The redevelopment of two city blocks between Atlantic Avenue and Federal Highway, within yards of the historic Atlantic Avenue draw bridge and Veteran's Park on the intracoastal waterway, is an example of Conditional Use gone berserk. A long-dormant project to revitalize an 8+ acre property by constructing a mixed use (residential, office, retail, restaurant) complex resurfaced in the summer of 2012. Initial project specs called for 50 residential units per acre, well in excess of zoning allowance. The Coalition brought together a powerful contingent of affected neighbors to attend and speak in respectful opposition to the project at five separate Planning & Zoning and Commission meetings, in addition to many conferences with the developer, staff and elected officials, the media, and a broad range of publics who were generally unaware of the project, but whose quality of life would be affected by the mass, scale, and infrastructure disruption of buildings that are simply too large and conspicuous for the site.
Since first presented, the plan is been improved, but it still has a long way to go. Under substantial political pressure to foster downtown economic growth, the City has granted a Conditional Use application that allows a residential density of 40 units per acre (the standard for a downtown property is 30), but with no stipulation that the mass of the buildings be downsized. A group of most affected neighbors have filed a lawsuit, seeking court action to force the developer to listen to sound, uncontroversial suggestions on how the project can be redesigned to fit the location, both in scale and consistency with Delray's "Historic Village by the Sea" reputation.
This project is a test of the proposition that citizens should have a definitive role in determining the future of their communities. The Coalition and its constituencies are fully committed to seeing a successful Atlantic Plaza development, and to rectifying flaws in the process of how similar projects are railroaded through staff, Boards, and Commissions. A lawsuit may be a necessary deterrent to poor judgment, but the City of Delray Beach has excellent land use regulations, and they and developers should abide by the rules.