paying entity. A parking garage is an enterprise fund owned by the City and in order to meet the bonding requirements, they will need to have a private enterprise as part of the development. If you have to invest large dollars in order to bring in a private enterprise, you will need to raise the height of the structure in order to meet the markets demand- of course the City has yet to understand what exactly the market demands.
You need only look at the financing of the New City Hall site to see how poor an investment that $170 million was. The City’s parking garages are not maintained or protected from the homeless and vagrants. We have not generated anywhere near the taxable values that are needed to make any reinvests into the downtown. The next project coming out of the CRA is going to take the corner of Banyan Blvd and Narcissus and it too will be unlimited in its height requirement and will be the next domino to fall. This all flies in the face of everything the Master Plan contemplated and what the voters have requested.
If we are going to be making these kinds of big decisions and take on these kinds of funding obligations, we sure as hell need to have the citizens behind us. This is not the way you build consensus. So, I am not willing to support anything that does not address the broader picture and is evaluated by opening up the Downtown Master Plan. I want to have a fully vetted and transparent discussion with the Public. It may take an extra 6 months, but this current proposed process will attract litigation and it will hold up the project for years, not to mention the staff time it takes for our City Attorney and City Administrators to sit in depositions all day.
I do not believe in telling 50% of the people they are wrong and then have an illusion that this will make our City stronger. We need to fundamentally prepare for all the growth we have already experienced and figure out a 21st century plan that serves all the residents of West Palm Beach, for years to come. If we can work together on our infrastructure and build our Vision, then I believe we can build great things that represent our City at its best.
I strongly recommend you watch the PBS Documentary “Make no Little Plan” about the life of Daniel Burnham, the world renowned architect and urban designer. He oversaw the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago and was the author of The Plan of Chicago. It is a plan that is laid out for the future of Chicago. It was the first comprehensive plan for controlled growth of an American city, and an outgrowth of the City Beautiful movement. David Child’s, The Related Company’s architect, is one of the narrators of the documentary. I’m wondering what Daniel Burnham would do if he were in my position.