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Delray Beach reconsiders Atlantic Ave. restaurant incentive

By David Sedore, Palm Beach

DELRAY BEACH — Delray Beach city commissioners have agreed to take another look at killing an incentive created nearly two decades ago to attract restaurants to the downtown and Atlantic Avenue.

text box explaining incentiveThe incentive makes it easier and cheaper to develop restaurants along the heart of Atlantic Avenue by reducing the number of parking spaces they’re required to have compared to other parts of the city. No doubt it’s helped make downtown Delray one of the most vibrant restaurant districts in South Florida. But critics say the incentive is now killing off the avenue’s retail shops and adding to parking congestion in the downtown.

Planning and Zoning Director Paul Dorling proposed an ordinance that would have terminated the break earlier at a meeting earlier this month but commissioners voted it down. Commissioner Tom Carney moved to have the ordinance reconsidered Tuesday evening.

“We’ve got to get a handle on this,” Carney said. “We all talk about a comprehensive approach. t the same time if I’ve got someone bleeding, I don’t wait until an ambulance arrives; I stop the bleeding.”

Commissioner Jay Alperin had a unique perspective on the debate, since he was a member of the commission when the restaurant incentive was enacted in 1993. Alperin left the commission in 2000 but last week was appointed to serve the unexpired term of former Commissioner Fred Fetzer. Even though he had yet to be appointed to commission, Alperin said he followed the commission’s debate over the Dorling proposal two weeks ago.

“I don’t think you had all the information,” Alperin said. “I think this should be reviewed at least one more time.”

Commissioner Angeleta Gray joined with Carney and Alperin.

Commissioner Adam Frankel and Mayor Woodie McDuffie remained unmoved, however.

McDuffie questioned what the proper balance between retail and restaurants might be and what types of retail might be suitable for Atlantic Avenue. So-called big box stores such as Best Buy are inappropriate; smaller, popular retailers such as Apple find the malls more attractive than traditional storefront space. Mom-and-pops will come but they have high failure rates.

“Who do you attract?” McDuffie asked. “That’s what I’m missing. What’s the plan?”

Commissioners will take up the ordinance at their Sept. 6 meeting, and if passed then, for final reading on Sept. 20. Any project that has filed with the city before the Sept. 6 meeting will be “grandfathered” under the ordinance, meaning it will only have to meet current parking requirements in order to get city approval.

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