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Popular car wash trying to clean up traffic mess on West Palm Beach's south end

EVERY DAY, HUNDREDS of cars roll through the cleaning bays at Mint Eco Car Wash on West Palm Beach’s south end. As their owners relax in a spa-like lobby with gourmet coffee and New Age music, sedans and SUVs and pickups go from soiled-and-filthy to spick-and-span.

But at the entrance to the car wash, the atmosphere can quickly change from palm-tree zen to horn-honking chaos — no thanks to a traffic mess fueled by demand for the Mint Eco experience.

Mint Eco’s owners are hosting a public meeting Aug. 23 to pitch their million-dollar plan to clean up the mess on the streets, but some south end homeowners are worried the company’s solution may end up doing more damage to the neighborhood.

Here’s the background.

Mint Eco occupies half an acre at the southwest intersection of South Olive Avenue and Southern Boulevard, but the car wash’s only entrance and exit is on Olive just south of the intersection.

The entrance driveway leading to the wash bay can accommodate four or five cars. When it’s full, newly-arriving vehicles have three options: Leave and come back later, drive around the block a few times until there’s room to enter, or just stay put in Olive Avenue’s only southbound lane and wait until there’s room to enter.

Cars waiting to enter Mint Eco Car Wash some times block the only southbound land on Olive Avenue (Photo courtesy Mint Eco Car Wash)

Many customers are content to just use Olive as an extended entrance, unconcerned about the blaring car horns from the frustrated motorists they're blocking or the car-wash queue that backs up at times onto one of Southern Boulevard’s busy eastbound lanes.

That doesn’t always happen. But when it does, which can be several times a day, motorists who want to turn south onto Olive are forced to wait until the car-wash queue disappears.

Southbound motorists crossing Southern on Olive are blocked, too — unless they sneak around the bottleneck and continue south into one of Olive’s northbound lanes, at times playing chicken with oncoming motorists.

It’s an accident waiting to happen, according to frustrated residents who’ve lit up the social media platform NextDoor with their concerns.

Mint Eco’s owners, who opened the car wash in late 2019, said they’ve been trying to find a way to resolve the problem since it became apparent about 18 months ago.

They’ve found what they say is the only viable solution, one they acknowledge is unusual, expensive and, to many nearby property owners, controversial.

Mint Eco’s owners are under contract to purchase an apartment building on 0.2 of an acre at 301 Malverne Road, immediately south of the car wash. If the city approves Mint Eco’s request to change the Malverne property’s zoning from residential to commercial, the apartment building will be torn down and the land converted into a new entrance and exit.

The new entrance would still be on Olive Avenue, but it would move 185 feet south of the intersection. Instead of stacking onto Olive Avenue and blocking its only southbound lane, cars would queue on Mint Eco’s property.

The proposed entranceway would have room for at least 15 cars, depending on the size, more than three times larger than the current entranceway.

The entire plan, including the purchase of the Malverne Road property and site conversion, will cost more than $1 million, said Mint Eco owner Geoffrey Jervis, a former CFO at NYSE-listed companies who graduated from Columbia Business School in 1999 with an MBA.

“I would not get an ‘A’ in business school for doing this, but it’s really the only solution,’’ he said in an interview.

“It’s a bad situation that needs to be fixed. This was a small sleepy intersection that's becoming more robust. It’s manifesting in front of our wash and we’re trying to fix it.’’

Minto Eco Car Wash founder Geoffrey Jervis (Joe Capozzi)

Jervis and his staff will explain the plan at 6 p.m. Aug. 23 at the South Olive Park Community Center. Although the community center at 345 Summa St. will serve as a precinct that day for the primary elections, the Mint Eco meeting will take place in a room away from the polls.

They’ve already launched an online petition urging city approval of the plan. They’ve sent letters via “snail mail” to south end property owners urging them to support it. And they have been going door to door to share the plan with individual homeowners.

The plan hinges on the kind of zoning change often considered controversial. But Jervis said he has received positive feedback from the city staff, elected officials and neighborhood groups, including the influential South End Neighborhood Association.

“We appreciate your sensitivity and acknowledgement that purchasing a residential property, which is the underlying character of the South End, is not a proposal that would normally gain the support of SENA,’’ Richard Pinsky, the group’s president, said in a letter to Jervis on May 11.

But SENA supports the plan because the zoning change “is visually consistent with the commercial nature” of streets near the intersection of Southern and Olive, Pinsky wrote.

An example of the area’s “commercial nature” can be found on the west side of the block, where a Marathon gas station at the southeast corner of Dixie Highway and Southern Boulevard extends south to Malverne Road. One of three entrances to the gas pumps is on the north side of Malverne, next to an apartment building,

Not everyone on the south end agrees with Mint Eco’s contention that the plan is a win-win.

While the zoning request might solve the dangerous traffic issue, some south end homeowners say it could set a dangerous precedent and threaten the character of residential streets bordering commercial areas across West Palm Beach.

“What if all other businesses bordering residential neighborhoods say, ‘I’ve got a traffic problem and I need this space?’’’ said Gary York, who lives a few blocks south of the car wash.

“‘Hey, the car wash got it. How can you say no to me?’ Once that space is obtained for the use of someone who pleads ‘we’re a small family business,’ then it all becomes neighborhood commercial.”

(Image via Google Maps)

Mint Eco has two other locations, one west of Florida’s Turnpike off Okeechobee Boulevard and one on Maplewood Drive in Jupiter. Both are in commercial areas and neither is as close to homes as the one on West Palm’s south end — facts not lost on Jervis.

He said Mint Eco already has spent $1 million on renovations and site designs aimed at increasing the pace of the flow and reducing the backups onto Olive Avenue.

