Outdoor restaurant seating hurts quality of life for Palm Beachers

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As a resident living in Midtown, I am increasingly concerned that restaurants in the area are forever changing the character of our beautiful and precious island.

Over the past two weekends, on my early evening strolls around the city, I have been surprised by the intensity of use of our island restaurants. While most play by the rules, many are blatantly pushing the envelope in pursuit of more profit at the expense of the quality of life of residents living nearby.

We risk turning parts of the island into an entertainment district. We have to hold the line, and I would advocate that no additional restaurant seating be allowed on the island. If a restaurant wants to expand, these seats will need to be swapped for already approved ones on the island as a cap and trade system. We already have a wide variety of restaurants, and it’s obvious that our little island doesn’t need extra restaurant seating to serve residents well.

On my recent walks, I’ve seen restaurants with outdoor tables pushing out of the sidewalks, making public access nearly impossible (approved plans show the sidewalk is clear); tables placed in exit corridors (a major safety risk if people had to leave the premises in an emergency); the tables are multiplying and spreading in the vias; packed restaurants with full tables inside and outside (beyond their approved seating plans) and congested valet valets with blocked off and congested streets.

These continued conditions and violations of previously approved seating arrangements are not sustainable if we are to retain Palm Beach as envisioned in our overall plan.

Some restaurants are capitalizing on the city’s good reputation to attract customers from larger regions. This allows them to operate at full capacity with up to two turns at breakfast, two at lunch and three to four at dinner, creating an exponential intensification of island resources and traffic congestion. The quality of life of the residents (mainly those residing in Midtown) should take precedence over maximizing profits. Strict enforcement of current restaurant seating capacities and valet agreements is paramount to keeping the line.

Even without additional restaurant seating on the island over current numbers, we must realize that many additional seats are already “baked into the cake” as part of previously approved restaurant seating plans (i.e. say: The Heart of Palm Beach Hotel and the Carriage House).

Soon, all PB voters will have to come together to assess the proposed new 200-seat waterfront restaurant that’s being discussed at Royal Poinciana Plaza. This increased use of Royal Poinciana Plaza is not within the goals of the overall city plan and should be prohibited as we are already at capacity.

While a waterfront concession operating when theatrical performances take place might be acceptable, a fully-fledged super-regional restaurant would strain the already fragile environment we currently find ourselves in and have a negative impact additional on residents with additional noise, traffic and traffic jams. As residents, we must protect our beloved city and proactively defend our quality of life.

John David Corey of Palm Beach is a member of the Architectural Commission.

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