Water Cooler Wednesday: R.E.S.P.E.C.T.

Plans are meant to be living, breathing documents

Plans are meant to be living, breathing documents

I’m big on gratitude and respect.

I think if we are grateful we are happier.

I think if we respect others, we tend to be respected in return.

I’m also big on words. I believe they matter. I think tone and context are important as well.

So let me first say that I am grateful for people like Frances Bourque, Elizabeth Wesley, C. Spencer Pompey, Ruth Pompey, Vera Farrington, Father Chip Stokes, Nancy Hurd , Perry Don Francisco and others,–many others who gave their time and their talent to Delray Beach.

For those who are new to the city, those are only a few of the people who made modern day Delray what it is today. Whatever success that has been achieved didn’t happen by accident or dumb luck.

Which is a long-winded way of saying that I was glad when Anthea Gianniotes presented suggested changes to Delray Beach’s land development regulations at Tuesday evening’s City Commission meeting and said the suggestions did not mean a change in the city’s vision plans, which include the Downtown Master Plan and the city’s plans for the southwest neighborhood and West Atlantic Avenue.

Anthea and her team from the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council (including newly hired Planning Director Dana Little) helped to draft, coach and conceive Delray’s Downtown Master Plan, which not only has worked but has helped cement Delray’s leadership position as a community known for visionary planning and policy innovation. The current crop of commissioners and CRA are to be commended for re-engaging Treasure Coast to take a fresh look at the vision; plans are meant to be living, breathing documents that adapt to the times.

 I can’t say I was surprised when the team did not suggest wholesale changes to the vision, the plan or the codes. But I can say I was grateful and felt that Treasure Coast’s work showed respect for the vision of hundreds of stakeholders and city staff who worked diligently over the past decade to implement the plan.

Their work not only landed the city a coveted Nolen Award from the Congress New Urbanism but attracted huge investments, created jobs and most importantly helped to build on the Decade of Excellence which created a quality of life and place that is hard to match.

Has the plan/vision been perfect?
Not on your life.

Have there been projects that were ill-conceived and ugly? I can think of a few.

Where their missteps along the way? Sure there were.

But the plan and other visions conceived by citizens, led by elected officials and implemented by talented and dedicated staff got a lot of things right. And the reputation we have earned as a progressive, entrepreneurial city can only be squandered if we fail to understand or respect where we came from or if we become complacent. As they say: nothing recedes like success.

Sure, there was much to work with in Delray Beach; a grid system, human scale, some quaint, historic neighborhoods and a main street that empties into an ocean. But despite these “good bones”, Delray was indeed “Dull Ray” until it was rescued by strong leadership, an active involved citizenry, talented business people and yes even some very innovative developers who risked millions of dollars on a vision that called for creating a vibrant and walkable downtown.

Developers are often vilified so maybe they deserve a mention: Bill Morris who weathered a blizzard of lawsuits but never wavered in his belief in Delray and stuck it out to build Worthing Place,  Scott Porten and Morgan Russell who believed in Pineapple Grove when few others did and redeveloped the Esplanade and created CityWalk and then got deeply involved in the community as philanthropists and volunteers, Tim Hernandez and Kevin Rickard who along with some non-profit partners took a $40 million risk on West Atlantic Avenue and made the first large scale private investment on the corridor back in 2001-02 with Atlantic Grove and Tom Laudani, who built Ocean City Lofts and several other projects, including a beautiful development near the city’s marina in an area that had been left for vagrants and drug users.

There are others…the common thread being they believed in Delray’s vision and this city’s ability to get things done and to work together for the common good.

Treasure Coast’s new ideas still have to wend their way through the city’s boards and City Commission. They made great suggestions on everything from building heights to civic space—and a few provocative ones as well especially in relation to parking. Here’s hoping we have what we had in the 80s with the Mayor’s Atlantic Avenue Task Force, the 90s with Visions 2000 and the 2000s with the Master Plan—intelligent discussion on important issues among people who care deeply about Delray Beach. We didn’t always agree, but we all agreed that Delray came first before egos and personal agendas. What a concept….

Words matter. Tone matters. Community involvement matters. Respect for the past, present and future matters.

And that’s why I am grateful that Anthea, Dana Little and Treasure Coast honored our future by honoring our past.