Something to be remembered when you drive along East Las Olas Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale, past the now defunct Hyde Park Market and the neighboring Stranahan House, a nationally registered historic site: There are two kinds of moneymakers.
There is the "A" kind -- the moneymaker for whom "legal" is the only fence surrounding the pasture. Then there is the "B" kind -- the moneymaker who at least occasionally honors ethical boundaries.
The Related Group, which owns the Hyde Park Market site, appears to fall under category A. The developer bought the site with the intent of putting a 38-story high-rise condo and commercial-shop spectacle on the New River. But voters decided in March to let the City of Fort Lauderdale borrow $8 million to buy the historic site for a park.
Related wants more than that out of the taxpayers, and the machinations appeared under way at a July 17 special meeting of the city's Historical Review Commission. No reporter attended, and no coverage ensued; the meeting was held outside the usual schedule.
At the core of the matter is what the property is worth. The 1.5-acre site was appraised in 1999 at $2.1 million. Voters apparently believe it's worth $8 million to make it green space. Estimates of its potential value for development have ranged from $13 million to $20 million. Related's developer Jorge Perez, in classic "A"-style appetite, claims the property could be worth as much as $36 million.
An eminent domain fight is slogging through the courts, and besides the unwieldy lawyers' fee for that dispute, millions more could be required from private donors or yet-to-be-defined sources to satisfy the Related Group.
In the meantime Related claims to be going ahead with the plans to develop the site. Hence the July 17 meeting, at which Related's song-and-dance folks, including an architectural historian from Washington, D.C., performed some blueprint grandstanding to show what their project could look like. That is,what it could be worth if those nasty voters hadn't said they prefer green space.
Some of our sources say the Related show wasn't aimed at the Historical Review Commission, a body designated to give city commissioners advice on a course of action, so much as it was aimed at the property appraiser already hired by the city to put an actual value on the site.
Once an appraiser determines value, the courts will have a baseline notion of how much the city must pay if commissioners take the property through eminent domain. Ultimately a jury could make the call.
If the city gives up its eminent domain fight and Related Group really begins to build, city commissioners could try to restrict Related's architectural plans. But they probably won't for fear they will reap what they sowed during the boom years, when they allowed other developers in Fort Lauderdale to bypass codes and build high. If the city tries to control the size and shape of Related's plans, the company could hit citizens with a lawsuit demanding equal treatment.
Although the Stranahan House folks say they were caught off guard by the unexpected July 17 meeting -- their hired experts were on vacation -- Janus Research, a St. Petersburg-based company hired by city commissioners, showed up.
Janus brought a brand new study of Related's proposed development, with the same conclusion voters apparently drew on their own in March -- that the development would hurt the historic nature of the area.
"The construction of the 38-level high-rise will have several adverse effects on the historic two-story Stranahan House's setting, feeling, and overall aesthetics. The height is inappropriate and is an adverse effect. The extended shade is an adverse effect," the consultant reported.
Janus researchers also noted that the Related plan fails to take into account a variety of state, county, and city laws that affect historic places (and could therefore affect the assessment).
So what did the Historical Review Commission do on July 17? The right thing, which in this rare case was nothing. The commission "continued" the meeting to August 14, when Stranahan House architects will show up and add information to the Janus report. And perhaps this public meeting will be a little more public.
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