Where state and local government collide
It is one of the prettiest streets in one of the nicest neighborhoods in old Fort Lauderdale. It is just a block off Las Olas Boulevard, a neighborhood characterized by oaks that were there when the place was used by the Native Americans for R&R, long before Col. William Lauderdale was sent down to tame them. It is called Colee Hammock.
And there’s trouble right here in Colee Hammock, which, because of its location on what was the eastern edge of the city, is now caught between the development on the Las Olas Isles and the beach and everything else downtown and far to the west. Traffic is a constant headache, and periodically the neighborhood has to rally its forces to fight off developers who like the community so much they want to desecrate it with tall buildings.
But this trouble is different. Second Court, the first street north of Las Olas, has maintained the old character of the Hammock. Unlike some neighboring streets, the vernacular architecture of the 1920s and ’30s has largely survived. None of the small, charming one-story houses on the street has been knocked down to allow much bigger homes. There is a particularly appealing yellow house at 1620 – shaded by two enormous oaks, probably the senior members of that species in the neighborhood.
The problem is that this house (unlike almost all others in Colee Hammock) is not owned by a full-time resident. The owners use it upon occasion, but mostly they use it as a vacation rental, for a few days at a time. The renters, being on vacation, like to party and some of the parties are pretty wild.
Miami Herald columnist Fred Grimm, who happens to live on the street, described the scene in the Sunday paper:
“...the house down the street became a weekend rental catering to raucous bachelor parties and the like, with late-night hell-raising and a fleet of cars parked down the block.”
Unfortunately, Grimm’s column, which is excellent, is not widely seen in Fort Lauderdale as the Herald’s circulation in this market has declined severely. However, it is unprecedented for him to take a stand on an issue affecting him personally. He has stood apart from some pretty good neighborhood fights in the past, obviously on ethical grounds. In this case, however, he covered a much broader issue – that of the state government increasingly handcuffing local governments on an array of issues.
It seems absurd, as one neighbor put it, “to allow a motel, which this clearly is, in a single-family residential neighborhood. They bring in five to eight people at a time, and then others come for parties. The people across the street are absolutely going bananas.”
It would seem that calling code enforcement could easily solve this situation. Not so. As Grimm explained, a state law includes a preemption clause, which states: “A local law, ordinance or regulation may not prohibit vacation rentals or regulate the duration or frequency of rental of vacation rentals.”
The courts have upheld the law, so all the cops can do is issue parking tickets and maybe cite a drunk raising hell at three in the morning for disorderly conduct. It is just one example of a tendency of the conservative state Legislature, which resents federal government interfering with state matters, to have an increasing urge to control local communities in matters as important as this. A city can’t pass a gun control ordinance because the state won’t permit it. The same thinking, as Grimm points out, applies to many quality of life situations faced by urban communities, including control of pit bulls, or smoking in public places.
The rednecks who rarely have to deal with such problems in their own towns think they know what’s best for much busier South Florida, especially when they are routinely bribed (call it campaign contributions) by special interests bent on preserving their right to pollute waterways and destroy peaceful residential neighborhoods.
The arrogance of the state Legislature, which takes its clue from what many consider the worst governor in Florida history, has some South Florida communities talking about seceding from the state. Now that’s a wild idea, but it seems less wild when one sees wild parties disturbing the peace of a historic neighborhood.
After all, secession has a precedent.