Young Circle Development
December 1, 2008, 12:41 PM
Filed under: City Commission, Development, Young Circle

December 1, 2008

On its Dec. 3 agenda, the city commission has an opportunity to put a new face on development around Young Circle. Instead of allowing more “piecemeal development,” we can have a city vision for Young Circle and zoning regulations to implement it.

The proposed moratorium on certain downtown development is the way to do it . A temporary hiatus would allow the Zyscovich 2009 Master Plan and zoning regulations to be finalized before any more development is approved. The city has already commissioned this work and committed to paying Zyscovich $200,500 for it. Accordingly, it only makes sense to require new Young Circle development to follow the new zoning once approved.

The belief that no moratorium is needed because nothing will be built during this recession is naive at best. What developers are after is locking in city incentives and towering density on their sites, before new zoning sets limits. Once the city has approved one of these massive projects, the developer can leave the site vacant for years, claiming “unavoidable delays” that the city has a history of forgiving.

The proposed moratorium would stop the city from issuing variances and zoning changes as well as building permits and other development orders in a specified section of the downtown CRA until a date to be set by the city commission. Given that every building around Young Circle is receiving many millions of tax dollars as subsidy, the city has every right to ensure that these projects enhance the city’s vision for the ArtsPark. As of now, the city has no vision and piecemeal development prevails. The Zyscovich plan is intended to correct this problem and give a clear focus.

Four Young Circle towers illustrate the concept of “piecemeal development.” A more descriptive term would be “developer-driven hodgepodge.” Radius is finished but many of its units are unsold, Young Circle Commons and ArtsPark Village are approved, but not yet built. Hollywood Circle seeks approval this month. Radius is 14 stories, Young Circle Commons 19 stories, ArtsPark Village 22, and Hollywood Circle 25 stories.

One developer is pushing hard to have his project approved before any new regulations come into play. The developer is Chip Abele. The project is Hollywood Circle that would include over 400 units of upscale housing, a new Publix grocery, office space, and a garage structure for almost 1,000 vehicles facing the Hollywood Lakes residential neighborhood.

In mid-November, the city’s Development Review Board granted this project a waiver of the city’s 25 foot landscape requirement. Next, the city’s Planning and Zoning Board is being asked to change the project’s zoning to PD which would eliminate any zoning restriction on height and density. As currently designed, Hollywood Circle’s height is 266 feet, just about double the height of the Radius condos.

The moratorium should take effect before the PD zoning request is heard. If this zoning change is allowed, piecemeal development will have won the last round.

Another advantage of the moratorium would be the opportunity to renegotiate the development agreement that was finalized back in 2004. The developer’s plans actually violate requirements specified in that agreement. Instead of seeking design and zoning changes for a project that deviates substantially from what the development agreement calls for, the developer should be required to renegotiate the agreement first. The moratorium would allow time for that process.

Those who say Chip Abele’s project was already in the pipeline and he “has been waiting a long time,” overlook the fact that Mr. Abele has failed for four years to bring this project to fruition. When the city approved his project back in 2004, there was no recession like we have today. For whatever reason, he chose not to move forward.

The City Commission should take control of Young Circle projects and stop settling for mediocre “piecemeal development” around the ArtsPark. A temporary moratorium is our last chance to get it right. Commissioners need to step up to the plate now before it is too late. Let them know your thoughts before the Dec. 3 city commission meeting.

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