The Battle is Joined

by Bernard McCormick Tuesday, April 20, 2010 8 Comment(s)

Tomorrow night, April 21, one of the most interesting and potentially far-reaching zoning battles in Fort Lauderdale history will commence at the Planning and Zoning Board. The First Presbyterian Church is asking for a Planned Unit Development designation (PUD) for its expansion along east Las Olas Boulevard and a nearby section of the historic Colee Hammock neighborhood. We have called it the Civil War on Las Olas. To date, it has indeed been civil, for people on the two sides know and for the most part respect each other.

Yet in another sense it is a civil war, for the Colee Hammock residents see the church’s plan as a threat to their way of life, and potentially to all the neighborhoods surrounding Fort Lauderdale’s downtown. And most people have no idea what it is about. In fact, they don’t even know what a PUD is. Why should they? It is a planning vehicle that pretty much gives a developer the freedom to ignore existing zoning. It was designed for combinations of residential, open space, recreation and business – sort of like putting together a new self-contained community. But developers recently have seen it as a way to avoid existing zoning altogether. If it is granted in this case, it alters the game, setting a precedent that could affect neighborhoods such as the Las Olas Isles, Rio Vista, Victoria Park – all of which adjoin Colee Hammock.

And most of the people living in those sections haven’t a clue. Considering its possible impact, this fight has received little press. Dan Christensen’s blog, Broward Bulldog, was picked up two weeks ago in a heavily edited way by the Sun Sentinel, but that’s about it. No Miami Herald coverage, no community newspaper coverage and aside from Christensen’s work, not even the blogs. That seems odd, for Bob Norman at New Times savors stories of power struggles, especially with such strong political undercurrents. And there are heavyweights on each side of this one.

Of course, this column counts as a blog, and is written by someone admitting a conflict of interest. It is my neighborhood being threatened. But my conflict of interest is no different from anybody else involved in this, including the church and its builder. Their conflict is with anybody opposing their interest.

The neighbors see the church as conflicted in a moral sense, between its duty to be a good neighbor and its apparent desire to basically become a business – owning retail shops and a parking garage, possibly expanding to a school, taking residential land off the tax rolls and on and on. They see the economics this way: their property values and quality of life versus a church wanting to grow in a big way. All this will be expressed tomorrow.

Mostly the citizens of Colee Hammock, who bought there because of its charm (it’s like a village on the edge of a city), are appalled at the sheer size of this proposal. It is two large buildings, one with a five-story parking garage, which will dramatically alter their neighborhood in terms of traffic, views of homeowners, overall ambience, every which way. One resident, who will be heard from at the hearing, went to some trouble to illustrate the size of this project. She went on a survey trip and found that in square feet – and that means height as well as linear dimensions – it is larger than the downtown Home Depot and bigger than the north Federal Highway Office Depot and Toys "R" Us combined. The developer will likely point to other tall buildings, but those are almost all in the business district blocks down Las Olas. The busy shopping area, shown above, consists of mostly one-story structures, although some have offices above.

The neighbors think if other neighborhoods understood what this could mean in rewriting our zoning rules, permitting similar intrusions in residential sections, public opinion would be irresistibly on their side. It seems to be already. Broward Bulldog, which did not get many comments until the Sun Sentinel piece, exploded to about six times its normal volume of response. Of the 33 responses to date, 31 are against the PUD. Obviously there are interesting dynamics at work in such contests. Those on defense tend to be the loudest. But this does not appear to be even close. It is the opinion of the Colee Hammock homeowners that the church’s leadership may be fired up, but the overall membership is lukewarm at best, not caring that much one way or the other. But the homeowners sure care. Listen up.



This Comment had been Posted by mmccormick


Amen, Bernie, NO PUD in COLEE HAMMOCK! thanks for ...

This Comment had been Posted by mmccormick

Amen, Bernie, NO PUD in COLEE HAMMOCK!
thanks for a brilliantly written explanation of the threatening issues by the proposed rezoning to us in Colee Hammock but also surrounding neighborhoods.

The city has bowed to to developers before in the ...

This Comment had been Posted by mmccormick

The city has bowed to to developers before in the same neighborhood. The two hospitals in Colee Hammock are 4-5 stories. As is the NEW Townhomes built on Tarpon Drive. What about the absurdity of The Riverside Hotel and the Riverhouse. Where's the park? I lived in Colee Hammock. I adore the place. The Church brings communities together. This is ripping them apart. The First Pres. congregation does a lot of good. Missions to Haiti, Habitat for Humanity, Food Bank...They accept EVERYONE! They also bring eager business to the shops of Collee Hammock and Las Olas. I don't see the down side!

