DELRAY BEACH — Six months ago, residents protested a deal to sell city-owned land along West Atlantic Avenue for just $1.2 million.
On Tuesday, Delray Beach agreed to give the land to a developer for free.
The Delray Beach Community Redevelopment Agency considered five bids for six acres fronting West Atlantic Avenue, between Southwest Ninth and Southwest Sixth avenues. Each proposal included plans to build a grocery store, workforce housing, stores and parking.
The board ultimately chose to give the land to real estate developer BH3 for free, some saying it was the best project with the greatest impact on a blighted area. The other four developers offered about $4 million.
BH3 pitched a retail-office-apartment complex called Alta West, fronting Atlantic Avenue. Behind the three- or two-story building will be an pedestrian strip so stores and offices can face either side. BH3 called the strip “Frog Alley,” a hat tip to the eponymous historic neighborhood nearby.
Board members narrowly voted, 4-3, to negotiate with BH3. In fact, one commissioner, Pamela Brinson, said she mistakenly voted in favor and called for a repeat vote.
The second time around, BH3 still beat out four other contenders, including a commission favorite, Uptown Delray, which has bid on (and lost) the land twice since 2013.
Delray Beach was close to selling the land to Uptown Delray in July, but residents rallied against the deal outside city hall. The land is worth $17 million, according to a city appraisal, and residents fought Uptown’s $1.2 million offer.
Chuck Ridley, one of the residents who protested in July, said the land giveaway agreed upon Tuesday is confusing and residents want answers.
“I feel the same way I felt when I walked in,” said Ridley, who lives in the Northwest/Southwest neighborhoods along West Atlantic. “I think the process is flawed. I just don’t know enough about this deal.”
BH3 is willing to negotiate a cash offer to the city, should commissioners ask for that, said Neil Schiller, a lawyer for the real estate developer.
The deal commissioners approved also grants BH3 $13 million in tax money to build the complex, but the developers said they won’t be seeking the subsidy.
“We’re willing to consider every option for no other reason than we think this is the best project for the city,” Schiller said.
On Monday, a few residents voiced concerns about the West Atlantic bids. Ridley and others accused city officials of pushing through “pet projects.”
The Community Redevelopment Agency, tasked with revitalizing parts of Delray Beach to eliminate blight, sought projects that would activate West Atlantic Avenue and give neighbors a much-needed grocery store, urgent care and pharmacy.
BH3′s plan includes all of this and 700 parking spots in three garages, many of which will be open to the public to ease parking woes along East Atlantic Avenue, Schiller said.
“This is a game-changer for West Atlantic Avenue,” he said.
Commissioner Adam Frankel said he was looking for a “destination” along West Atlantic, similar to its eastern counterpart which drawings patrons from all over the county.
He and other commissioners commended BH3 designers on the Frog Alley concept, one that compliments the historic West Settlers District, one of the oldest neighborhoods in Delray Beach.
Though it isn’t a titled historic district, Delray Beach’s Frog Alley was built by Caribbean-Americans in the early 1900s and named after the frogs that the swarmed the flooded streets after rainstorms.
“I think there’s a lot of culture in that project,” Commissioner Ryan Boylston said. “And that pedestrian strip at the center, I don’t think there’s anything like it in Palm Beach County.”
BH3 still has to return to the city for site plan and design approval.
Source: Palm Beach Post