By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Keegan Hamilton and Francisco Alvarado
By Jake Rossen
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Chris Joseph
By Michael E. Miller
Plantation Acres, a four-square-mile tract of land west of Gulfstream bordering Flamingo Road, is a microcosm of the first dream. With acre estates and plenty of horses, it stood at the turn of this decade like a monument to the city's first hopes.
Veltri and city officials knew it was unique, this rural outpost, so it was protected forever from big development companies like Gulfstream. The city made it a Special Public Interest District to "protect the amenities of broad open spaces, natural landscape and rural characteristics of the Acres, the only city district in which the predevelopment environment of the land can be discerned and appreciated," according to city codes.
In addition to that law, the main commercial area for the residents was given special zoning status to make sure larger stores didn't move in and clutter the region. The area -- on Sunrise Boulevard just west of Flamingo -- was given a status of B-2L, which was designed, according to city documents, to protect "the integrity of the surrounding neighborhoods and the lifestyle of the area... and provide for the concentration of commercial establishments to meet the convenience needs of nearby residential areas."
But that seems to have been forgotten by Veltri and the city. During the last five years, the area has been invaded by huge retail developments, and Veltri allowed that to happen.
For buyers of computer equipment, Plantation Acres is now the place to go; within a few square miles, the neighborhood has a Best Buy, a Gateway computer center, a CompUSA, and a Circuit City, all geared to service residents, not of Plantation Acres, but of all Broward County. It's also the apparent religious capital of the county with eight churches, bringing with them traffic and plenty of parking lot pavement placed in the heart of the rural neighborhoods.
So much for "convenience needs."
"Do we need four computer megastores there? No way," says long-time Plantation Acres resident and activist Eileen Parente. "I have a telescope, a big telescope, and there's so much light pollution now you can't see the stars anymore. You used to be able to see the stars."
Parente brings up just one of the simple -- and certainly profound -- impacts of huge developments besieging a wannabe rural community. The neighborhood is also contending with noise and a lot of traffic, which makes it impossible for the equestrian residents to ride their horses on many of the roads (an amenity the city also promised to protect).
In addition to the computer stores, there is a massive Pep Boys automotive store, a regional Michael's store, a giant Petsmart, and a Party Supermarket in the special zoning district. All bring in traffic from around the county; none of them is the least bit "rural" in nature. All were fought against by the Plantation Acres Land and Homeowners Association, even as Allsworth -- who represented the business interests of many of the stores -- got the city council and Veltri to go along with their construction. "We tried as hard as we could to keep them out, but the city just kept letting them in," says Nick Perris, vice president of the homeowners association.
Veltri did nothing to stop the stores from moving in, and when he had a chance to veto the Pep Boys store, he didn't do it. He says he wasn't about to fight the developments, because doing so would have led to lawsuits by the developers. "If I could have done it, I wouldn't have had anything but an ice cream parlor out there," Veltri says. "But the law supports the owner of the land. It was zoned commercial."
Statements like that -- when Veltri speaks as if the area were never given special protection -- infuriate some Plantation Acres residents. Veltri seems truly not to know that his own ordinances state flat out that the Acres should have been protected from big, regional developments.
"It was a special district in only one concept is my understanding, and that is that it allowed animals out there," Veltri says. "That didn't have anything to do with businesses. You can't swing the law."
"Fred Peters, I believe in my heart, if he were alive today, would come in and beat the fuck out of Frank and everyone else who ruined his city," says Councilman Hillier.
While that contention may be doubtful (at least in the literal sense), Hillier says he's certain of it. He won his council seat with votes from both Plantation Acres, where he lives, and the east, where State Road 7 has been deteriorating for some two decades. Plantation has made numerous plans over the years to revitalize the area, but under Veltri's rule little has been done. Veltri says that is because business owners wouldn't put up their share.
"I kept thinking the city was going to do something," says Charles Cannon, a community activist who lives and works on the east side of Plantation. "There were always new plans and ideas. It never did. Veltri and his developer friends were always more interested in doing things for the west."