Downtown Development Hinges on Recapture of Lost Entitlements
Planning and Zoning Board officials Tuesday approved a recommendation to expand the number of housing units developers can build in downtown Margate and along State Road 7. “I’m all for growing development and for growing the city, but at the same time we really need to take close looks at some of the problems this is going to create,” said P&Z Chair, Todd Angier. _______________ In short, the City of Margate does not have enough in its “Basket of Rights” to move forward with its City Center project as planned. Due to a miscalculation by a planning consultant in 2007, Margate falls short 300 of the 900 units planned for the downtown area (see graphic at bottom). “This is insufficient for redevelopment and insufficient for downtown, so now we are trying to recapture lost units with a new analysis and new review,” said Associate Planner for Margate, Andrew Pinney. Due to public school capacity shortages in 2007, the City was forced by the County to reduce the number of residential entitlements (housing units) it requested for redevelopment along the City’s Transit Oriented Corridor (TOC).* In the process, the consultant (unnamed by Pinney) underestimated the number of homes already built along the TOC, resulting in the loss of more than a thousand units available for future development. Mistakes pointed to a net reduction in nonresidential square feet by -986,899 and the increase in total residences built by 1,139. To recapture lost units, city staff proposed an amendment to the Broward County Land Use Plan. Whereas the current Plan allows for 3,565 dwelling units along the TOC, the amendment asks for a total 4,704 units. Ultimately, the City is looking for a total 1849 buildable units - 710 units available now for future housing and another 1,139 units recaptured. School capacity is no longer an issue, said Pinney, because public schools in Broward are under-enrolled due to competition from educational alternatives. In all, new housing is projected to generate 53 elementary school students, 24 middle school students and 38 high school students through to 2020, states the amendment. Per the Broward school district, all area public schools are on target to meet their enrollment/capacity concurrency targets through FY 2019-20 except for Monarch High School, which is projected to be slightly over capacity in every year in the 5-year planning horizon. Few more than 100 Margate students attend Monarch. “I think that’s why we feel confident at this time that there is school capacity for additional dwelling units,” he said, adding that the type of housing proposed for downtown - midrise style apartments - tend to attract fewer students than garden-style apartment. While the amendment largely addresses additional housing units; those units, when occupied, will fuel thousands of commercial square feet slated for the downtown area, Economic Development Director, Ben Ziskal told P&Z. Furthermore, the amendment makes it easier for developers to come to Margate, Ziskal said. Without it, each would need to apply one at a time to expand development rights when building homes, a process that can take up to a year and a half per case. “This land use amendment paves the way for future development to move right into the site plan review process so we can stimulate redevelopment in the City,” Ziskal said. “This is a true community redevelopment and economic development effort to cut red tape for development in the future.” Angier didn't think water projections in the amendment were realistic. With 6.6 million gallons a day (mgd) currently consumed in the City's service area (includes Coconut Creek south of Coconut Creek Pkwy), adding 4,000 people downtown could come close to tipping Margate’s permitted plant capacity of 8.78 million gallons a day. “Your own figures show that we’re going to go into the negative quickly. The city really needs to start taking a serious look at how were going to generate more water, because I think it’s going to come on us really quick,” said Angier, suggesting the City not wait five years to explore expanding water capacity. “I believe our water use is going to be greater than what is being projected. Now is the time to start finding out what alternative sources will be available.” With area planning agencies showing both population and water-use projections down from 2007 figures and through to year 2025, new development shouldn’t tax the plant beyond capacity, said Pinney. If it does, the city will have to reassess water rights and seek new sources. Traffic also concerned Angier, in particular as the stretch of State Road 7 that runs through downtown Margate is already subject to congestion during peak hours. While he acknowledged that mass transit may play a role in relieving City Center traffic, most people living downtown likely will be working somewhere else, which adds a lot of cars to an already disadvantaged six lane road. Ziskal agreed. If promoting alternative modes of transportation in downtown plans is unsuccessful, gridlock could occur. Car counts on the Road are expected to increase 12% or by 6,000 vehicle trips through to the year 2020. From there, trips would increase another 20 percent or by 10,000 through to 2035. Presently, 47,000 vehicle trips occur daily along State Road 7 between Atlantic Boulevard and Coconut Creek Parkway. In the absence of a set strategy to address potential traffic problems, Angier suggested the need to plan now, not later. “Planning for the future can’t start in five years. It has to start yesterday,” he told staff. And while local planning agencies are required to rely on Broward County traffic studies as a bare minimum to gauge future traffic patterns, “the studies are a waste of time,” Angier said, emphasizing that officials should instead drive streets to understand real problems with traffic flow. Diane Colonna, Executive Director for the Margate Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA), the government body that oversees TOC development, said that increasing available housing capacity is vital to the City Center project. The amendment is corrective in nature and will enhance developers’ flexibility. Moreover, a densely populated downtown would help sustain mass transit and encourage alternative modes of transportation. “A real [city] center that will be an authentic downtown; this amendment is critical of that,” she said, adding that staff from the Broward Planning Council have been receptive in meetings on the matter. Angier said he read the proposed amendment several times before fully comprehending it. He didn’t think it explained “well enough” the need to recapture housing units lost in 2007. “Somewhere in this proposal you need to do a better job of expressing your desire to get these units back,” he said. “If you can’t get those 1151 units then you can’t move forward with downtown development as planned.” Angier said too that the correction should have been addressed before a developer was selected for the City Center project earlier in the year. “This should have been done before engaging a developer for downtown, because if this is not corrected the developer is severely restricted by the number of housing units that can be built,” he said. The P&Z Board recommended approving the amendment 3-1, Vice Chair, Anthony Caggiano, in dissent. He said he didn’t think future issues regarding water and traffic were adequately addressed to add more homes to State Road 7. Board member, Pat Maher, did not attend the meeting. The next step is for the amendment to go the city commission for approval and then onto reviewing agencies at the county and state. The cost to apply for the amendment is $12,146, which is paid to the Broward County Planning Council by the Margate CRA. _________________ *The purpose of the TOC, which spans the entire length of State Road 7 in Margate, was to encourage and enhance land use opportunities to move the city toward a more urban design that would support and enhance transit within the city and the region.