Newsletter: Jan 22, 2022

City Commission Votes to Develop South Federal Area

It was a long and winding road to make Federal Highway south of Atlantic Avenue into a new magnet for residential and business development. The area between Southeast 4th and 10th Streets known as Osceola Park's "South Pairs", long blighted with empty lots, chain link fences and random car lots, will become a new Central Business Sub-District (CBD) and an attractive addition to Delray’s famous downtown.  The opportunities for reduced congestion, sustainable environment and more of the unique Delray experience is substantial and the City’s action has set the stage for stakeholders to move forward with their plans while low interest rates and a hot real estate market last.

Osceola Park

The journey began in 1913 with the development of the surrounding neighborhood generally called Osceola Park, one of the oldest communities in Delray, characterized by a mix of residential and commercial uses and a lively diversity of ethnic groups.  The Currie Investment Company began advertising Osceola Park in the Palm Beach Post as a “high class residence” area featuring such modern conveniences as sidewalks, electricity, water, sewer and public parks.

Osceola was laid out in a convenient grid system to accommodate growth, municipal efficiency, and easy navigation. The storied Florida East Coast Railroad tracks and the Florida East Coast Canal either bordered on or bisected the community and Federal Highway bordered its east.  Homes were populated by officers training at the nearby Army Air Force (now the FAU campus) during World War II.  Over 100 homes in the area are now considered “historic” and built in Mediterranean, Mission and Bungalow styles.

Osceola Park Redevelopment Plan

The current Master Plan for Osceola Park was based on 1999 data and finally approved by the City Commission in 2004.  Delray's first Comprehensive Plan (1989) recognized that the area was rapidly being built-out and in need of revitalization, concerned that lack of stability would increase blight and reduce property values. City staff made neighborhood visits, collected land use and environmental data, and met with neighborhood associations to determine concerns and priorities.  Evidence was collected of broken sidewalks, unrepaired streets, overgrown alleys, and inadequate street lighting…but within walking distance of a vibrant downtown. The approved plan established zoning classifications of commercial, residential, “Redevelopment Area” (blighted). The draft plan was approved by Planning and Zoning and the City Commission in November and December 2004.  The current Master Plan for Osceola Park was based on 1999 data and finally approved by the City Commission in 2004.  

In the meantime, a city and privately initiated change in land use was proposed and approved to extend the Central Business District south of Atlantic Avenue to 4th Street. The result was the development of Mallory Square, the Caspian, and the Aloft Hotel among others.  The Community Redevelopment Authority invested over $13 million in upgrading Federal Highway (5th and 6th Avenues) to beautify the area, moderate traffic speed, promote safety and build bike lanes and sidewalks. The area was primed to emerge from its cocoon but nothing happened. when The Great Recession broke out, the City turned its priorities elsewhere and the area “between the pairs” continued to decline.

In 2015 and 2016, a group calling itself the Ad Hoc Stakeholders Group came together to rekindle the efforts to make South Federal and surrounding neighborhoods as compelling as East Atlantic.  At roughly the same time, residents in Osceola wrote their own “Community Based Master Plan” to update the City’s Master Plan which was approved in 2004 and never implemented. Both groups working independently developed ideas and presented them to City Planning, the CRA, and City Commission.  Their recommendations were similar.

Major points included:

1. Maintain the single family residential character while integrating with evolving             commercial and multifamily residential uses

2. Support the diverse demographic, economic, and historical elements of Osceola Park

3. Establish the area as a live, work, play community where residents can walk to work, enjoy     nearby restaurants and entertainment, and raise families.

4. Zone commercial parcels to be located on the edges of the community so as to foster mixed   use, including retail

The local groups proposed a privately initiated rezoning to CBD to kick start the effort, but Planning and the CRA decided the better course was a publicly initiated effort that would carry the weight of the City Government.  In 2018, the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council (TPRPC) was contracted to undertake a study and make recommendations.  One of the key discussion points was to move quickly because the region was just emerging from the recession.  One stakeholder wrote the Commission: “Please support this interlocal agreement BUT please, please, please cut down the time allotted”.  The contract specified that the study and the adoption of recommendations be completed by April – August of 2019.

More than five public meetings were held to explain the major recommendations during the next 3 years.

When the near-final version of the TCRPC/City Planning presentation was made to the Planning Board in the fall of 2021, the staff report noted it was “directed by the City Commission to help guide future redevelopment using land development regulations (LDRs) with a higher level of design criteria that encourage investment in the area, while ensuring compatible transitions between the commercial corridor and the adjoining residential neighborhoods” and that the recommendations were in line with the new Comprehensive plan.

Four classes of stakeholder (government, residents, property owners, neighbors) agreed on the following goals: central business district designation, architectural standards, affordable housing, no canyon effect, density incentives, and more public open space.

At the initial City Commission meeting, there was substantial discussion and disagreement.  The measure appeared to be in trouble, putting many years of effort into doubt. However, on December 7th, the City Commission unanimously approved the rezoning plan for 40 acres in the middle of Delray’s downtown.

The City’s goal is to transition the new Sub-District from eyesore to economic viability, thoughtfully designed for a progressive 21st century city.

Is nearly 25 years of effort worth it?  Only time will tell.  If "South Pairs" is as successful as East Atlantic it would certainly seem so.  Next up: West Atlantic!

Best Regards,

The Friends Of Delray Board

Judy Mollica - President

Steve English - Treasurer

Gregg Weiss - Secretary

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