The new owner of the long-stagnant hotel project plans to present its renovation plans to the Architectural Commission.
| Palm Beach Daily News
Palm Beach residents who have grown weary of looking at the long-vacant-and-unfinished Palm House hotel project on Royal Palm Way could get their first glimpse Wednesday of the new owner’s renovation plans.
The project is on the agenda of Wednesday’s Architectural Commission, when the board is expected to review the plans proposed by LR Palm House LLC. That limited liability company paid about $40 million for the hotel building in May 2019 in a private sale approved by a bankruptcy court.
The company is affiliated with London + Regional Properties, an international real estate investment firm specializing in hospitality projects through its L + R Hotels division.
Work at the hotel halted abruptly nearly six years ago and never re-started. The property eventually ended up mired in criminal investigations and civil litigation.
This week’s Architectural Commission agenda shows the new owner plans to ask the Town Council to approve changes to the project’s site plan, which was approved under the property’s previous ownership.
Among the considerations would be to change the property’s zoning designation from a “hotel condominium” to a hotel, according to the agenda.
The architectural plans show that much of the renovation focuses on removing or correcting projects — carried out prior to last year’s sale — that deviated from the plans approved years ago by the town. Those include demolishing an elevator shaft, restrooms and two pool structures. A rooftop gathering spot overlooking the pool also has been eliminated.
The amount of parking, the number of guest rooms and the overall seating capacity either meets or is less than what was previously approved by the town, the plans show.
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The renovation as designed would need a number of zoning variances, including one that would allow 36 seats for outdoor dining on the new pool deck on the south side of the property at 160 Royal Palm Way.
“The proposed new work for the hotel includes completion and conversions of guest rooms for a total of 79 keys,” the agenda item reads.
The document also mentions the hotel’s partially completed “function room,” which would accommodate conferences, banquets and other events.
“A new pool deck will be constructed adjacent to the existing Function Room. Other exterior improvements will include re-painting, new exterior floor finishes, trellises and a covered walkway leading to the existing Function Room,” the agenda items says.
The renovation would add two new “presidential suites” with private balconies to the hotel. Crews also would complete partially renovated areas that include the kitchen and spaces for food storage, housekeeping and hotel-administration offices.
The project would include a fine-dining restaurant and lobby bar on the main level, with 88 indoor seats in addition to the ones the owner wants to add to the pool deck. The redesign also has eliminated a second-floor dining area to make room for guest suites.
In one part of the plan, the building would be expanded by 148 square feet to provide a new service stairway accessing the pool area. All “guest program areas” would be removed from the lower level, which would restore 60 parking spaces.
Windows and doors that need to be replaced will get similar versions.
The agenda credits the renovation design to architect Michael Sean McLendon of Cooper Cary, an architectural firm with offices in Atlanta, New York City and Washington, D.C.
Even as the new owner’s plans for the Palm House appear to be progressing, its previous owner, convicted developer Robert V. Matthews, awaits sentencing on charges of wire and bank fraud, conspiracy and tax evasion. Matthews pleaded guilty in April 2019 in a U.S. district court in Connecticut after prosecutors said he and others defrauded foreign investors and redirected some of that money for his personal use. Court records show those investors put millions of dollars into the project.
Two other men have pleaded guilty in the money-laundering scheme and are awaiting sentencing in Connecticut, as is Matthews’ wife, Mia, who pleaded guilty to a single count of tax evasion. Another Palm Beach man has pleaded not guilty in the case and is awaiting trial next spring.
The case has been delayed by judicial orders that have postponed federal trials and hearings in Connecticut because of the coronavirus pandemic.
>>RELATED: Developer pleads guilty in Palm House criminal fraud case
As part of the Palm House renovation plans, the new owner is seeking variances to the zoning code for changes in “lot coverage,” new railings and a second-floor wall on the east side of the building. Another variance is being requested to accommodate a two-story open-air addition on the south side of the hotel. It would have a second-story hotel-suite balcony above a covered dining area.
Variances also would be needed for the design of a wall along the rear property line and for setbacks in the rear and west yards.
The Architectural Commission is tasked with reviewing the hotel’s architecture. The board also will decide whether to endorse any variances or other zoning issues under its purview, which must then earn final approval from the Town Council.
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In February, Desmond Taljaard, managing director of L+R Group Hotel Holdings, told the Daily News his company plans to turn the Palm House into one of its “spectacular destination hotels.” Among those are hotel properties in England that include Berkshire’s Clivedon House and Spa, which operates in a former manor house and grabbed headlines when Meghan Markle stayed there in 2018 on the night before she married Prince Harry.
Wednesday’s 9 a.m. Architectural Commission meeting will be held virtually on the Zoom Webinar platform. The meeting will continue on Thursday if all of the agenda items are not completed Wednesday. For details, visit TownofPalmBeach.com.
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