Guest Commentary: Atlantic Crossing Update

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By Jim Smith, SAFE Chairman Special to The Pineapple

At the November 13th Delray Beach City Commission Meeting more than 350 Delray Beach residents overflowed the Commission Chambers. An hour before the meeting was scheduled to start, television cameras and reporters were set up outside City Hall, as residents congregated in a protest rally against the proposed density of Atlantic Crossing (formerly Atlantic Plaza II). The meeting was delayed as the Mayor and the City Manager, called in the police to assist in crowd control. Since the Chamber Room could accommodate only half of the crowd, the Mayor directed the overflow to Conference Room A or the lobby as both were equipped with giant monitors and sound. The Mayor and police did a terrific job of calming the audience and maintaining order throughout a rather raucous meeting. The audience, for the most part, was composed of those who opposed the proposed conditional use request to increase the residential density of the project. Even though there were many people who wished to make comments to the Commissioners, the Mayor said he would allow each person a full three minutes, but warned that it would be a very long night – which it was. The Commissioners listened, and listened, and listened more. As each Commissioner discussed the proposal, it became clear that there would be no vote “for” or “against” that night. Instead the Commission voted 5-0 to give direction to the redeveloper to revise the plan. The primary direction given by the Commissioners was for the redevelopers to go back to the drawing board and return with a plan that reduced the number of dwelling units. The Commissioners also suggested that there should be fewer 1-bedroom apartments, more condos, lease restrictions that would prevent transients, etc. The meeting to reconsider will be during the regular City Commission Meeting of December 4th.

SAFE was pleased that the redeveloper, at SAFE’s urging, attached the following conditions to their conditional use request: 1. The applicant will work with the city of Delray Beach and TDM experts to include features in the project that will minimize the traffic load on Atlantic Avenue, particularly as it may impact the traffic at the Atlantic Avenue Bridge, and north of NE 1st Street on 7th Avenue. 2. The applicant will encourage the city to utilize the previously agreed to $150,000 shuttle funding to improve service, reduce wait time, and expand service beyond what exists today. 3. The applicant will consult with a TDM expert on initiatives which could be implemented by Atlantic Crossing; and, host a meeting with these experts and other interested parties 4. The applicant will implement an employee transportation program that offers financial incentives for employees to use alternative means of transportation 5. The applicant will support traffic improvements at NE 1st Street and 6th Avenue, and NE 1st Street and 7th Avenue, that are designed and endorsed by the adjacent community and the city of Delray Beach to mitigate any increased traffic in this area associated with the project re-development. In the event it is determined by those parties that a new traffic signal and right turn lane at NE 1st Street and 6th Avenue, isappropriate,anddesired,andassuming sufficient right of way exists to accommodate such right turn lane, the developer agrees to pay for such improvements. Similarly, if such a determination is made to close 7th Avenue north of 1st Street, the developer agrees to pay for such closure, not to exceed $20,000. 6. The applicant will work with SAFE, Delray Beach and FDOT to maximize pedestrian safe crossing of Atlantic Avenue between 6th Avenue and Veteran’s Park. 7. The applicant will, in addition to public bike racks placed throughout the project site, provide both tenant and employee inside bicycle storage facilities. Employee facilities will also include lockers and showers.

At SAFE’s request, the redeveloper arranged a Transportation Demand Management Summit Meeting that was held the day after the Commission Meeting to discuss programs that the redeveloper could take to reduce the number of traffic trips during peak hours and to mitigate the total number of daily traffic trips. SAFE arranged for several experts to offer their suggestions. Those included Phil Winters, the # 1 TDM guru in Florida from the University of South Florida; South Florida Commuter Service (SFCS) Deputy Director Sabrina Glenn; City of Boca Raton Transportation Demand Initiative Administrator Luisa Forney; and, FDOT4 Mobility Coordinator Larry Hymowitz. The redeveloper also invited Chamber of Commerce, City, CRA, and DDVA officials to attend. As a result of the meeting, SFCS volunteered to assist the redeveloper in designing TDM initiatives for Atlantic Crossing and, if called upon, to assist the Chamber of Commerce, the City, the CRA, and the DDVA as well. On November 15th, SAFE learned that the redeveloper is considering a further outreach effort by holding focus group meetings of the various stakeholders. SAFE believes that as a result of City Commission action and the applicants’ willingness to compromise, Atlantic Crossings will be built and that it will be a “win/win/win” for all. And, with more people living downtown, Pineapple Grove’s fitness centers, spas, hair salons, restaurants, and shops will prosper, too. The quality of life we all enjoy will not be diminished by Atlantic Crossing if the necessary steps to mitigate traffic to an acceptable level are taken. Delray Beach will just be more vibrant, more fun, and remain the Village by the Sea that we all treasure!