By: Marisa Herman Associate Editor
Proposed redevelopment project Swinton Commons is still too big and doesn’t fit into one of the city’s most historic districts, the Delray Beach’s Historic Preservation Board deemed.
A revised project was presented by the developer Hudson Holdings to the board recently and the changes weren’t enough to push the city’s history buffs to support the plans. Its plans were unanimously denied after two days of public meetings both spanning several hours.
Now, the $140 million project will be appealed to the city commission for a final say this month.
The redevelopment plan for nearly 7 acres of land in the city’s Old School Square Historic Arts District involved relocating historic homes, demolishing others, adding places to live, shops, restaurants and offices into the historic homes. The project also proposed adding a combination of residential inn units and hotel rooms.
“I think there’s a lot of positives in this project,” board chair John Miller said. “The economic impact is undeniable. The planning and design is exemplary. It activates an empty, vacant, underutilized properties.”
But Miller continued that the project ignored many of the city’s rules and the national guidelines when it comes to historic redevelopment. He said the plans remove too many trees, scrapes and entire block clean of its history and disrespects anyone who values the character of the city.
“It honestly rewards a property owner or developer who uses demolition by neglect as a negotiating tool,” he said. “It creates a false sense of history. It sets a precedent that if you assemble enough properties or develop a large enough property that the secretary of state’s guidelines and the city’s LDRs do not apply.”
Many see it as the link the city needs between east and west. Others see it as a massive development too contrived for a historic district under consideration to be placed on the national registry.
Residents voiced opinions on both sides, but ultimately protecting the character of the historic area won and the project was rejected by the board.
What caused the most concern for residents and the board was the proposed relocation plan of several historic properties including the Cathcart House and Rectory building. The plan called for moving the homes twice technically before a stronger foundation would be poured for their new proposed locations.
“These houses should remain in their place,” resident Linda Oxford said. “Yes, something needs to happen in this area. This project has come far, but it’s not there yet.”
Another concern board members stated was that many of the homes would be located above the underground parking. The board was more supportive of demolishing several homes that are beyond the point of being saved. But in order for the demolitions to happen, the project’s entire plan must be approved before the developer can receive a permit.
Even though the board approved parts of the plan, the project was ultimately denied because it needs all approvals to go through before it can move forward with the city’s development process.
“I want to see this block reactivated,” Miller said. “I am hoping that something can come back to us that we can approve.”
Hudson Holdings purchased the property in 2014 for $17.15 million. The purchase included Tom Worrell’s collection of properties including the Sundy House.
Michael could not be reached for comment despite leaving a message at his Delray Beach office.