Despite Mayor Jeri Muoio’s pleas that it would be a “travesty” to postpone a vote establishing the zoning for the Palm Beach Outlets, commissioners on Monday refused to hold the vote that would have officially allowed the Palm Beach Mall to be converted into outlet shops.
Commissioner Kimberly Mitchell asked for the item to be postponed for two weeks over a concern that the construction management firm for the $200 million revamp is based out of Chattanooga, Tenn. and is not a local firm.
“You’d be hard pressed to find any place in the state of Florida that isn’t insistent on local general contractors,” she said. “I want to talk about local and minority business participation.”
City Attorney Claudia McKenna then said the commission couldn’t refuse to hear the applicant based on its hiring processes because it was voting on zoning.
“You’ve put yourself in a very awkward situation because the applicant has due process rights,” she said.
Mitchell argued that she also had questions about planning and design issues that would fall under zoning. Muoio urged the commission to vote for the project on first reading Monday and then hold a workshop before the scheduled Aug. 20 final vote where it could discuss hiring concerns.
But McKenna said the commission could not discuss hiring issues in between a first and second vote. Muoio still asked for a vote.
“This is a really bad precedent to set for the businesses who want to do business in our city,” Muoio said. “We have people who are working very hard to employ people in our city. We have done a ton of outreach and have hired many business people and for this to not move forward I think is a travesty.”
Commissioner Ike Robinson also expressed concern over local hiring, and Commissioner Shanon Materio sided with Mitchell.
“With all due respect to the applicant, if more information needs to be given to the commission, and we have a senior commissioner who has been in the city for 10 years, I’d have to consider that in the direction I want to go,” Materio said.
Commissioner Keith James also voted for the postponement, with only Commissioner Sylvia Moffett voting against it.
Project planner Ken Tuma of Urban Design Kilday Studios said after the meeting that he spoke with Mitchell Monday afternoon and she said she would consider asking for a postponement. Tuma said that his company is based out of West Palm Beach and that many local contractors will be employed in the project.
Brian Seymour, attorney for the project, said that EMJ has overseen the construction of a large outlet complex and that there isn’t a local company with similar experience.
After the meeting, Mitchell said she’s heard from several local companies who are capable of overseeing the project.
“I don’t think they’re trying to build a Saturn-5,” Mitchell said. “How can you suggest that somebody doesn’t know how to build an outlet mall?”
Seymour said that more than 500 local contractors showed up last month for the first pre-qualification fair. A second fair is being held today at Gaines Park at 9 a.m.
West Palm Beach planning manager Rick Greene said that the outlet shops could have a $319 million yearly impact on the local economy. The old mall will be demolished later this summer with the outlets scheduled to open in the fall of 2013.
Seymour said Palm Beach County companies have already been hired to oversee demolition and asbestos removal at the mall. Construction worker Juan Arias was killed on Thursday after falling at least 15 feet from a scissors lift while removing asbestos.
- Agreed to send 17 West Palm Beach police officers to assist at the Republican National Convention this month. The Tampa Police Department requested additional help, and about 70 agencies across the state will send officers to Tampa. The cost will be covered by a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice.
- Established fertilizer-free zones within 10 feet of any pond, stream, water course, lake, canal or wetland water while prohibiting the application of fertilizer to saturated soils, during a flood or tropical storm warning or watch or within 30 days of seeding or sodding. It also requires commercial applicators of fertilizer to obtain training and be certified by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
-Postponed a vote to create a Coleman Park zoning overlay that would have rezoned 70 parcels in the Coleman Park Neighborhood to match the Neighborhood Improvement Plan.
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