November 27, 2021

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Palm Beach officials give tentative OK to parts of hotel re-do project

4 min read


The new owner is seeking approval to re-start renovations at long-dormant Palm House property.

Darrell Hofheinz
 |  Palm Beach Daily News

The Town Council has gotten its first look at new renovation plans for the long-unfinished Palm House hotel project, which for years has been regarded by many Palm Beach residents as an eyesore on one of their main streets.

After a lengthy discussion of exactly what they were being asked to do, council members this month gave a conditional — and unanimous — thumbs-up to the hotel’s site plan, along with several code-variances and so-called “special exceptions” needed for the project at 160 Royal Palm Way.

The tentative approvals will pave the way for architects to begin working on construction drawings, a process that could take six to eight months to complete, the council was told during its review.

Officials’ final approval of the Palm House renovation plans will hinge on several components that have yet to be presented to the council and the Architectural Commission. No construction can begin before those items earn the town’s nod, and any changes demanded by officials would have to be incorporated into the plans.

“We fully accept the risk,” said Mark Banfield, representing the property’s owner, an entity affiliated with London + Regional Properties, an international hospitality and real estate firm.

>>MORE: Exec says plans will turn Palm House into ‘spectacular’ destination hotel

The items that still need final approval include the following:

* The Architectural Commission must sign off on a few remaining details, including wall heights and a gate at the east service drive. Commissioners have already approved most of the project’s architecture and endorsed some of the variances. But the board will consider approving the remaining architectural changes and endorsing other variances and special exceptions at its meeting Wednesday. The remaining code requests could go before the Town Council as early as Feb. 10.

* The owner of the hotel must present to the council an acceptable construction-management plan.

* The council also must approve an in-the-works document called a “declaration of use agreement,” which governs how the hotel will operate. It would cover a wide-ranging list of items, from the number of seats available to diners on the pool patio, the hours the hotel’s restaurant will be open, the way a lawn area by the pool will be used and how valet parking will be handled.

Some of these items are being negotiated with two neighbors who own three properties on Brazilian Avenue, immediately south of the hotel. Virginia C. Simmons owns a house at 133 Brazilian Ave., and Timothy and Gayle DeVries own 141 Brazilian Ave. and a vacant lot they have earmarked for a new house.

The neighbors have already signed off on architectural changes hammered out during negotiations between their attorneys and the hotel’s representatives. Thechanges helped mitigate the neighbors’ concerns about privacy, light-spillage and noise from the hotel, their attorneys have told officials.

>>MORE: Neighbors withdraw objections, sign off on Palm House landscape plans

But the Town Council learned during  its Jan. 13 meeting that the neighbors’ attorneys and the hotel’s representatives had only begun to negotiate items in the declaration of use agreement. Whatever compromise they reach, the council will have the final say on whether the terms of that agreement are ultimately put into effect.

The renovation project was designed by a team led by architect Sean McLendon of Cooper Carry in Atlanta.

The hotel property changed hands for about $40 million in May 2019 via a private sale approved by a bankruptcy court. No construction work has been carried out at the shuttered-and-vacant building since the fall of 2014.

>>MORE: Palm Beach board OKs architecture for re-do of Palm House hotel

At their meeting, council members appeared pleased to learn the hotel’s architects and representatives had been working closely with the neighbors to address their concerns. Among the items they negotiated, for instance, was the addition of extensive soundproofing to the hotel’s ballroom, which the architects call a “function room.”

At the end of the hour-and-a-half discussion, Councilman Lew Crampton explained his rationale for voting for the conditional approvals.

“I’m doing this — and I think that all of us agree — in part as a reward to the developers of the project for their open-minded and open-handed way of dealing with the neighbors, for being proactive in reaching out to them.” 

He also praised the neighbors and their attorneys “for taking a reasonable approach to this whole thing. We all want this project to occur.”

The conditional approvals, Crampton added, will give the council leverage as the project progresses through Town Hall, ensuring that officials can “take care of the issues that we all have.”

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