With sunlight fading on a Saturday evening in 2012, a new friend drove me through the heart of charming Lake Worth past Old Lake Worth City Hall, its library, post office, City Hall and Cultural Council, all within a perfect small-town setting of cottages.
The Buildings under Threat are protected by the City’s own historic Preservation Ordinance!
A decade earlier, the National Register of Historic Places designated most of downtown as Historic Old Town Commercial District. Planning Commission Chair Frank Palen laid the groundwork by writing a strong City Historic Preservation Ordinance in the 1990’s.
The Buildings under Threat are protected by the City’s own Historic Preservation Ordinance!
Unfortunately, our local Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) bought eleven properties South of Lake Avenue (SOLA) from 2017 to 2020, in downtown Lake Worth Beach with the intent to consolidate properties, sell off to developers, tear down historic structures and build parking garages and large buildings which are out of scale with the neighborhood. The protective ordinance mandated that adjacent property owners be notified that the CRA was applying to demolish or move seven of the contributing structures and the public showed up in opposition. However, in spite of community opposition, the Historic Resources Board went on to conditionally approve the CRA initiative. Local citizens then filed an appeal of the historic board’s decision to the Lake Worth Beach City Council. Again, with tremendous community opposition, and massive public testimony in support of the appeal, the Commission upheld that decision. This decision is now being appealed to the Fifteenth Circuit Court in the hope that the courts will recognize that the historic designation is intended to protect, not demolish the buildings within our Historic District.
The CRA’s SOLA request for proposal (RFP) to prospective developers states that existing contributing historic “structures” must first be “demolished” or “moved” off site before “new construction permits are released.”
That is directly counter to the CRA’s own stated mission in its Redevelopment Plan which plainly that says: “(r)estoration of historic structures and…architectural guidelines for…building renovations are fundamental aspects of the Lake Worth redevelopment program”
Historic Lake Worth is Worth Saving is not opposed to development, just large, inappropriate, business-as-usual development which has threatens the small-town charm of our historic town.
One alternative to the RFP’s development parameters which is characterized by consolidating building lots and building super-blocks which would be utterly devastating to the scale of the city, is to optimize use of existing City and CRA buildings. For instance, relocating the Department of Community Sustainability from its suburban location to Old Lake Worth City Hall in the heart of the downtown would bring vitality back to the area as City employees and the building users partake of the walkable downtown amenities. The building currently is dominated by part-time volunteer uses and is under-utilized. Bringing vital uses back to downtown will benefit the Avenues, as employees and visitors stream into nearby food, beverage and retail establishments. By relocating downtown, the walk from Community Sustainability to City Hall decreases from 25 to 7 minutes.
Current uses of the Old Lake Worth City Hall, such as the History Museum and Children’s room could then be relocated to 26 S L, which is one of the historic structures owned by the CRA. This building was designed by Edgar Wortman, Lake Worth’s public library architect and is one of the those buildings under threat of demolition.
Eliminating minimum off-street parking requirements in Historic Old Town makes room for restored contributing historic structures and new workforce housing to co-exist south of Lake Avenue. The original 25 and 50 feet wide parcels and dense street grid platted by surveyors in 1912 give Lake Worth its historic charm and value. This is under threat increasingly as land use is designated for more and more parking, something which wrecks the coherence of the walkable downtown.
PETITION FOR WRIT OF CERTIORARI
Petitioners (collectively “Petitioners”) file this Petition for Writ of Certiorari pursuant to Florida Rules of Appellate Procedure 9.100(b), (c) and 9.190(b)(3) to quash and remand a decision of the CITY COMMISSION denying an administrative appeal and thereby approving a certificate of appropriateness for demolition of contributing historic structures in the City’s Old Town Historic District, which was rendered by signature of the Mayor on January 14, 2020 (Petitioner’s Appendix, Ex. A) after a hearing held on January 7, 2020.
This case arises from the CRA’s application for a Certificate of Appropriateness to relocate or demolish several contributing and non-contributing structures in the Old Town Historic District in the City. The City’s Historic Resources Preservation Board reviewed the application and approved the Certificate of Appropriateness with conditions. Thereafter, Thomas V. Conboy, P.E., as President/Principal Engineer of South Florida Engineering and Consulting LLC, filed an administrative appeal to the City of Lake Worth Beach’s City Commission. The City Commission upheld the HRPB’s decision. Conboy, individually, seeks review by petition for writ of certiorari.
