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Our Town by William Kelly: Town Council approves new site for vet clinic

The island’s only veterinary clinic is set to relocate next year into the former Chase bank branch at the corner of Bradley Place and Sunrise Avenue.

The Town Council on Wednesday unanimously granted zoning approvals required for Island Animal Hospital to make the move into the vacant building at 285 Sunrise Ave.

The clinic was founded in 1995 in an office on Royal Palm Way and later moved into a bungalow at 262 Sunset Ave. Dr. Mary Ellen Scully joined the practice in 2000 and assumed ownership when Dr. Brad Ochstein retired in 2022.

The 103-year-old bungalow was purchased last year by a corporation controlled by New England Development, which owns the White Elephant Palm Beach hotel next door. Island Animal Hospital is operating there under a lease that was to expire in March, but has been extended until it can open in its new location, Scully said.

Scully initially struggled to find a new home on the island, where the town’s zoning code severely limits where veterinary practices can operate. At the same time, the island’s commercial real estate market has sent property values and rental prices soaring, further restricting Scully’s options.

Scully said earlier this year that moving out of Palm Beach would be a huge disappointment for her 2,500 active clients and for Palm Beach’s sense of community.

She said Friday that the former Chase bank building, which is about a block north of her current location, became her only realistic option.

“There was nothing else,” Scully said. “I’ve been looking at this building since we knew we were moving. No one was renting it, and it was a perfect fit for us.”

Scully hopes to complete renovation of the new clinic space in time for a mid-2024 opening. She said she has an eight-year lease with the bank.

The new location has a different layout than the bungalow – one floor instead of two – but slightly more space, with 3,200 square feet.

The interior space of the Chase building will be largely demolished and reconfigured to work as a veterinary clinic. The council’s vote allows planning for the interior work to start.

On the exterior, the paved area under the drive-through will be demolished and grass planted for use by animals, according to a Sept. 25 letter to the town from Michael Nelson Associates Architects in West Palm Beach. New fencing will meet town standards.

One big advantage of the move is that the new location has its own parking lot, Scully said. That will be a welcome change for her clients who have had to rely on time-limited parking spaces on Sunset Avenue.

At Wednesday’s meeting, the council took the unusual step of approving the Island Animal Hospital zoning application on the consent agenda, which groups routine discussion points into a single item.

The application required two approvals: A special exception to allow a new veterinarian’s office in a space larger than 3,000 square feet in a town-serving commercial district, and a variance to permit a veterinarian’s office on the first floor of a building.

Councilman Ted Cooney moved for approval of the consent agenda with a statement of support for the clinic.

Cooney said the need for the variance is a perfect example of the town’s flawed zoning code, which prohibits a veterinary clinic from operating on the first floor of a building while simultaneously allowing dog grooming businesses to be on the ground floor but no higher.

“That makes no sense to me,” Cooney said.

He added, “Island Animal Hospital is a wonderful contributing business, and I am thrilled that they have found a new home.”

Mayor Danielle Moore said Friday that Island Animal Hospital “is a necessary service and we are just really grateful that Dr. Scully found a spot on the island.”


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