Eyesore building coming down; replacement controversial - Fox29 WFLX TV, West Palm Beach, FL-news & weather

Eyesore building coming down; replacement controversial

By Chuck Weber email

WEST PALM BEACH, FL (WFLX) - For more than four years, it's been an eyesore for neighbors. Now, a hurricane-ravaged condo in West Palm Beach is about to come down. Its replacement is what's controversial now.

Since the 2004 hurricanes ripped through 1515 Tower, neighbors on palm-lined Flagler Drive south of the downtown have been beside themselves. "I mean we have a building that has birds flying around it, with plywood," said Jeanine Heidtman, who lives two buildings down. "So many of our people, most of their primary windows face that building."

In recent months a developer finally put forward serious proposals for tearing down the old building and constructing a new condo. Only the new structures being proposed were way too big, said Heidtman and many of her neighbors. "The 391-foot proposal was just off the chart," recalls Heidtman.

City planning staff echoed those sentiments. They worried if city commissioners approved one massive condo on South Flagler, it would set a precedent and more would follow.

On Monday in a narrow 3-to-2 vote, West Palm Beach commissioners approved a scaled back version of The Modern condo. It's 100 feet shorter than the original plan-- narrower too.

Still not small enough, said Heidtman. "My building is 180 feet, that's 299. This is going to be a humongous building," she said.

Approval of The Modern required major exceptions to city codes. For a building this height, the setback, or distance to the next property, is to be 142 feet. The developers proposed and won just a 35-foot setback to the north, 47 feet to the south and 135 on the west.

Paul Grillo of Trinity Development Group, the builder of The Modern, pointed out the zoning code allows for relaxing setbacks when a project includes community benefits. His plans include widening a neighboring street, landscaping extensively, and putting parking under ground.

One thing Heidtman is happy about-- the city's approval includes a guarantee demolition of the old building must be complete in six months.

"It's still too big," said Heidtman. "But we have the building coming down. And for many people the anxiety of when is it going to happen has ended. That's what means a great deal to me."

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