This paper examines the benefits of moving the City’s Community Sustainability department into Old Lake Worth City Hall, restoring historic structures, utilizing existing lot sizes as a framework for infill or incremental development, native landscaping, eliminating mandatory minimum parking, instituting market priced parking for public parking and improved street design to the Historic Old Town Commercial District (HOTCD) especially in the South of Lake Avenue (SOLA). This paper provides a prudent, reasonable and fiscally conservative alternative proposal to the planning and actions taken by the Community Redevelopment Agency and City in the HOTCD.
A LOCAL EXAMPLE OF HOW A RENOVATION BENEFITS A NEIGHBORHOOD
On August 21, 2012, Dale Construction Company, doing business as Utopia Properties, LLC, submitted an application to fully renovate two contributing historic structures (2nd structure is 2-car garage) at 17 S M Street within the Historic Old Town Commercial District (HOTCD), plus new landscaping to meet the 2012 landscape regulations. Utopia Properties LLC also replaced a concrete driveway that looked backdated with a more appealing brick driveway. The applicant also provided disability access to the main house. Although, the hardiplank lacks the character of the clapboard siding it replaced and the 2nd story accessory dwelling unit was converted to storage, 17 S M St otherwise serves as an exemplary model of how renovation contributes to the “visual integrity” of a historic district.
HISTORY OF CRA LAND ACQUISITION IN HISTORIC OLD TOWN COMMERCIAL DISTRICT
After voters approved a County School District penny sales tax (of which 20 cents on the dollar are directed to Palm Beach municipalities) in November 2016, the Lake Worth Community
Redevelopment Agency (CRA) went on a buying binge scooping up eleven parcels in the SOLA (South of Lake Avenue) neighborhood within the HOTCD.
Between November of 2017 and January of 2020, the CRA paid a cool price of 4.234 million dollars for these historic buildings & parcels. Previously, the CRA bought two parcels, 13 S M and 20 S L, for $647,000 in 2005 and converted the lots to surface parking. Not only did the CRA not renew tenants leases, but the CRA & City lost approximately $64 thousand or more in annual property tax revenue.
By all appearances, the CRA and the City want to assemble these historic lots into one large lot to redevelop SOLA with the intent to increase property tax revenue.
THE VALUE OF EXISTING HISTORIC LOT SIZES
However, without those 25’ or 50’ by 135’ lots, Lake Worth would lose its historic charm.
An early example of the damage that lot aggregation can result in led to the approval and construction of The Lucerne. Not only is the height, bulk and scale of The Lucerne incongruous with the core of historic downtown between Federal Highway and the FEC railroad tracks, but developers were also granted rights to build The Lucerne on top the alley between Lake and Lucerne. That building plan disrupts and despoils the view via the alley from City Hall to Old Lake Worth City Hall and vice-versa.
It is the 7000 twenty-five or fifty foot parcels and fifty-five miles of road right-of-way platted by surveyors in 1912 that laid the foundation for the size and scale of the historic buildings in the SOLA neighborhood of the HOTCD
The carefully crafted language under the heading Historic Buildings on p. 14 of the City Redevelopment Agency’s City of Lake Worth Redevelopment Plan (February 22, 2001) states CRA’s historic preservation mission best.
“Restoration of historic structures and formulation of architectural guidelines for new construction and building renovations are fundamental aspects of the Lake Worth redevelopment program. The character and charm of the historic downtown are significant assets and should be preserved and enhanced through policies and programs set forth by the City Commission.”
Establishing explicit policies to protect existing lot sizes would help protect the visual integrity of historic districts.
That being said, now that the CRA owns thirteen parcels in SOLA, the public agency has a unique opportunity to build on the renovation renewal example set by Utopia Properties LLC in 2012.
As planning progresses for the future of its seven contributing historic structures in L & M project area and four other contributing historic structures (1st Ave S, S K St and 509 Lake Ave) in the SOLA neighborhood, CRA and City officials should refer to its recently published City of Lake Worth Beach Historic Preservation Educational Guidelines: A Guide to Sustainability,
Resiliency and Project Planning for Historic Structures read more, a publication prepared by the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council and sponsored (Grant #19.HSM.300.087) in part by the State of Florida Department of State, Division of Historical Resources.
