Parking Garages are Ugly: Pay Attention to Where They Land

Possibly the most significant similarity between Jupiter’s Harbourside development and the PGA Waterfront project proposed for the Panama Hattie’s site is not what you might think.  Yes, these two projects have the same developer and land planner.  Yes, these two projects densely develop intracoastal-fronting sites.  Yes, both projects blend huge amounts of retail, hotel, restaurant, and office square footage into a single site.  However, as important as these similarities are to allowing Palm Beach Gardens to see what to expect, the most significant item is the one that is frequently overlooked.

Since the parking garage component of these development projects have no tenants and, therefore, do not pay rent, generate income, or obtain any benefit from a proximity to the water; they are located remotely.  In both projects, remote translates into the corner of the lot adjacent to the public roadway intersection.  It, therefore, is the least important building within the development, but the most visible building from outside the development.  Internally, this logic makes sense as in maximizes the project’s access to the waterfront.  Externally, however, the unsightly presence of a parking garage becomes the dominate feature of an important intersection within the respective cities.

Harbourside’s parking garage, pictured below during its construction, is the most

objectionable thing about the project.  Because it is massive and uninspired, as most parking garages are, it anchors the corner of U.S. Highway One and Indiantown Road in a regrettable way that will be with us for a long time.  It is easy to understand why the developer would be more interested in the internal money-generating components of the project, but it is unimaginable how the elected leaders of Jupiter would allow such a large blemish to be constructed at one of the most visible corners in the town.

The architecture at this corner needed to be delightful and provide an appropriate focal point to help soften the urbanization of this once lightly developed corner with charm and elegance.  Instead, the utilitarian appearance of a garage will be the prevailing image at U.S. One and Indiantown Road for many years to come.

An early site plan of the proposed PGA Waterfront project, shown below, has the parking garage planned in a similar way.  Tucked into the corner at PGA Boulevard and Ellison

Wilson Road, the potential for Palm Beach Gardens to repeat Jupiter’s mistake of allowing Harbourside to present an unsightly urban anchor at an important intersection seems high.

In addition to fighting to keep this project from destroying the historically residential character of Ellison Wilson Road that dates back to a 1920s farming community, we need to also fight to make sure the plain and generic architecture of a parking garage isn’t what fronts Ellison Wilson Road, as is presently planned.

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8 Responses to Parking Garages are Ugly: Pay Attention to Where They Land

  1. WalkableWPB says:

    Very regrettable Tim. You’re right on the money in your critique of Harborside and that horrid parking garage.

    I wonder though if this is more a symptom than the cause of what ails us? Suburban arterial roads (read: overengineered, overly wide, car sewers), sprawl land use patterns, and minimum parking requirements consign residents to getting everywhere in their car. After all, neither Jupiter nor Gardens has a traditional main street, nor much of a street grid, having been developed around the car.
    In this environment, developers (and bankers) see a parking garage as essential to underwriting the project.

    I don’t have all the answers here, but getting rid of minimum parking requirements, allowing for small infill to be built without parking, and better management of parking on a district-wide basis (off-site parking, shared garages, etc) need to be part of the policy changes.

    By the way, West Palm Beach is debating its own waterfront parking garage right now, the Palm Harbor Marina site. We did a series of posts on it, would be very interested to get your take:

    • tim hullihan says:

      Jesse: In general, I have never understood the conflicting government policies that simultaneously embrace cars and timidly support options to their use. It seems foolish and wasteful to spend tax-dollars on mass transit and road widening projects at the same time. The irony of a half empty Tri-rail train racing parallel to a freshly expanded 1-95 seems lost on our decision-makers. Most successful mass-transit systems grew out of a need driven by a urban street grid that could no longer be expanded. Mass transit typically blossoms once road congestion reaches a critical point.

      Parking garages are a similarly conflicting accommodation to the automobile in urban environments that preach walkability. The pre-automobile urban neighborhoods we admire, and should serve as models for future urban planning, accommodated the car almost not at all. Consequently, alternative methods of transportation followed.

      True urban hotels, almost without exception, require valet parking. We do not know where the rental car goes, how far away it is being stored, or how densely in is being packed into a parking structure – and we do not want to know. The problem is solved without a minimum parking standard and it all works in a quirking urban way that we appreciate all the more.

      Parking in true urban areas is expensive and inconvenient, as it should be. Urban dweller cherish the walk or the bike ride and expect the accommodations of the car to be minimal and costly so to protect the modes of transportation they prefer.

      • WalkableWPB says:

        You make great points about transportation. In my view, the transportation funding mechanism is fundamentally broken. Relying on intergovernmental transfer payments from higher levels (state, fed) will always result in the lion’s share going towards road capacity and non-context sensitive solutions. The incentives at these levels are to stimulate economic growth by whatever means, and localities will gladly take the free money. If transit/bike advocates are getting 2 cents on the dollar from the feds instead of 1, have they really won?

        Regarding the Palm Harbor site: The irony is the Downtown Action Committee just approved a parking arrangement exactly along the lines you describe. It’s all offsite parking in an existing municipal parking structure – the developer leases the spaces and parks the cars through an alleyway. It just works.

        I shudder to think the City could approve a new hotel on the water that includes a parking structure east of Flagler (on the water). There are better arrangements, and why wouldn’t a developer want to build more rentable ROOMS rather than parking? I”ll keep writing about it on the blog.

  2. Lynn York says:

    Why is it only in Florida free parking is included with condo’s? I have heard how much people in Chicago and other towns have to pay for parking!

    • WalkableWPB says:

      Really good point Lynn. Unbundling parking is one of the things that needs to happen. People get the wrong impression that parking doesn’t cost anything, but in fact it costs upwards of $15K to build a space in a parking garage.

  3. IP Daily says:

    Say all you want. Complain, complain, complain! Go to the meetings and yell and scream! It won’t stop the development and building of this project. Yeah a tweak here and there but it’s going to happen. Where’s Catalfumo construction these days? In the tank from building unnecessary crap developments like this! The only losers here at the visitors and residence of NPB and PBG! It’s time to move out of Palm Beach county. Martin county here we come!

  4. Simon says:

    We drove past Indiantown Road last week and my comment was……….”Lovely. We get to look at that ugly garage”!

    • timhullihan says:

      Simon: I think a lot of people feel the same way. Let’s all agree to do what we can to keep that same mistake from happening at PGA and Ellison Wilson.

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