I think the Church has a right to grow and develop...

This Comment had been Posted by mmccormick

I think the Church has a right to grow and develop this land. The residents of Colee Hammock should be involved in molding there Church. Nothing remains the same, for years the same people fighting this have torn down buildings to build whatever they wanted, Town Homes, Multi Use, Mega Mansions, NO PROBLEM. Now when a church
wants to better it self the same way, you want to fight it. I do not live in this neighborhood, I do not go to this church, but as a resident of Fort Lauderdale that has seen the changes in Colee Hammock, i think you should look in the mirror before passing judgment on your Church. Go to the meeting and work together the solution will develop before your eyes. Trust God

Interesting comment, Anon. But not quite accurate....

This Comment had been Posted by mmccormick

Interesting comment, Anon. But not quite accurate. Colee Hammock most recently fought off a big building at 15th and Las Olas. Over the years there have been many battles, including one against this church. But they all have the same basis – preserving a very unusual neighborhood. The neighborhood raised hell when Southern Bell and FPL came through and butchered the old oaks. New trees were replanted to make up for this violation. The compensation wasn’t enough, but it showed the neighborhood cared.

If other neighborhoods cared as much, Fort Lauderdale would not be in the shape it is – shopping centers never needed are now filled with empty stores – even on the east side of town. They were only built because fast buck developers used campaign contributions (some will call those bribes) to influence the decision makers.

You are correct in that there have been changes. Old houses, often eyesores, have been replaced by larger, modern homes. Neighbors have complained of “land usury” – over building on lots. However, in all cases those new homes conformed to the zoning. And even some of the townhouses (which are mostly in Victoria Park, rather than Colee Hammock) are more valuable than the older homes they replaced. In most cases they enhanced the value of neighboring dwellings.

This PUD does the opposite. It enhances no property except its own. Those beautiful homes near the proposed change will probably lose value. The changes you mentioned did little to affect quality of life. A few more cars. This is totally different – a real game changer in every way. I predict if this PUD is permitted, and the buildings go up, people all over this town will be screaming, “how did this happen?”

I would bet if the church didn't own the prope...

This Comment had been Posted by mmccormick

I would bet if the church didn't own the property in question, there would be more large town homes right across the street from the existing ones on Tarpon Drive. Also, don't forget there is another church across from First Presbyterian. That property is partially waterfront, and it too would probably be large town homes. So how do the churchs affect the neighborhood? The facts are, if the churchs weren't there, the neighborhood would already have large town homes or McMansions. I think the neighborhood doesn't want anything built on the Las Olas Tarpon Drive lot. Currently the zoning would allow a parking garage on this parcel. I don't think the neighborhood would agree to anything. They wanted the alley to stay, it will, almost all of their proposals and suggestions were incorporated into the submitted plan. Again, it looks like a NIMBY situation and one in which the neighborhood wants NO BUILDING period.

Colee Hammock has seen much development in the las...

This Comment had been Posted by mmccormick

Colee Hammock has seen much development in the last 10 years. There was no opposition from the neighbors because these projects met zoning requirements. This one is not close. A PUD destroys zoning. The neighbors would welcome residential housing, even McMansions. A few elegant homes would enhance the neighborhood. This school, disguized as a family center, is a game changer. It is destructive of a great community.

It is sad that the dedicated members don't see...

This Comment had been Posted by mmccormick

It is sad that the dedicated members don't see what the elders/leaders are truly planning. The school and parking garage is so inapproprite for this tiny section of Colee Hammock. Also the people who are behind this horrible project could care less, win at any cost seems to be their "Motto". The selfish greed is astonishing! Their goals don't fit, figurativly, and I think their efforts would be better spent buying 25-30 acres where they can build their school & gym along with surface parking, valet for the old folks etc etc. Does anyone know what they did with the old people who lived in the structure they owned on Las Olas Blvd? They shipped them out and tore it down several years ago. I guess if they did not care about their own people why would we foolishly think they would care about us their neighbors! Do they even think about what this will do to our home values or quality of life? Their own memebers who live here in Colee Hammock are against the project and are now being treated like out casts!Do they behave like a church or big business? Whoops I forgot they are big BUSINESS..Thank God I am an Episcopalian!!!!

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