On page 8 of the Guidelines under: Terms – Embodied Energy
“…energy is…used in the production of all building materials. That cost is referred to as embodied energy. The embodied energy includes the energy required to transport a material to the building site, the extraction of the raw materials, and manufacturing of the product. When considering the embodied energy cost, it is far less costly to reuse and rehabilitate historic structures than to continually demolish and build anew. Keeping materials in use and away from the landfill is in itself, an act of conservation, and the longer a product or material is in use the less embodied energy is wasted.”
LAKE WORTH HISTORIC STRUCTURES
• Remove vinyl siding, where necessary (24 S L, 26 S L); restore lap siding
• Remove asphalt shingle roof (24 S L, 26 S L, 30 S L); replace with white concrete tile, or white metal shingles, if it meets historic standards and is approved by staff or HRPB. White metal roofs and to a lesser degree white concrete tile significantly improve thermal comfort as white reflects South Florida’s intense sun
• Remove aluminum windows and doors, replace with Miami-Dade hurricane compliant aluminum-clad wood windows and hurricane compliant wood doors
• Preserve and maintain historic elements such as plaster walls and hardwood floors
• Elevate contributing historic buildings utilizing City of Charleston’s Design Guidelines for Elevating Historic Buildings (adopted July 24, 2019) and incorporate City of New Orleans Historic District Landmarks Commission Guidelines for Storm Preparedness & Resilience. These Investments will not only protect these buildings from future King tides, storm surge & supercharged hurricanes powered by abnormally warm Atlantic Ocean waters, but also reduce flood insurance bills for years to come by meeting or exceeding FEMA (fema.gov) requirements and reduce maintenance cost by making repairs underneath the main floor easier to reach.
• Underground utilities to reduce risks associated with utility outages
• To optimize privacy, replace worn out fences and commonly grown non-native hedges with closely-planted field-grown South Florida small or medium native trees – Simpson Stopper, Spanish Stopper and Jamaica Caper are good examples. Fences lose value over time; hedges, often a linear assemblage of large trees, frequently maintained with noisy electric or gas-powered trimmers.
• Remove non-natives; retain existing natives. Meet or exceed current City landscape regulations for 75 percent South Florida native trees, shrubs and ground-cover. Drought tolerant South Florida natives increase in value over time, while watering costs decrease. Native landscaping is increasingly viewed as a key to sustainability, biodiversity and resilience and increased home value.
INCREMENTAL DEVELOPMENT, URBAN INFILL, ADU’s
Parcels located within the CRA’s L & M Street project are zoned Mixed Use East (MU-E 1st & 2nd Edges); an appropriate zoning amendment would be to designate single family and two family homes as allowable as does MU-E Federal Highway zoning. That would bring existing contributing historic single and two-family homes in the SOLA neighborhood into conformance. Workforce housing could then be incrementally developed in between existing contributing historic structures in the SOLA neighborhood.
AN INCREMENTAL DEVELOPMENT PROPOSAL
Let’s take a detailed look at sites and description of an incremental development proposal between S L and S M and 1st Ave S and Lake Ave.
• 13 S M – two or three-story townhouse apartments built on top of surface parking next to alley buffered by a parallel parking space.
• 16 S L – two or three-story townhouse apartments built on top of surface parking next to alley buffered parallel parking spaces.
• 20 S L – two or three-story townhouse apartments built on top of surface parking next to alley buffered by parallel parking spaces
• 24 S L – cottage constructed in 1946 facing S L; Two-car garage built in 1980, demolished by CRA in Jan. 2020. Two-story townhouse apartments next to alley buffered by 2 parallel parking spaces; in between house & courtyard with a vest pocket forest of small and medium native trees.
• 23 S M – across the alley The CRA demolished two historic structures in January 2020. To pay homage to the five apartment structure, which historic preservation officials designated as eligible to be a contributing historic structure, replace with two-story townhouse with five apartments per floor next to alley buffered by 3 parallel parking spaces. Facing S M Street a one or two-story apartment building. In between buildings, design a community space such as a community garden. Architect: Designed by Canadian architect Arthur LeBaron Weeks Lake Worth in 1940, at the outset of the 1950’s. The Rosenthal Building, a six-story structure in Ottawa, Canada designed by Mr. Weeks was the first building to “employ a reinforced concrete structural frame and a complete exterior cladding system of architectural terra cotta.” That innovative use of materials went on to be used in buildings that formed the Chicago Skyline.
