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Controversy surrounds downtown West Palm Beach plan

Controversy surrounds downtown West Palm Beach plan (WPEC)

Progress or madness?

Controversy swirls around a proposed plan for downtown development in West Palm Beach that could include a 25-story office building near the waterfront.

Late Tuesday night, the City of West Palm Beach Planning Board approved the Okeechobee Business District by a 3-2 vote.

This means the city could be a step closer to one day having a 25 story class A office building downtown.

The project pits growth and jobs against beautiful views.

“I’m for progress, innovation, vision, all of that," one resident said. "But the present plan I don’t think works."

One by one, residents spoke out Tuesday night against the creation of the Okeechobee Business District, a five-block stretch on both sides of Okeechobee Boulevard.

They urged the city planning board not to approve it.

“I think it’s wrong, I think we need to step back and I really think we need to understand what this does to traffic in West Palm Beach before signing off on it,” another resident said.

“You are our last line of defense against this madness. Please vote against it,” said another resident.

Plans for the Okeechobee Business District could include a 25-story Class A office building near the First Church of Christ Scientist. Some say this would be a mistake, being so close to Flagler Drive and the Intracoastal Waterway.

“If we do anything that starts to impede on that waterfront, we have destroyed a natural beauty that we will never be able to replace,” another resident told the Planning Board members.

But others say the downtown area desperately needs Class A office space to attract more big employers and jobs.

“It’s one of the greatest hurdles for us to overcome now in Palm Beach County, “ said Dennis Grady, CEO Chamber of Commerce of the Palm Beaches.

West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio has also been pushing for the Okeechobee Business District.

“Our opportunity now is to seize the moment and to move forward on this,” Grady said.

Now that the City Planning Board has approved the matter, it goes next to the Downtown Action Committee and then to the West Palm Beach City Commission later this month.

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