Depot Square Apartments get the go ahead from Delray officials

Posted by Brian Pearl on Wednesday, June 11th, 2014 at 12:20pm.

Depot Square Apartments in Delray Beach, FloridaAn under developed resource located north of Delray Beach's historic will see new life soon. The 12-acre lot containing a dilapidated train station is slated for development as a family-friendly, 284-apartment complex. Incentives for the community include plans for a cyber cafe, fitness center, and bicycle repair shop.

Delray Beach seems to have forgotten a little used historic district. But soon the area will have a new look with modern lines. The planned construction will be highly visible to announce the redevelopment of the historic area.

A wildflower garden occupies the 12-acre field near Delray's historic train station. After disagreements in the early 1990s the historic former Seaboard Air Line Railway depot, located a few blocks north, was abandoned.  Only shells of warehouses and abandoned construction sites remain. Soon the site will be the home to a Caribbean-themed community center called Depot Square Apartments.

City commissioners already approved the budget of $20 million for this plan. The empty land is ideally situated minutes from Delray's growing downtown between Interstate 95 and the train tracks, south of Lake Ida Road. The planned layout will help create community spaces and housing for people who want to live close to their places of work. The final stage is the site plan approval set for July 9.

Depot Square plans the addition of 284 rental units, a mix of one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments. The project defines 71 apartments to affordable workforce housing.

Not only will private housing be available, but at the center a 7,500-square-foot clubhouse with a cyber cafe, fitness room and kids' play area will draw young families and professionals to the area. Other amenities include a swimming pool with a barbecue area, putting green and outdoor pool table.

The builder and city planner have put the focus on work and play. A free bike-sharing program for residents to borrow bicycles as a primary or secondary source of transportation is a popular idea. There will be storage units available for neighbors with bikes of their own. Making this a big focus, the community will offer a bike workshop, an in-house place for bike repairs.

Interim Planning and Zoning Director Mark McDonnell said that "... this project really hits the mark when it comes to pedestrian access and bike access."

A shared path for bikers and walkers along Lake Ida Park and downtown Atlantic Avenue is planned so that pedestrians will have a straight route, foregoing side streets. The site developer is contributing $25,000 to expand the path past the development, pending the approval of the Florida Department of Transportation.

Jim Smith, chairman of SAFE, a pedestrian- and biker-friendly advocacy group said "It will mean another gateway … It's a fantastic project. People will be able to walk to the Tri-Rail."

Rich in local history, the original structure was built in 1927. Architect Gustav Maas designed and built the first train station in Delray. Though there is an important structure here, the area has been under utilized. Previous projects have fizzled out in the planning stages.

The project’s architect, Rich Jones, thinks that Depot Square is an ideal blank canvas that can revive the area.

"Depot Square offers tremendous potential to help clean up and improve a blighted area," Jones said. "With its adjacency to the historic train terminal, pedestrian connectivity, high visibility and distinctive design, the project could become a landmark feature for those approaching the downtown by car, train or bike."

Commissioner Jordana Jarjura agrees with Jones on this front.

"This project is on trend," she said. "It cures a blighted area. It's a great advertisement to our city."

Mayor Cary Glickstein said the city planners of Delray are behind the trend of living near the old train tracks. Glickstein said that "It's probably one of the best projects I have seen … If you look at the demographic trends across this country it's citing high intensity residential next to train stations and highways."

It is an odd choice, which Commissioner Shelly Petrolia was confused about. "I have a real problem putting people where everybody complains about the noise and the train," she said.

Petrolia’s staffers eventually convinced her of the project’s merits. The new model will fit Delray's future demographic.

"Younger people are willing to live in places that our generation would not consider," Glickstein said. "The millennial are coming and they are expecting a lot different housing than we imagined."

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