Our Town with William Kelly: Mayor Danielle Moore: Palm Beach ‘more vibrant’ than ever

William Kelly  |  Civic Association  |  Our Town  |  April 11, 2022

Mayor Danielle Moore looked back on the highlights of her first year in office during her annual state-of-the-town remarks Monday at the Palm Beach Civic Association’s Annual Meeting.

In a departure from tradition, she opted to prerecord her state-of-the-town remarks in a 10-minute video produced by the Civic Association and present it to the audience of more than 300 people at Monday’s gathering at the Flagler Museum.

“The town of Palm Beach is more vibrant and energetic than I’ve ever seen it,” she said in the video, where her tone was upbeat and relaxed throughout.

Moore pointed to the town’s accomplishments, including the opening of the new $38 million Town Marina in November, the thriving Mandel Recreation Center and Par 3 Golf Course, and her creation of the new Mayor’s General Employee Appreciation Fund.

She also touched upon the town’s goals and priorities, including a thorough review of its flawed zoning code, creation of a new long-term strategic plan, and improved communication with the City of West Palm Beach about the safety of the town’s water supply.

Moore said the highlight of the season was the opening of the fully renovated marina, which has deeper slips, floating docks and electrical and security upgrades. The adjacent Lake Drive Park was also redesigned.

“Not only is it beautiful, it is a revenue generator for us – significantly more than the previous marina,” Moore said. During its last year of operation, the old marina collected $4.1 million; the new one has brought in more than $10 million since opening in November, according to the town.

Moore said the town’s 39-acre, ocean-to-lake Par 3 Golf Course, redesigned by World Golf Hall of Famer Raymond Floyd in 2009, continues to prosper under the supervision of its head professional and manager, Tony Chateauvert. During the year that ended Oct. 1, the course saw about 50,000 rounds played and collected $3.6 million – quadruple its annual revenue from 10 years ago.

“This year, we’re up another 5 ½ percent in volume,” Moore said. “The [clubhouse] restaurant is absolutely packed all the time. Tony and his crew just do an incredible job of keeping that golf course looking nice and playable.”

A redesign of Phipps Ocean Park is in the works, though final details haven’t yet been presented the Town Council, she said.

The 18-acre ocean-to-lake park is used by beachgoers and tennis players and is also the site of the 1886 Little Red Schoolhouse. But it could become a destination for a much wider audience if a $140,000 master plan, spearheaded by the Preservation Foundation of Palm Beach and crafted by Miami-based landscape architect Raymond Jungles, comes to fruition.

Moore said the park could be much more attractive than it is today. “The plan the Preservation Foundation and Raymond Jungles is providing for the town is beautiful,” she said. “It’s going to be such an asset to [the area] south of Sloan’s Curve … I think we’re going to sort of reenergize the park.”

Residents have embraced the 17,000-square-foot Morton and Barbara Mandel Recreation Center, which opened in December 2019, Moore said. “The only [critical] feedback I’ve heard is we didn’t make it big enough. It just gives me a chuckle. I’m glad that people like it.”

On another note, Moore expressed relief that the Florida Department of Transportation’s Southern Boulevard Bridge replacement project is scheduled for completion this fall. The $97 million project began in April 2017.

One of Moore’s initiatives as mayor has been to appoint and chair, with the council’s approval, a nine-member Strategic Planning Board that will craft a new long-term plan for the town. Still in the early stages of development, the plan is scheduled for presentation to the council next spring.

Moore noted that this will be the first strategic plan since 2003, when an earlier planning board chaired by her mother, then-Mayor Lesly Smith, developed a still existing strategic document that was supposed to be periodically updated.

“This is sort of a legacy project for me,” she said of the plan, which will examine impacts to life in Palm Beach from multiple angles, including regional growth, population trends, development pressure, and stresses on roads and other infrastructure.

For the plan to succeed, residents must be engaged in the process. That phase will begin in the fall, when the town will hold a series of charrettes, she said. “It’s something that we need to do. It’s important for our residents to know the elected officials are planning for our future – what our town will look like in 10 years [or] in 15 years.”

Another Moore initiative has been the creation of the Mayor’s General Employee Appreciation Fund. Moore leads fundraising efforts for the fund which yielded bonuses of $1,000 for each general employee last month. The goal is to provide the bonuses each year in March, which is employee appreciation month, she said. The employees can accept the bonuses as cash or apply them toward their pensions.

Moore launched the fund shortly after the non-profit Palm beach Police and Fire Foundation announced in January its creation of a charitable retirement benefit for town Police and Fire department employees.

“I’ve had such incredible feedback from residents and the employees,” she said.

Turning to water security, Moore said she and West Palm Beach Mayor Keith James have developed “much more open communication” since last May, when the city waited eight days to notify its customers, including town residents, that lab tests revealed high levels of toxic cyanobacteria in its treated water supply.

The city says it is testing its water more frequently and there’s been no repeat of the problem. It also established a panel of experts to recommend short-term solutions to strengthen its water treatment process. The city says it will also examine long-term solutions.

“It was a public safety concern,” Moore said of the Cyanobacteria contamination. “Not that the incident happened, because those things do happen. But that they were slow in providing the communication.”

Moore was recently appointed to West Palm Beach’s nine-member Water Advisory Board. The relationship between the city and town has improved, she said. “I would say the city and town are working well together.”

Moore also touched upon sea level rise and zoning review.

Massachusetts-based Woods Hole Group, a town coastal engineering consultant, has recommended short- and long-term measures for protecting public and private properties from the growing threat of flood damage caused by sea level rise.

Moore said town officials are mostly focusing on how to strengthen seawalls along the low-lying Lake Worth shoreline, where Woods Hole said the town is most vulnerable to major damage should a storm surge rush in through the inlets. The issue is complicated because there are many private property owners along the lake shore, town officials have said.

Moore said the town’s zoning code is complicated, often contradictory and dated. It was developed in the 1970s in response to the issues of that time and could not have accounted for all of the issues of today, such as the increase in federal flood elevation requirements, she said.

“FEMA requires you to build your new building at [a ground-floor elevation of] 7.5 feet when your neighbor is at 4.5 feet,” Moore said. “What does that do for everyone in the neighborhood?”

Moore ran for mayor without opposition in the March 2021 town election after serving six years on the council.

She said it is an “honor and a privilege” to serve as the mayor of Palm Beach. She described her first year as “incredible.”

“My primary job as mayor is to advocate for my residents,” she said. “That’s what I do.”

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