OPINION - By GERRY BARKER
This year marks the 60th anniversary of the Village of North Palm Beach. Along with celebrating a milestone, city officials have wisely chosen this time to ask, "Where do we go from here?"
That's the question that last year initiated an eight-month process with the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council and involved Village leaders, dozens of architects, urban designers, economists, numerous state and local organizations and ultimately, hundreds of Village residents.
The result of that effort was presented over the course of a week to the Village and the public in a series of hearings and presentations that concluded last Friday evening at the Conservatory School.
As a relative newcomer to the Village, I found the whole process fascinating, informative and praiseworthy. After all, whether you have lived in the Village 60 years, or one year, we all have a stake in its future.
So what did we learn?
First, the not-so-good news:
Growth for the most part has been stagnant -- for quite a while. Neighboring cities, like Jupiter and the Gardens, have seen a population explosion, averaging 1,000 or more a year, while the Village has averaged less than 10 a year over the same period. Business tells a similar story, with office space vacancies at over 50 percent.
And the good news?
People want to live here, evidenced by the success of the Water Club condo development on the north end of town. Pre-sales have spurred the addition of a third tower. With 2.2 square miles of water, great schools and city services, and established, stable neighborhoods, we are a desireable place to be.
Yes, we have challenges. Lots. But there are also ideas to meet them. Lots. Some are big (like a traffic tunnel under the IntraCoastal to replace the Parker drawbridge); some are small (easy fixes to beautify Prosperity Farms Rd.). Some will be contentious -- like whether US 1 should be six lanes or four.
But as Dana Little, Urban Design Director for the TCRPC, noted at the Friday night presentation, the draft plan is a "work in progress." A starting point. Something we can use to produce a roadmap for the next 10 years.
The Village is already working on changes to the out-of-date zoning code to make it more "business-friendly." Residents are doing their part by showing up and contributing their ideas and feedback.
It's a big task, and it will take all of us to make it happen. But I for one am encouraged by what I have seen and heard over this past week. And as so many others have voiced, kudos to city leaders and the TCRPC for their forward-thinking and commitment.
One thing I'm confident we won't have to change if we do this right -- the city motto:
"The best place to live under the sun."
Exploring what to see and do in North Palm Beach and the South Florida area. Your hosts are Pam and Gerry Barker.
GERRY PRONOUNCED GARY
Listen to Chapter One of "Panama Palmer"