An Open Letter to HRPB Board Members in Support of Downtown CRA Project

Below is the text from an open letter sent to the Historic Resources Preservations Board Chairman and members on September 16th, 2019 encouraging the members to approve a COA application filed by the Lake Worth Beach Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) that will allow the CRA to relocate or demolish up to ten structures on an assembled block of land in our downtown core that will make way for much-needed new market-rate development to revitalize the area.

Map of subject properties for COA

In summary, here is why I support this redevelopment project:

  • Only one of the ten structures on the land bank is worth saving – the historic cottage at 18 S M Street. The City and the CRA have already committed to saving and relocating this structure. The rest of the structures, while contributing structures, are mostly just representative of a very common type of historic building found throughout Lake Worth Beach (there are over 1,000 of them), and they are in significant neglect and disrepair.
  • We need development in our downtown. Our downtown suffers a 30% commercial vacancy rate because we simply don’t have enough people patronizing the businesses. A new market-rate development with up to 80 units in our downtown core will significantly impact surrounding home values, and help infill our downtown with critical mass.
  • We all talk a lot about wanting economic development, improving our demographics, and increasing the available stock of market-rate housing, but we have to walk the walk, too, or nothing will change. We can’t have it both ways.

Either we are for economic development, and therefore sometimes have to make sacrifices like these structures, or we aren’t. And, more importantly, we have to verbally and publicly support crucial economic development initiatives like this one.

I hope you find the letter below educational. Thank you for reading. -Tom

Tom Copeland
City of Lake Worth Beach
Community Redevelopment Agency Commissioner

City of Lake Worth Beach
Historic Resources Preservation Board Members

September 16th, 2019

Dear HRPB Chairman and Board Members:

My name is Tom Copeland, and I’m writing to offer my support for the approval of HRPB Project Number 19-00100207: Consideration of a Certificate of Appropriateness (COA) for relocation or demolition of the seven (7) existing contributing buildings located at 17 South M Street, 24 South L Street, 26 South L Street, 30 South L Street, and 32 South L Street, and the demolition of the three (3) non-contributing buildings located at 23 South M Street and 24 South L Street.

This important project is the culmination of a number of years’ worth of work and collaboration between the City of Lake Worth Beach City Commissioners, City staff from multiple departments, and the Lake Worth Beach CRA. The project began with the City Commissioners collectively agreeing that addressing downtown parking and access is a key component of the City’s strategic vision through 2025, supported by our Cultural Master Plan, our Future Land Use Regulations, and our Comprehensive Plan.

In fact, the original intent for the assemblage of the properties proposed in this COA was to add additional public surface parking lot capacity, with an eventual goal of constructing public parking garage infrastructure. That came at the directive of the City Commission, who on July 25th 2017 collectively agreed that was a prudent investment, and should be funded with available penny sales tax proceeds:

Screenshot showing support for downtown parking

What ensued was a methodical execution of a plan to land bank on the subject block between South L and M Streets, and Lake Ave to 1st Ave South. The process began with the collection of empirical data with the help of engineers from Wantman Group International (WGI), which produced the downtown parking study released in October 2018. This study showed that in addition to the need to increase future parking capacity, exiting capacity is already overburdened. In peak season, and for peak days and times, the parking study presented data on the availability of parking capacity that shows the downtown core fluctuates between 92% and 102%. A healthy downtown occupancy goal, the study continues, should be no more than 85%-90% during these peak hours.

When CRA staff and the City discovered that additional properties on the subject block because available, they acted swiftly to land bank. The result of that accumulation are the ten buildings subject to the COA request in front of you now.

With this sizable assemblage, the land use opportunities and the potential for attracting much-needed private development in our downtown core has greatly expanded. Instead of a simple surface parking lot (which, incidentally, the City currently already owns four public surface parking lots scattered throughout downtown), the potential for a mixed-use, market rate development with up to 80 units is now possible, which would fundamentally transform our downtown into the economic and cultural hub we know it has the potential to be.

