Attorneys are frequently retained to advocate for their clients in an adversarial role. However, a negotiated team approach yielded successful results for three Worth Avenue property owners in 2013. Land Use attorney and former Mayor of Palm Beach, Jack McDonald, successfully developed and implemented a team approach to accomplish one property owner’s efforts to renovate portions of a landmarked wall partially owned by the Town of Palm Beach.
The historic wall was built in 1922, when it spanned the length of the Villa des Cygnes estate which has a connection to the musical, “Annie.” Today the property consists of three separate homes with two of them landmarked along with the original wall. One property owner wished to renovate the wall and engaged the services of Rabideau Law to negotiate the acquisition of the wall along with obtaining the variances, right-of-way approvals, and time extensions necessary to renovate the wall and replace the deteriorated entry gate in its original position. The major problem laid in the fact that portions of the wall sat on the Town’s right-of-way along Worth Avenue. In order to renovate the wall, the owners needed to own the land on which the wall was constructed. Mr. McDonald aided by staff attorney David Klein decided to recruit the other owners and combine their interests in moving forward with an abandonment petition. This was a unique request, one Mr. McDonald had not seen in his twenty years of governmental service. Rabideau Law assisted the owners in negotiating the purchase of 535 square feet of land underlying the wall at a price considerably below the appraised value.
Meeting the requirements of the Town’s Municipal Code presented another challenge for Rabideau Law and the property owners. Under the Town’s Code, any renovation of fifty percent or more of an existing structure triggers the requirement to bring the structure up to current code. Current code limits walls to a height of six feet and requires a three foot setback from the street property line. Compliance with the setback requirements alone would require removal of the wall. Current code also requires that entry gates be placed eighteen feet from the street and without a variance the property would be dramatically changed from the 1922 landmark. The Town Council, recognizing the unique nature of the petition and cognizant of the historic nature of the wall and the effect of compliance with the current code, waived the fifty percent requirement, granted the variance, approved work in the Town’s right-of-way, and extended the time for completion beyond the standard November 1st deadline, thus allowing the property owners to restore the wall to its original glory and preserving an important part of the Town’s architectural history.