DELRAY BEACH — Delray Beach has long confined the festiveness from its late-night bars and restaurants to a half-mile stretch on Atlantic Avenue, but that could come to an end.
Bounce Sporting Club, an upscale sports bar set for the $300 million Atlantic Crossing development on Atlantic just east of Federal Highway, is hoping to become a new destination site on the Ave. The bar, however, sits outside the city’s entertainment district, which runs from Swinton to Federal Highway and allows businesses to stay open until 2 a.m.
They want an exception to the rule so they can show late-night sporting events such as UFC, boxing and West Coast sports. But city officials and residents have voiced concerns the late-night noise could become a nuisance to the people who live nearby and add “further degradation” to the area.
The surrounding neighborhoods near the Intracoastal Waterway “are precious in the city and they’re under a lot of assault from noise pollution, light pollution, overdevelopment,” Delray Beach Planning and Zoning Board member Joy Howell said during a public meeting.
“I think we should avoid further degradation of the district.”
Officials, who are considering the proposal, fear it could set precedent and create a “domino effect” where restaurants and bars outside the entertainment district could push to remain open until 2 a.m.
Bounce Sporting Club bills itself as combining “elements of a sports bar with the high-end cocktail lounge nightlife experience.” A representative for Bounce, which has additional locations in New York and Chicago, told city officials it would also feature live performances at the Delray Beach location.
Bounce has residential communities both to the north and south, extending east to the Intracoastal. In addition, the Atlantic Crossing complex also will feature 261 luxury apartments by the sports bar.
Claudia Willis, a 25-year Delray Beach resident who lives in the neighborhood 300 feet south of the sports bar, spoke against the late-night hours during a public meeting, saying the applicants don’t fully grasp how much bothersome the noise could be.
She talked of how easily noise travels across the downtown, saying she can “hear every word when there’s an outdoor performance at Old School Square,” which is a half-mile west. “Unless you live downtown, you don’t know.”
“The applicant chooses to ignore us to the south, but also ignores their own [apartments],” Willis said.
The city “needs to decide what kind of town Delray will be and guide that in every decision. It is subtle decisions that are changing our demographics. Many have already left in search of what Delray used to be.”
Atlantic Crossing, a massive 9-acre project by Veterans Park and the Intracoastal Waterway, is the city’s attempt to invigorate the stretch of Atlantic east of Federal, which has remained largely dormant.
The site will also feature restaurants, shops and 83,000 square feet of office space. Construction is projected to be finished by the end of the year, a spokeswoman for the development said.
Bounce Sporting Club, a 5,000-square-foot venue, is one of the cornerstones of the project, operating on the first floor off Atlantic Avenue. Michael Dutko, a representative for Bounce, told the Delray Beach Planning and Zoning Board that Bounce would be an “incredibly valuable addition” to Atlantic, citing the lack of high-end sports bars. He also said noise wouldn’t be an issue, pointing to design measures created to limit noise.
Chris Davey, Chairman of the Planning and Zoning Board, was unconvinced, however. “This isn’t the city that doesn’t sleep and it’s not the Windy City,” he said, referencing Bounce’s other locations in New York and Chicago.
Davey, along with board member Rob Long, also worried that allowing a 2 a.m. exception could set a precedent where other bars and restaurants do the same, creating a possibility for late-night establishments to creep closer and closer to residential areas.
Keith Poliakoff, a Fort Lauderdale attorney who specializes in land use and zoning issues, said a one-time exception wouldn’t create a “strong legal grounds” if a future applicant was denied on a similar proposal.
“Every applicant stands on its own merits,” Poliakoff said. “If they approve this one and deny another one, there’s no strong legal grounds for them to sue a municipality based on that decision. For the same reasons a municipality could oppose two schools going next to each other or two houses of worship.”
Poliakoff said the board is likely referring to precedent in terms of “‘will that create an idea with the community that we’re turning this into an entertainment district as well?’”
Dutko appeared surprised by the pushback from board, saying he didn’t “anticipate it being controversial.” He argued that some bars outside the entertainment district, such as Hurricane Bar & Lounge and Blue Anchor Pub, are allowed to stay open until 2 a.m., but Davey noted those bars were grandfathered in before the boundaries were set.
Bounce representatives plan on revising the proposal to address the noise complaints in an attempt to salvage the late-night hours. The Planning & Zoning Board will issue a final ruling on the proposal during an upcoming meeting.