A new mixed-use development of this scale is the kind of project that other investors pay attention to. If a new development can get off the ground on this block, suddenly investors who have the capital to invest in our town might start looking at other major projects, such as the Gulfstream, or perhaps building more mixed-use developments on the many empty lots littering our major thoroughfares of Lake Ave, Dixie Hwy, and Federal Hwy.

By now, you’ve reviewed the most important backup material provided for your considerations:

Lake Worth Beach CRA Mixed Use Development Project Certificate of Appropriateness Justification Statement, and the City’s Department of Sustainability staff’s memo by Mr. Mark Stivers.

I want to point out what I consider to be a few of the most important revelations presented in these materials:

  • Of the seven (7) contributing properties proposed in the COA for relocation or demolition, only one of the properties are considered to contribute significantly to the historic district either in terms of architectural significance, or condition. The City and the CRA are committed to preserving the structures that are considered to significantly contribute to the downtown historic fabric. The CRA, the City, and this CRA Commissioner are jointly committed to providing resources to relocate the structures that are worth saving, such as 18 South M Street, including soliciting potential new owners, finding and securing a new location, and providing funding towards relocation that would otherwise earmarked for demolition. To be clear: the preference is to relocate these structures where economically viable.
  • The CRA cannot demolish any of the structures until a new construction COA is approved by the HRPB, the City, and the City Commission. Any new development on this land must conform to the historic preservation guidelines, and that plan must be reviewed and approved by this Board. This is incredibly important to ensure that we do not further blight our downtown with empty lots or land, and that no historic structure will be relocated or demolished unless and until a qualified development partner has been secured, and a major site redevelopment plan is approved.
  • There are an estimated 1,000 cottages throughout Lake Worth Beach; this plan in no way diminishes our city’s important historic heritage. There are some citizens within the community who have voiced concerns that the removal or demolition of these seven properties will significantly diminish the historic value of our downtown. This is a frankly unrealistic concern. Lake Worth Beach is literally full of architecturally significant and well preserved buildings and landmarks throughout the city, including our City Hall Annex, the Gulfsteam hotel, the Birthday Cake Castle, and more than 1,000 cottages. In fact, Lake Worth Beach is estimated to have the highest concentration of historic cottages in Florida.
  • The City and the CRA have met the conditions for approval of this COA to the letter. As evidenced in the Justification Statement, the City and the CRA have established a redevelopment plan that conforms to the mission of the HRPB, the City’s Comprehensive Plan, Future Development Land Use Regulations, and our Cultural Master Plan. Here are select highlights evidenced in this critical analysis:
      • None of the structures meet the strict criteria for consideration as a designated Historic Landmark.
      • The structures are not of such design or quality of craftsmanship that they cannot be reproduced without great difficulty, expense, or expertise.
      • The structures do not promote a general historic welfare for the city, since the structures are largely only a semblance of basic architecture and materials representative of the frame vernacular style of homes constructed during the 1930’s and 1940’s Florida Land Boom.
      • In their current state, these properties are not generating a reasonable return on the appreciated value of the land on which they sit.
      • Granting the COA would not result in irreparable loss of historic significance to the City.
      • Denying the COA would place an undue burden on the owners of the property, the CRA, in preventing the CRA from proceeding with a major planned mixed-use development and therefore fulfilling its mandated mission.

In closing, I implore you to approve HRPB Project Number 19-00100207: COA to allow the CRA and the City to continue on it’s mission to spurn economic development and redevelopment within our downtown. From my perspective, this redevelopment project will not only improve and revitalize our downtown by providing much-needed density and intensity while preserving the unique charm and characteristics of our historic district, but it will send an important message to the private market: Lake Worth Beach is on the rise, and we are a town worth investing in.

We “talk the talk” about the need to re-invigorate our downtown, attract new homeowners and visitors, improving our demographics, and growing our tax base. Your support of this project will prove your willingness to “walk the walk”.

Lastly, I want to certify that this letter represents only my personal support for this project, and is not intended to allude to the opinions of any other CRA Commissioners, or CRA staff.

Thank you very much for reading this letter, and your consideration of this important COA.


Tom Copeland

Lake Worth Beach CRA Commissioner

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