Build Me an Island

Once More With Brass

In South Florida, it's hard to keep up with all the astoundingly cockamamie development schemes that come down the pipe. Like, how do you compete with a plan floated a few years ago to build two Eiffel Tower replicas on the beach in Pompano Beach? And there was that International Swimming Hall of Fame scheme (also in Pompano), which proposed to take over city beachfront park for a new aquatic center and, oh yeah, a couple of skyscraper condo towers.

But it's hard to match the sheer brass of a plan by some land-owning Fort Lauderdalians to build an island in the middle of what's known as Sunrise Bay, a tidy little scoop of water adjoining the Intracoastal Waterway in Coral Ridge. The Army Corps of Engineers has invited public comment on the plan, and now it's trying to determine whether a new island would have any negative impacts.

Negative impacts? How about it'll change life as 65 or so families and condo owners living on the bay's edges know it?

The Sunrise Bay development plan has been floating around in the minds of real estate investors for 60 years. In 1947, a group of five wealthy Fort Lauderdale residents daringly bought up some marshy properties north of Sunrise Boulevard. Longtime resident John Custer says his father was offered a piece of the action at $300 an acre from the Florida Development Trust.

"My dad said, 'You're crazy. Fort Lauderdale will never go north of 10th Street [now Sunrise Boulevard]." Three years later, he adds, the original investors were multimillionaires.

What they did, among other things, was fill in and develop Seminole Drive, a finger of upscale real estate that curves north from Sunrise to the Intracoastal, with a 17-acre expanse of open water nudging its eastern edge. The little bay has for years been a boon to boaters, who ply it with kayaks and windsurfers and use it to teach kids sailing skills. It has also served as a habitat for shrimp, blue crab, snapper, pompano, tarpon, and others, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Some of the original investors' property was deeded for waterway, but their descendants held on to the bay, continuing to pay about $400 a year to the city in property taxes.

David McKee is the grandson of one of the original investors, the late Dr. Thomas McKee, a dentist. David McKee is now pressing for permission to build an eight-acre island in the bay, with enough room for 14 single-family homes. He says the parcel is owned by four separate trusts, though about three-quarters is owned by his family.

There are plenty of precedents for reclaiming land in the shallows of eastern Broward County, he says. In fact, most of Fort Lauderdale's east side was developed in that way. His own plan, he says, is a relatively modest one.

"There are 17 acres out there, most of it underwater, that we've been paying taxes on forever," he says. "It's a decent-sized project [we're talking about], not a huge one."

Based on zoning codes, the owners could theoretically build 70 individual units on the bay, McKee says, but they propose only 14. They want to bring in 160,000 cubic yards of "clean" landfill to create their island, connected via a bridge to Seminole Drive through a vacant lot near 12th Street.

"It was always a mystery as to why that vacant lot stayed vacant," says City Commissioner Christine Teel, who has lived in the neighborhood for 35 years. "Now we know."

For a project that has received little public notice, it has already generated a storm of outrage, with the City Commission, County Commissioner Ken Keechl (who represents the area), and the Coral Ridge Association, as well as numerous individuals who have gotten wind of the plan, coming down hard on it in comments to the Army Engineers. The NOAA has warned that building a platform for 14 seven-digit homes could endanger sea grasses on which manatees and various endangered fish feed; others mention threats to mangroves along the shores of Birch State Park, east of the bay.

Not a very promising beginning, eh? But in the South Florida steroidal real estate environment, nobody's taking anything for granted.

Custer acknowledges that much of Fort Lauderdale's land is reclaimed from wetlands. "But those days are over with," he says. Asked if the city could afford to lose Sunrise Bay, along which residents in $4 million homes ponder the sunrise and passing yachts, Custer, a member of the Coral Ridge Association's board, burst into laughter.

"You're very funny," he told Tailpipe. "It would be missed."

What's the World Coming To?

So flu season is looming. Time to man up and go for the injection, heavy breathers.

Now, would it help to have a naughty nurse in tight whites that barely cover her butt cheeks, pulling your breeches down with one hand, waving a hypodermic with the other?

You're a really sick man.

In truth, naughty nurses aren't part of the deal that the folks at Rachel's Adult Entertainment and Steakhouse in West Palm Beach described for Tailpipe. The upscale strip club on 45th Street will have a nurse on site prepared to administer a flu vaccination shot to any adult who wants one. The woman in the nurse's uniform, probably with shatterproof spectacles and a Brunhilda grin, will be an actual registered nurse. For the squeamish, the inoculation station will be just inside the front door, in the entryway area just outside the actual club.

And, by the way, sicko: The vaccine goes into the upper arm, not the butt cheek.

