The Civil War on Las Olas

by Bernard McCormick Wednesday, April 07, 2010 8 Comment(s)

Unlike elected officials, it is legal for me to admit conflict of interest. I do so now. My conflict is that I live in one of the greatest neighborhoods in Florida and want to keep it that way. It is Colee Hammock, that shaded high ridge where the former marsh (now known as the Las Olas Isles) gives way to firm ground, where once the Indians had their rest and recreation, where more than 100 years ago Mary Brickell valued the section so much that she forced the powerful Henry Flagler to divert his FEC railroad to the west. She maintained that one day it would be a lovely residential neighborhood. She was right.


Now we are engaged in a great civil war, between the First Presbyterian Church and almost everybody who lives in Colee Hammock. At a recent homeowners meeting, the vote was 100 percent against the church’s efforts to get a Planned Unit Development (PUD) designation for land it owns along Las Olas Boulevard and extending two blocks south toward the New River.


In a larger sense, it is not a fight between neighbors and the church. The church members and the neighbors have been friends for years, have done business, like each other. Many of our children attended Happyland, the church’s pre-school. Friendships made among small children endure generations later. This is why this is one of the most arresting zoning contests the city has seen. This is no outside developer trying to use the charm of the neighborhood to make money with a building hugely out of scale, and character, with that part of Las Olas. This is a church in place for decades, with numerous influential members.


Dan Christensen, in his Broward Bulldog blog, threw out some of the names involved on both sides. You can start with Huizenga. And Stiles Construction, which would build the complex. Everybody likes Terry Stiles, the class act of local builders, and in this economy the firm needs some work. The notice above is posted on the open land on Las Olas that most people take for granted. Some, not noticing the First Presbyterian sign, even think it is a public park.


The church says it only seeks to expand its ministry. The neighbors say it is a huge intrusion, which will not only draw traffic to an already congested section, and destroy property values of some very expensive homes nearby, but most importantly will set a precedent for every property owner near it to clamor for the same treatment. That is the way it works, and you can bet at the April 21 planning and zoning board meeting that those property owners along three blocks will be vocal in supporting the church, not because it is a good idea for Colee Hammock, but because it is good for numero uno. It happens every spring.


The debate, if you can call it that, is over two buildings, one five stories, the other smaller, on two large pieces of land the church owns. The piece fronting Las Olas would have retail, which the neighbors would accept, and a five-story parking garage, which they abhor. Current zoning will not permit it. A PUD throws out all the rules. With a PUD you can build damn near anything. A block to the south, the second structure, which the church describes as a family center, includes six classrooms, a gym and a kitchen. Or do they mean cafeteria? The plans, which go back some years, have always been vague, to the annoyance of the neighbors.


To this untrained eye, this proposal sounds suspiciously like a school, or something that could easily turn into one. Can you imagine Las Olas, near the famous Floridian, with 15 mph yellow blinkers, with cops and their radar guns lurking down the boulevard (if they can find a place to park) and impatient drivers cutting over to Broward Boulevard, along cross streets where residents already complain about speeding cut-through traffic, only to face the same thing on Broward as parents arrive with students for Virginia Shuman Young and Saint Anthony schools.


If it is not a school, what is it? Obviously the church would not build “a family center” of such size if it did not intend to use it for something, and use it a lot. Either way, it is a game changer, and a historic neighborhood should not be a game.


Spies – and there are many of both sides – report that the church is divided on the entire plan. The leadership wants it; many of the congregation, some of whom are Colee Hammock residents, do not. They worry about the cost, estimated at $25 million, and some even think of the impact on a neighborhood filled with friends. One summed up what appears to be the game. “This is an ego trip,” the source said. “It’s the leadership. They just want to win.”


Bernie, beautifully written. I couldn't agree...

This Comment had been Posted by mmccormick

Bernie, beautifully written. I couldn't agree more.
I would add that 'those who want to win' are NOT Colee Hammock residents. They live along the isles, the canals of beautiful Fort Lauderdale. The rest of the Church membership comes from varying areas of Broward Conty. First Presbyterian was built as a Neighborhood Chruch, not to bring everyone from everywhere into the neighborhood.
The members from outside Colee Hammock go home to the sanctity of their homes, the quiet pedestrian streets, the lack of Big Business development within their neighborhoods. If instead, they lived in this unique, oak canopied, historic downtown residential neighborhood and had their quality of life and real estate valued adversely affected, I think we would find them as a stong component of the Colee Hammock HomeOwners Association - Vote NO for First Presyterian's Proposed REZONING to a PUD!
What isn't being discussed is that they can develop the land within current zoning - it won't allow the mass - planned are 2 buildings - each almost the lenth of a football field. But, they've never been receptive to working within the current zoning. Isn't that what good neighbors do?

