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Palm Beach architectural board OKs re-do of courtyard area in Via Bice

Posted On: 07-04-2018

The new owner of the building that houses the popular Bice Ristorante has earned the town’s approval to renovate Via Bice’s outdoor dining area and an accompanying courtyard. But the work won’t begin until at least a year from now, its Palm Beach architect says.

The project will include the installation of boldly patterned, cream-and-white floor tiles from Portugal; a bougainvillea-covered pergola overhead; the removal of arches on some windows and other improvements to the parts of the via nearest the popular restaurant at 313½ Worth Ave.

The Architectural Commission voted 4-3 last week to approve the project, which was under review for about six months by the board and the Town Council.

“The ownership should be complimented for sprucing up the via,” said commission Vice Chairman Michael B. Small, who ran the meeting because Chairman Bob Vila was absent.

The via opens to Worth Avenue on the south and Peruvian Avenue on the north. But the plans so far don’t include the corridor that leads visitors northward from the Avenue into a central courtyard area. That’s because buildings that make up the via have two separate owners, who haven’t reached an agreement on the project.

The renovation was approved only for the courtyard and northern section nearer Peruvian Avenue, which is owned by The Amirsaleh Family Trust. The trust bought the restaurant building and a couple of adjacent structures last year for nearly $20 million. The same trust owns property to the west in Via Mizner.

After the sale of Via Bice in March 2017, the new owner announced plans to “modernize and renovate” the via “using the talents of Palm Beach-based designers and architects,” said a statement released at the time by the buyer’s law firm.

The vaulted-arched corridor leading from Worth Avenue, meanwhile, is controlled by real estate investor Burt Handelsman, who owns a number of buildings nearby.

Several board members at the June 27 meeting said they weren’t thrilled that the improvements won’t extend from one end of the via to the other and worried about an awkward transition at the courtyard’s entrance.

But there’s still plenty of time before the work begins to bring further projects before the board, once an agreement is reached, architect Jeffery Smith of Smith Architectural Group told the Daily News after the meeting.

Some commissioners also weren’t pleased that a revamp of the via’s northern entrance and the streetside facade of Bice Ristorante’s building on Peruvian Avenue were excluded from the project last week.

The via’s owner decided to keep the facade unchanged after getting blow-back from commissioners about the starkly modern, modular-style entrance Smith designed. Several commissioners had criticized the design as too contemporary and out of character with the neighborhood.

But last week, Commissioner Maisie Grace and Alternate Commissioner Katherine Catlin were among those who said some sort of update would be welcome for the building, which was designed in the 1980s by the late Palm Beach architect Gene Lawrence to house the long-closed Petite Marmite restaurant.

“I’m disappointed,” said Catlin. “I liked the face lift on Peruvian. I didn’t particularly like what was proposed. But I think it could use some brightening up.” 

Smith told the Daily News he and his client aren’t ruling out a revamp of the building’s streetside facade, but the time wasn’t yet right to present it and they wanted to move the project forward.

Ali Amirniroumand, a representative of the ownership trust, told the board that his team had met on site with Handelsman, who seemed agreeable to making similar improvements to his part of the via. But “we weren’t able to get (a) written agreement” in time for last Wednesday’s board meeting, Amirniroumand said. If an agreement is reached, Smith said, the board could consider a design for that part of the project at some point.

West Palm Beach real estate attorney John R. Eubanks, representing Handelsman, confirmed that the parties had not reached agreement on the renovations and said the via’s “easement agreement,” which includes the corridor, was complex. Handelsman hadn’t yet even seen the final pattern of the floor tile presented to the board, Eubanks said.

Missing from the project was a retractable awning once proposed to cover the dining area, which the Town Council refused to approve in April. Some council members feared it would have set an unwanted precedent for similar awnings in other vias.

Smith and landscape design firm Nievera Williams Design instead designed the beamed pergola, although Smith said umbrella tables would remain to shelter diners during rainstorms.

Passersby walk beneath the awning that shades the Worth Avenue entrance to the Via Bice. Darrell Hofheinz / Daily News

Responding to a previous request from the board, Smith presented a more geometric pattern for the floor tile, in contrast to the previous one featuring swirling curves. Similar tiles can be found throughout Lisbon, he told the board.

But the board didn’t like one of the revisions to the courtyard Smith proposed. He had replaced his initial design of an obelisk-style fountain with a pedestal that would be used for sculptures that could be changed out occasionally. The board didn’t like the look of it and asked him to revert to the original obelisk.

Voting with Small to approve the project were commissioners Nikita Zukov and Alexander Ives and Alternate Commissioner Betsy Shiverick, who cast votes in Vila’s absence.

 

 

Source: Darrell Hofheinz, July 4, 2018, Palm Beach Daily News

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