That includes a new computer system in which Mint Eco employees walk out to the line of waiting cars with electronic cashier tablets (known as “Chick-Fil-A” tablets after the fast food giant that made them popular).

By processing transactions as quickly as possible, they shave off the wait time for arriving customers and reduce the chances of cars stacking onto Olive.

Jervis said he has tried other solutions, too. A year ago, he asked the city to redesign the traffic lanes on Olive Avenue just south of Southern. Aside from the one southbound lane, Olive has three northbound lanes: one to turn left, one to continue north and one to turn right.

He said the city declined.

Minto Eco asked West Palm Beach planners to redesign these traffic lanes on South Olive Avenue. The city said no. (Google Maps)

The Malverne Road property is the only viable option, he said.

The land for the expansion would only be used to usher cars arriving at and exiting from the car wash — essentially as a larger parking lot. The company will build a wall and cover the expanded area in thick caloosa hedges as a buffer from other homes on the street.

And when the apartment building is torn down, Jervis said he will pay to relocate the tenants.

But what if the car wash one day decides to shutter and leave, opening the doors for a more intense commercial use on the corner?

Another concern cited by area residents: The completion of the new Southern Boulevard Bridge, connecting to Palm Beach at Mar-a-Lago, is expected to open late this year. It will improve the corridor, possibly inspiring other businesses along the road to consider expanding their operations closer to residential streets.

“The city should not have approved that traffic flow to begin with, and a bad variance is not the way to fix it,’’ south end resident Patsy North wrote on NextDoor.

A line of cars at Minto Eco Car Wash's only entrance stack up onto the only southbound lane on Olive Avenue, blocking traffic.

(Photo courtesy Minto Eco Car Wash)

Mint Eco’s operations simply “are too big for the lot they are on,’’ York said.

“I am glad they are successful and I am glad they need to expand,” he said, “but maybe that means they need to move somewhere else away from a neighborhood.”

The corner has been home to a car wash for years. Rubber Ducky Car Wash operated there before Mint Eco took over.

Many residents said they remember Rubber Ducky originally having two entrances, including one on Southern Boulevard. The Southern Boulevard entrance was not used often, and Rubber Ducky eventually used Olive Avenue as its only entrance

The Southern Boulevard entrance still exists but is roped off. Jervis said the location of the car wash’s cleaning bays on the site makes it impossible for Mint Eco’s current operations to accommodate a Southern Boulevard entrance.

Minto Eco says this entrance off Southern Boulevard cannot be used. (Joe Capozzi)

Jervis also said Rubber Ducky had similar traffic problems. But local residents said those problems were not as bad as the periodic car stacking at Mint Eco, which averages 25 car washes an hour, each ranging in price from $10 to $35, depending on the option.

Regardless of who’s to blame for the current traffic design, Jervis said Mint Eco is trying to fix the problem. And he believes his solution will not harm the character of Malverne Road and other nearby streets.

“We are not the evil empire here,’’ he said. “We are not trying to expand into a residential neighborhood. We’re trying to make a bad situation better.”

Mint Eco isn’t the only south-end business whose demand creates traffic issues.

Every morning during rush hour, cars headed to the Dunkin Donuts drive-thru at 7512 S. Dixie Hwy. queue up along the road’s far right northbound lane. At the southwest corner of Dixie and Belvedere Road, a Starbucks coffee shop has the same traffic-stacking problem as Mint Eco, except for one notable difference: Dixie Highway has two southbound lanes at the intersection, not one.

Still, Jervis said, Mint Eco is the only one of those three businesses trying to fix the problem.

Geoffrey Jervis gestures south toward a property on Malverne Road that his company wants to buy and rezone for use as a new entrance to Mint Eco, which would eliminate the stacking problem on Olive Avenue. (Joe Capozzi)

Mint Eco has a loyal base of customers, many of whom have voiced support for the expansion plan on NextDoor and in the online petition. They appreciate the car wash’s “eco-friendly” business model, which includes branding messages such as “Car washes can be beautiful.’’

But the popular car wash has skeptics, too. Some NextDoor commenters said the improvements Jervis has made to process cars faster have more to do with Mint Eco’s financial bottom line than alleviating the traffic problem.

In March, the company announced it had closed on a $50 million capital infusion to help expand the Mint Eco portfolio into 50 car washes across Palm Beach County by 2030.

If the company really wanted to help reduce traffic backups, some critics say, they could do something as simple as posting a sandwich-board sign on the sidewalk at Olive reading “Do Not Block Entrance.’’

Or, the city could post a “Do Not Block Intersection” sign, like the one on the west side of Olive Avenue’s southbound lanes approaching Southern Boulevard. And other critics blame the city police for not issuing tickets to motorists blocking the lane.

Jervis said it could be at least a year before the new entrance opens, and that’s assuming the city approves the zoning change.

What happens if the rezoning is rejected?

“I don't know what we will do, but we’re putting a lot of eggs in this basket. It's a bad situation that needs to be fixed,’’ said Jervis, who said he lives in the city’s south end.

While he said he respects the opinions of the plan’s critics, he said he hopes everyone recognizes that Mint Eco is trying to be a good neighbor.

“‘Leave’ is not a concern we’re willing to address,’’ he said.

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About the author

Joe Capozzi is an award-winning reporter based in Lake Worth Beach. He spent more than 30 years writing for newspapers, mostly at The Palm Beach Post, where he wrote about the opioid scourge, invasive pythons, the birth of the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches and Palm Beach County government. For 15 years, he covered the Miami Marlins baseball team. Joe left The Post in December 2020.View all posts by Joe Capozzi.


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