The antiflu campaign originated at Rachel's Orlando location a year ago, where the owner decided that he simply could not stand a coughing, contagious clientele. The West Palm Beach Rachel's followed suit, designating a flu shot day of its own. Last year, the shots cost $25 (free for senior citizens), and in a few hours of steamy injection action, the club administered upward of 75 shots, according to George Smith, general manager of the West Palm Beach Rachel's. This year, the shots will be free for all adults.

"We had a big group last year," Smith says, "and we expect it to be even bigger this year."

Smith says he hasn't set a date for the shots yet, but he knows it will be during lunch, general public welcome.

"We get some people off the street who just need a shot," Smith says. "And in this area, we get a lot of older people who aren't really into the girls."

Why give out free flu shots when recipients won't even seize the opportunity to see the tantalizing striptease sirens calling for cash within? Simple, Smith says. "We just want to give back to this community." Say what? You mean T&A isn't enough?

God Bless Un-America

Earl Stewart is misunderstood. Maybe it's because he's speaking Spanish on English-language television commercials for his North Palm Beach Toyota dealership. Maybe it's because Stewart doesn't speak Spanish but reads off cue cards. "I took two years of Spanish in high school and two more years in college," he says, "and I really don't remember a bit of it."

In commercials that air on local network affiliates, Stewart stands in front of the camera and, in rough Spanish with English subtitles, says: "I want to let you know I recognize the importance of Hispanic influence on our culture." He says that several members of his sales and maintenance team speak Spanish and that he hopes the Hispanic community comes to him for its Toyota needs.

"Most Latinos in South Florida are bilingual," he says of the ads. "I speak Spanish because it gets attention. My job in advertising is to cut through the clutter."

Who would have guessed his language experiment would provoke waves of outrage? Stewart says that since the first time the commercial aired in September, the letters, e-mails, and phone calls haven't stopped. They began by calling Stewart "un-American." Then came claims that Stewart is undermining the culture, helping people to avoid learning English.

Then there was the lowest common denominator appeal: "We don't need any more of them Mexicans or Hawaiians in our country" (an exact quote).

"I get the idea people watch a lot of old Westerns," Stewart says. "They think this is the Alamo or something."

Stewart says the English subtitles — "the red flag waving in front of the bull" — was to aid monolinguals like him. "I was trying to be a nice guy," he says.

This is all incomprehensible to Stewart. "I'm a businessman," he says. "I'm not trying to make a political statement."

And a fantastic businessman he is. He sold 375 new Toyotas in September, his highest in more than 30 years. And October is shaping up the same way, so he has no plans to pull the ads anytime soon. Stewart, who was a physics major at the University of Florida, prides himself on being logical rather than emotional.

"Look, you're upset you saw my commercial," he says to the potentially irate. "Next time, change the channel or mute the TV, or even better, go to the kitchen and get a drink of cold water."

Last Model Snoring

When E! television announced that it was filming The Last Model Standing at the Seminole Hardrock Hotel & Casino last week night, the 'Pipe was so there!

Big mistake.

Turns out, getting stabbed is more fun than watching people, no matter how pretty, stand around indefinitely with their hands on something. The competition was to see how long a bunch of beauty queens could stand on a stage, touching a blown-up, cardboard magazine cover - which is somewhat less exciting than challenging your neighbor to a grass-growing contest.

The 'Pipe arrived early, of course, to check out the models. E!'s button-cute P.R. woman, Ilene Lieber, whisked the 'Pipe around but allowed just a minute or two in room 441, where the models were primping. Tailpipe learned that Johanna, a slinky, 23-year-model who lives in Miami but is originally from the Dominican Republic, was planning to stay focused. That was her strategy. Easier said than done.

In fact, none of the girls was prepared. Not nutritionally. Not aerobically. Not mentally. They got scouted in various locations in Miami, signed some papers, and here they were, wearing what looked like 1980s prom dresses with enough sparkles to blind a rusty auto part. They were all svelte, young amateurs, trying to catch a break in a cutthroat industry. How hard could it be to keep a hand on a blown-up, cardboard magazine cover for a few days?

The models strutted down the runway to pop music, each simulating "the look." They whipped hair back and forth. They swung Q-tip-thin arms. They tilted sideways and pouted. Finally, they were wrangled onto the stage and circled around the giant Marie Claire cover, featuring Nicole Kidman. But then, another hour of filming, as the style director of Marie Claire gave a little pep talk over and over for the cameras. The crowd dwindled.

The 'Pipe's feet were hurting, and the beginning — the actual competition — was nowhere in sight. So he did what every good reporter eventually does when there's no story. He went home.

Well, the touch-off lasted 30 hours, until 3:30 a.m. last Thursday. On the phone, Lieber said the would-be Last Models Standing were tempted and taunted and threatened with live snakes until all but one fell off. Lieber wouldn't say who won.

Thanks, E!. Next time, don't call.

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