Palm Beach panel kills one house design but OKs another for same area

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The Architectural Commission has rejected a second design for a home at 243 Seaspray Ave. while endorsing another house nearby at 302 Seabreeze Ave. for Sean Rooney.

A couple who wants to build a custom home on a vacant lot in Midtown Palm Beach has hit a major roadblock —again — with the board that governs what new architecture gets built in town. 

The Architectural Commission has killed the design of a house that Larry and Lynn Meyer wanted to build on their lot at 243 Seaspray Ave. It was the board’s second rejection in less than a year of a home designed for the property. 

The decision rendered Wednesday came shortly before the commission unanimously approved a house on neighboring Seabreeze Avenue for a lot that belongs to businessman Sean Rooney, whose late grandfather, Arthur J. Rooney, founded the team that would become the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Along with Seaview Avenue, the three so-called “Sea” streets are among the town’s oldest platted roads and are lined with vintage homes. The commission has a track record of demanding that houses proposed for the streets complement the scale and look of others in the neighborhood. 

On Seaspray Avenue in Palm Beach

The board voted 5-2 to deny the Meyers’ application for the two-story house, which would have stood on a midblock lot measuring a third of an acre on Seaspray Avenue. The rejection came after commissioners reviewed changes they had asked architect Kevin Asbacher to make to the Mediterranean-style design he last presented in May. 

The design Asbacher showed to the board was for a house featuring a pair of two-story wings in a rough L-shape, with a one-story portion jutting to the side near the front of the property. The house would have had a red barrel-tile roof and a white stucco exterior. 

Asbacher told the board he had addressed their worries about the house being too large: He had lowered the rooflines so that the overall height was shorter than neighboring homes on Seaspray. The principal architect of Asbacher Architecture Inc. also had changed French doors to windows, revised the garage doors, simplified arches and moved mechanical equipment, among other alterations. 

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But the board was not impressed. The revised Seaspray Avenue house was far too boxy, lacked charm, did not complement the historic neighborhood and was missing appropriate decorative details, the majority of commissioners agreed. 

“It looks very cold,” said Commissioner Thomas Kirchoff, adding that the architecture, overall, wasn’t “inviting.” 

Commissioner Betsy Shiverick said she largely agreed with a letter of objection to the house written by neighborhood activist Anne Pepper, who lives six houses west of the Meyer lot on Seaspray. Among her objections, Pepper wrote that the proposed house was “too tall, clunky and blocky” and lacked the architectural charm of other homes in the neighborhood. 

Vice Chairman Richard Sammons said some of Asbacher’s changes appeared to have been made “just to try to please us” but lacked an overall cohesiveness. 

Asbacher had made changes to the Seaspray Avenue house from his May presentation, which in turn had completely reworked the Mediterranean-style design he had presented to the board in April. The version reviewed in April also had failed to find favor with commissioners, who took a vote to kill the design, which narrowly failed. Instead, they voted to defer it for a major restudy. 

Asbacher had taken over the Seaspray Avenue project after the board in October killed another architect’s West Indies-style design for the Meyers after several months of review. In denying that design last year, the board said the house was overscaled, lacked character and conflicted with its neighbors. 

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At Wednesday’s meeting, former Architectural Commissioner Maisie Grace, who lives next door to the Meyers’ property, praised the design team for having worked closely with her to help alleviate her concerns about landscape buffering and potential noise from mechanical equipment.

“We did our best to listen to the neighbor’s concerns and address them accordingly,” said landscape architect Dustin Mizell of Environment Design Group, who created the landscape plan. 

Voting against killing the Seaspray Avenue project were Chairman Jeff Smith and Dan Floersheimer, an alternate commissioner who was voting in the absence of Commissioner John David Corey. 

The Seaspray Avenue property is owned by a company affiliated with Larry Meyer, a private-equity specialist and Fort Lauderdale native with longtime business ties in Austin, Texas. Meyer’s ownership company paid a recorded $11.2 million for the property in February 2022, seven months before he and his wife bought a house south of Palm Beach in Gulf Stream.

On Seabreeze Avenue in Palm Beach

The two-story, traditional-style house the Architectural Commission approved Wednesday for 302 Seabreeze Ave. was commissioned by Rooney, who has lived in a 1940s-era home there since 2005, when he bought it with his first wife, the late Kelly Rooney. In 2021 he remarried, to Colleen Mullen Rooney. With ties to Pennsylvania, the extended Rooney family also has deep roots in Palm Beach.

Wednesday’s meeting was the second time architect Peter Papadopoulos of Smith and Moore Architects had presented revised plans for the five-bedroom Rooney house, which was designed for a narrow lot measuring a fifth of an acre. Commissioners got their first look at the project in January, when they told Papadopoulos to restudy his design.

The design includes an open-air covered loggia that would connect the main residence to the pool cabana and garage. 

When the architect presented his revisions to the Rooney house in May, commissioners said they were generally pleased with the changes they saw. But they asked for the architect to take another look at the design of the front porch and modify window shutters, overall detailing and the cabana’s roof.

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Papadopoulos on Wednesday told commissioners he had reduced the house’s overall footprint by 2 feet on two sides to make the house appear smaller when viewed from Seabreeze Avenue. 

New to the design presented Wednesday was an enclosed sleeping porch off one of the second-floor bedrooms. Such historical references pleased Sammons, who said the design was “much improved” since he had last seen it. 

He added: “You were able to take the (commission’s) comments and actually improve on the design.” 

When built, the new Rooney house would look “like it’s always been there,” Sammons said.

The Rooneys commissioned Lang Design Group, headed by landscape architect John Lang, to design the grounds. 

The project on Seabreeze Avenue initially would have required the Town Council to grant three code variances, but a relocation of air-conditioning condensers reduced those requests to two. The architecture board endorsed both variances, one to allow the house to have one garage parking space in lieu of the two required by the town; and the other related to the rear-yard setback.

The Architectural Commission is considered one of the town’s most powerful volunteer boards. It is tasked with reviewing plans for any new homes and commercial buildings along with exterior renovations to existing buildings that are not landmarked.  

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Darrell Hofheinz is a USA TODAY Network of Florida journalist who writes about Palm Beach real estate in his weekly “Beyond the Hedges” column. He welcomes tips about real estate news on the island. Email dhofheinz@pbdailynews.com, call 561-820-3831 or tweet @PBDN_Hofheinz. Help support our journalism. Subscribe today.

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