This project has become BIG BUSINESS. In this process, residentially zoned land owned by First Presbyterian has seen those homes dismantled over the years by First Presbyterian. Now that the land is without homes at their choosing, they wanting REZONIG to FOREVER change from residential to a PUD. A PUD allows the developer to create it's own zoning, uses, setbacks, landscape & heigth limits. Neighbors have NO SAY! The included property no longer has to meet Residential setbacks, height limits,etc. or other city zoning.
Additionally, what is not mentioned is that First Presbyterian has selected not to include in the PUD 4 prime lots, residentially zoned, at the NE intersection of SE 15th Avenue and SE 4th Stret. Why? they won't say. It's zoned residential and they're not sure what they want to do with the property. That's the concer - what is next for the Neighborhood? Does the fact the this property sits behind commercial property affect their decision? the fact that this property abuts a long term care hospital? What ideas does the reader have?
Once, IF this PUD rezoning is passed, EVERY neighborhood in the City of Fort Lauderdale is in jeopardy. And, the biggest loosers are the citizens and future generations of Fort Laduerdale residents.
Why destroy the oldest residential oak canopied neighborhood in the City? Where is our pride in preserving that which 'says what is Fort Lauderdal . . what we are, how we have developed. As Bernie relates, Mary Brickel plotted Colee Hammock to be individually owned, large lot homes of individual architecture.
Large businesses are not part of her original plan. If the activities of the Church means they have outgrown their facilities, then perhaps it is time for them to seek land for those activities in areas that promote such activity,growth and expansion into a MegaChurch. Coral Ridge Presyterian Church & Westminister School has moved their sports fields west. Calvary Chapel bought a large plot that has provided for growth and ongoing expansion of their Church & School.
We neighbors in Colee Hammock are gravely concerned as to the Long Range Plans that are being applied to OUR neighborhood. We ask that you join us in preserving the oldest Fort Lauderdale residential neighborhood, circa 1916, and therfore, perhaps your own neighborhhod. With this applicaiton of a PUD in place, all neighborhoods are THREATENED - a PRECEDENT will be SET.

Plese, encourage the Decision Makers - the P&Z Board, the Mayor and City Commissioners to vote NO to First Presbyterian Church REZONING to a PUD.

Living for many years in a Historic Neighborhood a...

This Comment had been Posted by mmccormick

Living for many years in a Historic Neighborhood and as acting President for about six of those years. The long term concern is NOT the churches agenda. The concern is many years down the road, when the church (or pieces of the chuches property) is potentially sold for some other purpose; the land has then been rezoned for whatever comes next. Therefore, if the neighborhood wants the property to remain residential, then vote no and keep it that way. Like I said once the zoning is changed, it's changed for whatever organization aquires it in the years to come.

Excellent point.

This Comment had been Posted by mmccormick

Excellent point.

What is that store over on Broward and 8th, across...

This Comment had been Posted by mmccormick

What is that store over on Broward and 8th, across from the former Washington Mutual Bank that has changed the Zoning to serve alcohol within 500 feet of a school? Why Does Valerie Lyons get to challenge the long standing law of keeping alcohol away from children. Why don't we just put a bar inside the school and destroy the minds of the children immediately it would take much less time.

The Bottom line is that what ever law there is to protect the people of Fort Lauderdale from selfish unscrupulous developers won't protect anybody if the residents do not stand for their rights. Furthermore, when the First Presbyterian Church (Las Olas) razed the Old Folks Retirement home back several years ago that was on Las Olas Blvd, that was a violation of the law too. That was an illegal destruction of a building without full disclosure of their plans in the first place. So in conclusion: The First Presbyterian Church off of Las Olas has planned this building since the destruction of the building that stood there housing older Americans. This town is run by a criminal Cabal doing what ever they want to however they choose.

Does this site not accept the Facts? Is this site ...

This Comment had been Posted by mmccormick

Does this site not accept the Facts? Is this site a communist run operation? Is not having a Communist Mark Lloyd in the High office enough of a warning to Americans that free speech is under attack? What say you Mr. Bernie McCormick?

We only reject comments that violate the accepted ...

This Comment had been Posted by mmccormick

We only reject comments that violate the accepted rules of journalism,such as unwarranted character attacks,obscenity,etc. We like Buddy Nevins' Broward Beat standard. He is quick to correct inaccurate comments, if he posts them in the first place.

Sometimes we are slow posting, especially on weekends. But that will improve.

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

So Mr... A covered foot ball field is acceptable f...

This Comment had been Posted by mmccormick

So Mr... A covered foot ball field is acceptable for a community of 51 homes? LOL There is serious need for a 66 foot high covered football field size building complex to house and help and serve 51 homes. What planet are you living on.

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