• 26 S L – Two-story multi-family house designed by architect Edgar S. Wortman in 1933. Move Lake Worth Historical Museum from the 2nd floor (and the Children’s Room from the 1st floor) of Old Lake Worth City Hall and Children’s Room to the Wortman House. Transform the backyard to an outdoor public space for children’s performances, historic museum events, small weddings, receptions and public events. Seek permission from Historic Preservation Officials to detach garage & storage and relocate to a more optimal location on the site in order to improve the design for the public space.
Locating outdoor public space and Museum at 26 S L would provide the SOLA neighborhood with a desirable destination. The L.Q.C. Lamar House in Oxford, MS was in “badly deteriorating” condition before ‘three Oxford natives” took on the challenge to buy and restore the historic building. The advantage here is the CRA already owns the contributing historic Wortman house. Architect: Edgar S. Wortman was architect that designed the Lake Worth Public Library (1941), The Clewiston Inn (1938) and Osborne School at 1726 S. Douglas St. Lake Worth (1948) and redesigned the Lake Worth Casino (originally built in 1922) after it was demolished by the Fort Lauderdale Hurricane on September 17, 1947. The Clewiston Inn was listed on National Register of Historic Places (NHRP) on February 21, 1991 and Osborne School was listed on NHRP on August 1, 2003.
• 32 S L – One-story apartments (1935.) Option 1: add a small one-story building to the western section of the property; Option 2: design a native vest pocket forest on the corner of S L & 1st Ave S. Architect: Agnes Ballard, the first female registered architect in Florida, the first woman admitted to the American institute of Architects (AIA) in the State of Florida and sixth woman admitted to AIA nationwide, design a mid-century modern addition in 1955.
• 509 Lake Ave – 1-story 636 square foot gas station, contributing historic structure built in 1935. Move the Lake Worth Visitors Center from Old Lake Worth City Hall to this perfectly situated site. A paseo should be established on the east side of the and along the western property line leading to the alley between L & M. Design, build three-story mixed use building between the paseo and 501 Lake Avenue. History: Later, the 636 square foot building became a dental office and most recently it was a bar and outdoor music venue called Havana Hideout. After the CRA took ownership of 509 Lake Ave on January 10, 2020, the agency put up a black metal fence and dismantled the outdoor stage and awning.
To maximize the benefit of the CRA investments, two City-owned buildings come into play: Old Lake Worth City Hall at 414 Lake Avenue and 501 Lake Avenue, which the City bought in July 2016 for a steal at $250,000 from Palms West Chamber of Commerce (formerly the Greater Lake Worth Chamber of Commerce.) Old Lake Worth City Hall at 414 Lake Avenue was listed on National Register of Historic Places on May 18, 1989. Over the past decade the City has increasingly underutilized the historic building. The historic structure, informally called City Hall Annex, now hosts a number of part time uses including the History Museum, the Visitors Center and Children’s Room.
Old Lake Worth City Hall is the eastern anchor of the Historic Old Town Commercial District; City Hall at 7 N Dixie Hwy serves as the western anchor. To return 414 Lake Avenue to its glory days, the City needs to move Community Sustainability staff from 1900 2nd Ave N to Old Lake Worth City Hall.
This can be done by moving the Visitors Center, the History Museum, and Children’s Room to SOLA neighborhood historic structures at 509 Lake Avenue and 26 S L St. (see above.)
Community Sustainability might use all the space at Old Lake Worth City Hall, so it may make sense to move City Utilities to 501 Lake Avenue, formerly used by City’s Leisure Services. Moving Community Sustainability employees from a location west of I-95 and a 25 minute walk to City Hall he converted storage warehouse at 1900 2nd Ave N to the heart of downtown will bring a much desired new base of employees that need downtown’s food and beverage establishments at lunch and happy hour after work.
When Community Sustainability opens it doors to the public again, its visitors will also become customers for downtown businesses.
To accommodate increased employees downtown, the City should pass parking cash out legislation in which City employees are paid not to drive to work. The City could also negotiate EcoPass (ride transit for deep discount or free) for City employees with Palm Trans.
Moving City employees from west of I-95 will also help make the Cultural Plaza more vibrant as employees and Community Sustainability visitors will also want to spend time in the Plaza.
When our nation no longer is suffering from the COVID-19 health pandemic, the City may
eventually wish to invest in a structure something akin to the Shed at Tanglewood in the Cultural Plaza. The stage and listening area would be designed to have superior acoustical qualities that could host outdoor concerts, theatrical performances and Town Hall meetings.
