Delray still tweaking its formula for development success

Downtown Delray Beach has morphed from blighted slum to night-life hot spot in the last 30 years, but city leaders are still tweaking their formula for success.

For example, the Delray Beach City Commission may consider expedited reviews of proposed real estate projects. Developers of even small projects currently may need 12 to 18 months to obtain entitlements from local government.

“The city is looking at an expedited review process and a fee associated with that,” said Jeff Costello, executive director of the Delray Beach Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA). “There are quite a few [real estate] projects that have been in the process. And there’s a window of opportunity, as we all know, with the markets.”

Costello spoke publicly Wednesday evening together with Laura Simon, executive director of the Delray Beach Downtown Development Authority (DDA), at an event organized by the Southeast/Caribbean Chapter of the Urban Land Institute.

They addressed the revitalization of Delray, which 30 years ago was nicknamed “Dull-ray … That’s the reputation we had,” Costello said.

Now the lounge-and-restaurant scene on Atlantic Avenue, the city’s main street, is as lively as any in South Florida.

But missing in Delray Beach is an adequate amount of affordable housing, Costello said. “It’s very critical. We’ve got to maintain affordability … We’ve got a lot of momentum, but we’re still getting there.”

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He said the city encourages affordable housing development by various means including “density bonus” programs. “In certain zoning districts, you can increase the density up from 12 units an acre to 24 units an acre, provided you comply with the workforce housing ordinance.”

While Atlantic Avenue has become a dining and entertainment destination, the CRA also has promoted redevelopment in areas adjacent to and remote from the Atlantic Avenue corridor.

“It’s not just that [Atlantic Avenue] area. It expands beyond that. There are other areas we’re focusing on,” Costello said, citing CRA contributions to beautifying a stretch of Fifth Avenue in a predominantly African-American neighborhood.

Multiple residential developments are underway in Delray Beach, including the 111 First Delray, Uptown Delray, The Metropolitan and Uptown Atlantic.

But city leaders also are trying to ease the impact of development on existing business owners and residents.

A recent Delray Beach milestone was the completion of a Federal Highway beautification and traffic-calming project that removed one travel lane. The project cost $14 million and took 850 days to complete, said Simon, the DDA executive director. The Federal Highway project has resulted in slower-moving traffic and fewer accidents without major traffic delays. But it also interfered with businesses near the work site for two years.

“That’s the challenge. You want to encourage investment, and yet you don’t want to do it in a way that’s going to hurt your existing businesses,” Costello said.