Plans for a higher and structurally stronger Midtown Beach seawall have earned a conceptual thumbs up from the Town Council.
But concerns linger about the aesthetics of the new seawall and its impact on the ocean view through the archway of the Clock Tower, which is adjacent to the wall at the east end of Worth Avenue.
The plan is scheduled to go before the Architectural Commission October 26 for a design review and back to the council for site plan review on November 9.
But the council requested Tuesday that town staff return to it as early as possible with ideas for possible landscape and hardscape improvements associated with the new wall.
The town is budgeting $18.5 million to replace the seawall in 2024. The 2,715-foot-long wall extends along South Ocean Boulevard from north of Royal Palm Way to south of Gulfstream Road. It was built in the 1920s and is reaching the end of its service life, according to Public Works Director Paul Brazil.
The new wall will be built between two and five feet eastward of the existing one, according to Coastal Program Manager Rob Weber.
In an email for this article, Weber wrote that there are many engineering and practical reasons for shifting the wall to the east, including the need to accommodate in-place utilities and structures including the Clock Tower and public restrooms.
The elevation of the new wall will also be higher to protect against rising sea levels and flooding. But the elevation change won’t be all that noticeable to the casual observer, Brazil said.
The elevation of the existing wall ranges from 15.12 to 15.66 feet, according to Town Engineer Patricia Strayer. But that includes the decorative, non-structural portion of the wall visible above the sidewalk.
Currently, the structural portion of the seawall – the part that protects upland structures from wave damage – is between 12.57 and 13.37 feet, Strayer said. Plans call for the new wall to be entirely structural and at a consistent elevation of 15.9 feet, she said.
Meanwhile, the project architect, Bridges Marsh & Associates, is designing a terrace that would connect the Clock Tower with the new seawall so the tower and wall remain in harmony.
The tower has become an important architectural element in the town, Marsh said. “Our concern is to enhance that, rather than block it out or compete with it,” he said.
The eastward relocation of the seawall will create about five feet of space between it and the balustrade presently connected to the Clock Tower on its east side.
Bridges Marsh proposes to remove a portion of the balustrade so pedestrians could walk through the tower’s archway and onto the new terrace that would lead to the new seawall and an ocean view. The terrace would be 6 feet by 37 feet.
A coquina cap, three feet wide by three feet tall, would form a decorative veneer over the seawall in front of the terrace to enhance the ocean view outlook while providing safety for pedestrians.
“It’s going to be far more attractive in terms of people being able to walk through the tower and have some protection,” Marsh said.
But the ocean vista remains a concern. Zoning Director Wayne Bergman told the council that the higher seawall, while commendable, will block much of the ocean view as it appears through the Clock Tower archway.
“ARCOM has long been interested in protecting the existing ocean vistas along all of Palm Beach,” Bergman wrote in a memo to Mayor Danielle Moore and the council. “Staff believes the changes proposed to the Clock Tower, which will close off the lower portion of the tower structure and block the views through the sections of concrete balustrades, could be problematic.”
Council President Margaret Zeidman said, “I’m just very sad about the loss of the balustrades and the view. It certainly is a change to have a thick barrier at the other side.”
Tuesday’s presentation was an early glimpse of the plans. Details are still being fleshed out, according to Brazil and Marsh.
Council members expressed interest in adding decorative changes to certain features, such as the pedestrian access gates, to improve aesthetics.
“This is a very highly visible part of our historic town,” Councilwoman Bobbie Lindsay told the town staff. “We don’t want to regret that we tried to patch something to make it right, as opposed to just doing it right. Let’s not wait. Show us a [complete] plan.”
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