Almost Perfect | Feature | South Florida | Broward Palm Beach New Times | The Leading Independent News Source in Broward-Palm Beach, Florida


Almost Perfect

Page 4 of 6

It was all too much for Bernard Benson. Visibly frustrated, he stood up quickly, knocking over a couple of metal folding chairs, which clanged loudly to the floor. "I didn't come to Perfection to live in some gated community," he said angrily. "That's not what this is about. We're supposed to be a town," he continued, pleading with the crowd, "and towns don't put up a fence and keep other people out."

Benson's impassioned statement didn't make a dent in residents' collective fear. They clamored to point out the need to maintain property values, and besides, shouldn't each homeowner's investment entitle him or her to some guarantee of privacy? After listening impatiently for a few minutes, Benson skulked out of the room.

Farnsworth, on the other hand, was just getting started. That fateful evening she persuaded CACS to nix all mixed-use buildings, despite the fact that a Towne Centre was part of the original master plan, "Perfection Vision 2010." Though Perfection was originally designed to include a 125,000-square-foot general store with valet parking, Farnsworth feared the store would cause too much noise and draw outsiders, tourists, and "undesirables" to the area.

Ever faithful to New Urbanist ideals, Benson alerted Antonio to the opposition. Antonio snapped open his cell phone and tried to dissuade the dissidents. Once again, with patience, he explained that mixed-use buildings were vital to diversity, a key goal of the New Urban community.

Farnsworth just snickered. With her as instigator, CACS and its sympathizers launched a covert "monkey-wrenching" scheme to discourage Towne Centre shoppers. They picketed. They held sit-ins. Yet when a few store windows were shattered by bricks, CACS members insisted they had nothing to do with it.

All the while Farnsworth's rhetoric grew increasingly militant: "We will take back our neighborhood," she promised, arching an artfully penciled eyebrow, "by any means necessary."

Among these means was a team of gatekeepers called the New Neighborhood Watch, a radical arm of CACS. The group hired people to pose as construction workers, Florida Power & Light employees, and landscapers. These fake laborers, many of them aspiring actors from a nearby university drama department, were posted all over Perfection, poised to ask "questionable-looking" passersby for the day's password. It was real-estate profiling. If someone failed the test, on-call militiamen would move in to expel the individual, forcibly if need be, from the premises.

To fortify this strategy, the renegade neighborhood watch blocked grid streets to create those familiar, beloved cul-de-sacs. Without through traffic, passersby could also be more easily monitored by the tiny surveillance cameras installed in mailboxes.

The tactics were effective. Much to Antonio's dismay, even a few real Perfection residents were temporarily barred from the development. These incidents quickly convinced the few who had previously failed to cooperate with CACS to change their ways. Or else.

Antonio wanted to fight back, but he was trapped. Because no one wanted to diminish the houses' market value, Perfection's problems remained unknown to outsiders. Fearing increased security would draw negative publicity, he instead hired private investigators.

The battle over Perfection escalated. With two private armies pitted against each other, Mayor Grunwald cut ties to the area. Venus Springs' police had nominal jurisdiction over Perfection, but the cops, who wanted no part of this suburban guerrilla war, simply stopped responding to calls from the development. The message to residents was clear: You're on your own.

Outside Perfection, national media hype had nonetheless made proximity to the celebrated development a selling point for other builders. The first look-alike project, Reflection, upped the aesthetic ante by filling natural wetlands to make room for idyllic Japanese-style water gardens replete with lily pads and real, albeit nonnative, goldfish. In order to promote chi, or positive energy, throughout the neighborhood, shiny, reflective banners were hung near Reflection's east-facing entrances. "Feng Shui from $475,000!" boasted advertisements.

The more expensive Perfection and its environs became, the more residents came to view its New Urbanism-mandated affordable housing as a waste of valuable space. Residents resented being forced to mix with less affluent apartment dwellers; new neighborhood watch operatives who had infiltrated Perfection's management group saw an opportunity to make a profit and keep out "those people." Rather than renting the townhouse apartments above the empty Towne Centre stores, the moles within Perfection management sold them to other residents, who then knocked down the walls to create penthouse suites -- ostensibly rented by phantom low-income tenants. Cunning homeowners, abetted by insiders, also surreptitiously cashed in on government-subsidy programs by counting tool sheds and doghouses as affordable housing units.

Just past the palm-lined entrances to Perfection and Reflection, a similarly sinister development began. A ring of strip malls spread out to serve the burgeoning population. Since the housing developments all but banned retail to their shared periphery, that's exactly where such businesses cropped up, creating an exurban circle of commercial developments with copycat names like "Perfection Junction," and "The Shoppes at Reflection." The growth came so quickly that, even after Antonio funded a road-widening project, traffic was clogged and accidents were frequent. It was déjà vu -- suburban sprawl all over again.

KEEP NEW TIMES BROWARD-PALM BEACH FREE... Since we started New Times Broward-Palm Beach, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of South Florida, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Amy Roe

Latest Stories