A Revolting Development

Does the Fort Lauderdale beach area want to be a "world-class tourist destination" or a decent place to live?

What the beach debate really comes down to, say the developers, is what "world-class" hotels and image will do for Fort Lauderdale. Will it create economic vibrancy, a stronger, more diverse economic base with world-class jobs, as well as the weather has? And in exchange are Fort Lauderdale residents -- and voters -- wil-ling to put up with traffic jams and building shadows on the beach?

"There is a price to development. There are tradeoffs," Maurer says. "The question is, what does the community want?"

That will be debated Tuesday, November 18, when the city commission decides whether to approve a 26-story hotel complex called "Poinsettia by the Sea Hilton Grand," proposed for the area now occupied by the restaurants Mistral and Evangeline.

Poinsettia by the Sea, in the euphemism of the city's planning and zoning staff, is "very urban in scale": rising 254 feet -- almost as tall as BeachPlace -- but sitting on only one acre instead of three. The city planning and zoning board, after discussion that the building was too big for the site, tied 3-3 on project approval, which meant rejection. The developer, Miniachi Enterprises, is appealing the board's decision at Tuesday's city commissionmeeting.

What has created opposition to the proj-ect is the fear of BeachPlace Reborn -- another mammoth project spewing forth cars and devouring sunlight.

While Poinsettia is big, it is not Beach-Place. The tower is 100 feet narrower; there will be 93 hotel suites and 80 time-share units, compared with BeachPlace's 384 time-shares; and only about 24,000 square feet of retail/restaurant space, compared with 96,000 for BeachPlace.

There are two other significant differences. First, Poinsettia proposes 558 parking spaces, which is actually eight more than the city requires. BeachPlace received a monster-sized break on parking; it was allowed to provide 422 fewer spaces than legally required. The other difference is that Poinsettia will sit back farther from the streets than BeachPlace, have wider sidewalks, and looks, at least in the developer's color sketches, like it was designed by someone who had actually seen a tropical beach.

Ronald Mastriana, the lawyer for Poinsettia's developer, says they are ready to discuss "minor modifications" to satisfy commissioners at Tuesday's meeting. But he also notes that Poinsettia didn't just suddenly spring forth. The property sits in a Planned Resort Development District; it's in keeping with at least eight studies and plans and bond projects going back a decade.

"It's very interesting to think years ago we spent $1 million on a study and $10 million on improvements," Mastriana said, "and the kind of development we wanted on the beach was exactly like this."

And on little Orton Street, Roger Handevidt remembers what the beach was like when those decisions were made. The beach is so much better now.

"Some people are inconvenienced by a little bit of traffic," Handevidt said. "Name a warm-weather resort that doesn't have traffic. Traffic is a sign of life. If you want a dead area go to Fort Myers.

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