New River, Old Story

What's the plan for Fort Lauderdale's last slice of unspoiled river? Develop, develop, develop!

Raising the bridge would not only roll out the carpet for developers, it would ruin a good recreational opportunity, says Tirrell, as Broward County is already short of places to paddle. "If you don't have a place that's safe, [paddling] isn't a good choice."

Besides, he adds, the attraction of the place is its pristine nature. Take that away and you have just another stretch of overdeveloped, overused waterway in a county already crisscrossed by such. "I think the area is probably more valuable now because you don't have the pollutants and noise of powerboats."

Tirrell is of the all-or-nothing school. Others think development and preservation can coexist.

"I'm torn," says Bernie Gartner, who serves as the access and recreation chair for Broward Urban River Trails (BURT), a nonprofit working to restore the New River. "It's a safe area, except for the stone-throwing. At the same time, I can't see saying to people who live up there, 'You are not allowed to use your property.' That's not fair."

Broward Urban River Trails' official position, by the way, is that the bridge should be raised. "We want to see it raised for economic development reasons," says BURT executive director Rob Harrison. "We don't think it is going to destroy the area so much by allowing the people over there to share in the economic profits."

There is a lot of untapped potential on the North Fork. Where else in Fort Lauderdale can you find undeveloped waterfront property? Sure it's in a rough neighborhood, but it wasn't too long ago that downtown was a rough neighborhood too. Now visitors to downtown have to do battle with the yuppies for a parking space.

"It deprives the homeowner of the true and just value of their property," State Rep. Joe Eggelletion says of the lack of river access. Property appraisal records bear him out. Waterfront property values on the south side of Broward Boulevard are three or four times that of waterfront property less than a mile away to the north.

Eggelletion, whose district encompasses the predominantly minority area, says people there have long thought of their houses as lifetime homes. He gently tries to disavow them of the notion, believing that the homes are not only a place to live but also an investment. "From an investment perspective, I would think one would want a higher value to their property," he says. "Unfortunately, minorities have always looked at it as something they buy and stay in all their lives."

Ultimately the market will decide the North Fork's fate. If the city's plans come to fruition, land along the North Fork will become too valuable to ignore any longer; after all, this is Broward County, where the unofficial motto might as well be "Pave every inch."

Boone is for raising the bridge. But more than most he understands what's at stake. "It's one of the most beautiful parts of Fort Lauderdale," he says. "If it weren't for possibly doing damage to my prop, I would be up here all the time. I just love it."

Contact Bob Whitby at his e-mail address: Bob_Whitby@newtimesbpb.com

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