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Protecting the quality of life since 1944.

Our Town by William Kelly: Zoning is an ‘opportunity’ to shape Palm Beach’s future

A zoning expert said at a Palm Beach Civic Association forum last week that early development patterns in the North End helped lead to the redevelopment tensions simmering there today.

Sean S. Suder, who is a zoning consultant to the town, was the keynote speaker at the Civic Association’s “Welcome Back Forum” on Nov. 7. An audience of more than 150 people gathered for the event at the Mandel Recreation Center.

Suder, a land-use attorney with expertise in zoning history, said development patterns traceable to the late 19th and early 20th centuries paved the way for the narrow streets with small lots seen in much of the North End.

Early estates in the North End had an east-to-west configuration. Over the years, those estates were carved into subdivisions with streets that followed that pattern. Between 1929 and 1960, about 25 developers representing various companies platted 36 subdivisions, each with a street and lots on either side, Suder said.

Some of the streets in that part of town are as narrow as 17 to 20 feet.
The combination of smaller lots and narrow streets, along with an increasingly strong demand for larger houses, has created a “perfect storm” of tensions in these older, established neighborhoods, Suder said.

“We are seeing once-in-a-generation development pressures,” he said. “The loudest cries for reform come from residents on the most narrow streets.”

Suder is the founder and lead principal of Cincinnati-based ZoneCo, which the town hired last year to help guide efforts to reform its zoning code, which hasn’t been overhauled since it was created in the 1970s. The zoning reform effort is expected to conclude as early as next year.

“Zoning is challenging, but it doesn’t have to be a pain,” Suder said. “It’s an opportunity. There really are no right or wrong answers. It is mostly a narrow set of policy decisions that will shape the community forever.”

Suder’s role is to assist the town in crafting new regulations that will help steer future development in the direction that town residents have said they want.

Suder said there’s no way to reverse past decisions that have led to the development issues that face the town today. But “the good news is we are more informed than ever to meet [this] challenge.”

Michael Pucillo, chairman and chief executive officer of the Civic Association, said Suder is a foremost expert on zonin and zoning history.

“He is very much at the center of efforts to overhaul our zoning code,” Pucillo said.

The Nov. 7 forum was the Civic Association’s first public event of the 2023-24 season, which is also the organization’s 80th anniversary season. The forum was sponsored by Northern Trust investment bank.


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