WEST PALM BEACH — The city commission gave initial approval of a brownfield designation for a former landfill across from Palm Beach International Airport, helping pave the way for the county’s first Wawa convenience store along with a service station, shops, a restaurant and a hotel or office building.
A second and final vote is expected for next month and construction could start in about 18 months, said Michael Goldstein, attorney for developer Brightworks Real Estate.
The board voted 4-0 to declare the 8.83-acre site at 1520 Belvedere Road a brownfield area, a designation that allows the developer to build on the contaminated site after reaching agreement with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection on a cleanup plan. The developer would receive state tax breaks for the cleanup and job creation.
The site had been used as a landfill for incinerator ash as far back as the 1920s. The developer will have to remove a significant portion of that waste to build, Goldstein said.
The designation sets that cleanup in motion and will return the site to productivity, creating jobs and other economic activity, he said. The site is at the southeastern corner of Belvedere and Australian Avenue, just off I-95 and directly across from the airport. “It’s a key economic site,” he said.
Monday’s vote was the first in a series of steps to allow the Wawa and other development to rise on the site, which is zoned “airport commercial.” The city’s planning board and eventually the City Commission also must vote to rezone it to allow the retail operations.
Wawa, a family-owned chain of convenience stores known for its fanatical following, announced in January that it plans to open dozens of stores in Palm Beach and Broward counties over the next five years.
At a community building event in January, Peter Gilligan, Wawa’s senior vice president of real estate, said the company plans to secure at least 15 sites in Palm Beach and Broward this year. Wawa expects to break ground on three to five stores in 2016, company officials said.
Wawa has more than 675 stores in six states. The company has opened at least 50 stores in the Orlando and Tampa areas over the last two years. The company has also announced plans to open on the Treasure Coast.
The property, owned by the Hertz car rental chain, would be sold to the retail developer after agreement is reached with the state DEP. That could come as soon as this summer, with construction to start about a year later, Goldstein said.
Brightwork has told the city the project is estimated at more than $25 million, and, once finished, will employ at least 50 people.