West Palm Beach officials await All Aboard Florida plan

Palm Beach Post (FL), 2014-07-14


July 14 -- WEST PALM BEACH -- West Palm Beach city officials have yet to see designs for All Aboard Florida's proposed train station even as the private company adds land to its downtown cache and plans for an architectural debut later this month.

The most recent property acquisition was an $860,000 purchase in April of a plot of unused land from Florida Power & Light that will be used for an access road needed because the station will close two downtown streets.

All Aboard Florida or related companies have already amassed about 2 acres of downtown land north of CityPlace with the purchase of a vacant Sewell Hardware building and the 89-year-old Sasser Glass building.

The company plans to build a $29 million train station on the land and has asked to demolish Sasser Glass -- a move West Palm Beach has resisted without seeing what will be built in its place, according to emails between All Aboard Florida officials and city Development Services Director Rick Greene .

West Palm Beach code enforcement has sited the Sasser Glass property three times since September for landscaping and other violations.

"As we have discussed before, our downtown master plan prohibits us from demolishing any buildings without a building permit in hand for redevelopment," Greene said in a March 31 email to All Aboard Florida. "We had talked about allowing you to move forward upon submittal of plans for the station, which we thought would have been submitted by now based on previous conversations."

All Aboard Florida, an express passenger rail service that intends to run trains from Miami to Orlando on the Florida East Coast Railway tracks, will stop in Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach . The Miami to West Palm Beach service is expected to open in late 2016 with the Orlando leg beginning in 2017.

The new West Palm Beach station will close Datura and Evernia streets at Quadrille Boulevard -- a main thoroughfare through downtown that runs by the county courthouse, city library and city hall.

The city is hoping All Aboard Florida will build two pedestrian bridges over the tracks to connect Quadrille Boulevard with Datura and Evernia streets, and an access road that will run parallel to the tracks between Clematis and Fern streets.

"The two roads they are closing are major crossroads for downtown," said West Palm Beach spokesman Elliot Cohen .

Cohen said the city was aware All Aboard Florida was interested in the FPL land but didn't know it had finalized the deal. The purchase was made by a company called Land Parcel FLL, LLC , which was incorporated March 25 . All Aboard Florida executives and parent company Florida East Coast Industries are listed as the company's "authorized persons."

A Florida Power& Light substation to the west of the area bought by All Aboard Florida will remain where it is.

West Palm Beach has been supportive of the $2.5 billion rail project, which has applied for a $1.5 billion Federal Railroad Administration loan to pay for construction of its West Palm Beach to Orlando segment. An economic impact study released in May by All Aboard Florida showed the project would give Palm Beach County a $561 million boost during the first two years of rail construction.

But Palm Beach County also has an estimated 170,690 people who live within 1,000 feet of the tracks, and 114 crossings -- 62 percent of all of the crossings in Palm Beach , Broward and Miami-Dade counties.

While opposition to All Aboard Florida has been focused in northern Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast , a handful of residents in Delray Beach plan to speak against the plan Tuesday night at a city commission meeting.

"If this happens, it will be a total disaster," said Delray Beach resident Alan Schlossberg , who is concerned about traffic congestion and noise, especially along the city's busy shopping district of Atlantic Avenue . "These restaurants are going to die."

All Aboard Florida has tried to spread the word that its passenger trains will travel through crossings in less than a minute, and will be lighter and quieter than the freight trains that use the same tracks. The company also committed to safety upgrades at crossings that will allow for less obtrusive wayside horns.

But critics also point to an increase in heavy freight traffic as ports expand. On Monday, Florida East Coast Railway unveiled a 43-acre facility at Port Everglades that will increase its capacity for freight.

A group called the Guardians of Martin County debuted a TV commercial Monday in an effort to fight All Aboard Florida that portrays a couple's dinner being interrupted by a glass-rattling train.

"All Aboard Florida has played this all along like it's a done deal," said Guardians board member Merrill Snyder , who hopes enough opposition will influence the federal loan award. "That's why we wanted to go to television, to crank it up a little bit."

All Aboard Florida said the commercial pushes "misconceptions and untruths."

"It is unfortunate that the group decided not to include factual information, including the positive economic impacts this project will have and amount of job creation that will occur in Martin County (and Treasure and Space Coast regions)," the company said in a statement.

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(c)2014 The Palm Beach Post (West Palm Beach, Fla.)

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