The City’s current minimum off-street parking regulations has major disadvantages. It drives up the cost of building housing and commercial structures by thirty to thirty five percent. That’s a price that’s too high for current and future city residents, business owners and the city itself. It also increases impervious to pervious surface ratios, so that sufficient water is not percolating directly into the ground, thereby increasing water management costs.
The City’s mandatory free parking is unaffordable, too. It passes those arbitrary and capricious costs of parking onto businesses, landowners and taxpayers, who in turn pass most of these costs onto renters and customers. The City should instead create a performance or market priced parking plan for its curb and off street parking in order to drive down the perceived demand for parking and only charge drivers to park when sufficient demand for parking spaces exists.
Utilizing incremental development and context sensitive design principles, the SOLA neighborhood will transform from its forlorn, shuttered condition to a vibrant aesthetically stimulating walkable block that serves as a thought-provoking transition from the heart of downtown on Lake & Lucerne to residential neighborhoods to the Southeast Lucerne Townsite Historic District.
Siting Community Sustainability will allow out-of-town City employees and applicants seeking permits at Community Sustainability to easily frequent downtown establishments and in turn increase the economic health and sustainability of the Historic Old Town Commercial District.
Performance or market-priced parking
The City and CRA’s refusal to market price curb parking, see presentations by Donald Shoup (8:42) & Patrick Siegman (24:02) – on Lake and Lucerne and adjacent side streets and CRA and in City-owned off-street surface parking, adversely impacts the financial health of the Historic Old Town Commercial District. Market-priced parking means a charge is only applied when there is a scarcity of available parking spaces on a given block, or in a certain parking lot. In 2007, the Silicon Valley suburb Redwood City, CA instituted “demand-responsive meter rates to maintain an average 18% availability rate and average parking stay of 72 minutes among downtown spaces that were previously always full all the time.” The parking income is reinvested in the district, where meters are located.
In the SOLA neighborhood, the City owns surface parking at 13 & 19 S K Street (January 1974) and the CRA owns three lots with surface parking, 13 S M (March 2005) & 20 S L (April 2005) and 16 S L (November 2017) without metered parking. No time limits exist either for vehicular parking (except between 3 a.m. and 6 a.m.) Although the surface lots offer measurable subsidies to vehicles and require maintenance and signage expenditures, the parking lots make no direct contributions toward improving HOTCD. Instituting a market-priced parking program is a prudent method to increase the health of the downtown.
Eliminating minimum mandatory off street parking requirements
The barrier to achieving sustainable incremental development are the City’s archaic minimum parking requirements (See municode sec. 23.4-10). The Downtowner at 500 1st Ave S is an example of how the visual integrity of a historic district is undermined by a surface parking lot built to meet minimum mandatory off street parking requirements. Off street parking lots reduce pervious surface on parcels. Driveways to off street parking also reduce curb parking spaces.
For solutions to removing costly, debilitating barrier mandatory off street parking requirements – see Transportation & Ecology webinar – watch Jason Chandler (38:15).
At minimum, the City should remove minimum mandatory off-street parking requirements in the Historic Old Town Commercial District. This would allow either accessory dwelling units (ADU’s) or 25 foot-wide townhouses, what developer Andrew Frey and architect Jason Chandler refer to as “surgical infill.” Eliminating minimum mandatory off-street parking requirements in HOTCD may reduce development costs by as much as 30 to 35 percent, Lower building costs create improved conditions to build much needed walkable workforce housing immediately south of downtown businesses on Lake Avenue. At the same time, the City should establish a residential permit program in the SOLA neighborhood and maybe a few blocks south into the Southeast Lucerne Townsite Historic District.
Andrew Frey built just that in the Little Havana district of Miami when he worked with then Miami City Commissioner and now Mayor Francis Suarez to pass a municipal zoning amendment. That amendment eliminated off street parking requirements in Miami for buildings under 10,000 square feet located near frequent, daily public transportation service and this service as well. A bus corridor on Flagler Street in Little Havana met that threshold.
The SOLA neighborhood fits that description now that Palm Trans Bus 62 provides daily service from the Lake Worth Beach Casino to the Wellington Green Mall as well as frequent Palm Trans Route 1 bus service along US 1 (Dixie Hwy in Lake Worth) between SW 15th in Boca Raton to the Gardens Mall in Palm Beach Gardens.
The SOLA neighborhood would benefit from updated street design. That would include siting mini roundabouts on 1st Ave S and Lake Ave and converting the letter streets S M and S L to two-way streets. That would improve mobility, access to parking and safety in the neighborhood.