Developers behind Fort Lauderdale's controversial Bahia Mar redevelopment plan, which called for two 29-story condominium towers to be built on historic, publicly owned land on A1A, withdrew their application today, ending months of contentious debate.
The application was pulled on the same day that New Times published a video that appeared to show lead developer James Tate making hand signals to city commissioners during a June 7 meeting. Tate admitted to gesturing toward the commission dais but denied any collusion with city government.
Members of the public had, for months, accused Tate and his team, including Sergio Rok of Rok Acquisitions, as well as RCI Marine and Rialto Capital, of striking a "backroom deal" with the commission to build the towers, which were originally pitched at 39 stories. The developers had also been seeking a lease extension that could have lasted for 100 years.
"It was unfortunate a few individuals had turned a collaborative effort between the developer and the community into an ugly debate over certain issues," the project's lead developers wrote in a letter to the Fort Lauderdale Commission. "We have seen ugliness and heard
In May, New Times reported that nearly 30 people related to the development group had bundled between $5,000 and $6,600 in campaign donations to each city commissioner's election campaign. The developers were lobbying the city about the project at the same time.
New Times also reported the project's chief lawyer, Barry Somerstein, sat on the board of one of the only local homeowners' associations that supported the project.
And a groundswell of local activists banded together to fight the development, which critics said was too tall, would add too much traffic to the beach, and was a poor use of a large patch of valuable public land, which also plays home to the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show each year. At a public hearing in February, the City Commission forced the applicants to shorten the towers' original height, but even at 29 stories, the tower land would have required rezoning. Before the withdrawal, the rezoning vote had been set for June 21.
Independent reporter Buddy Nevins also highlighted major inconsistencies in a traffic study the city relied on to approve the project. After an initial study claimed beach traffic would only increase by 56,320 people by 2025, it turned out the figures were off by gargantuan proportions. In fact, 168,009 people were expected to clog up the beach by that year, but the error was only revealed after the commission tentatively approved the project in May. (For comparison purposes, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that the entire city of Fort Lauderdale only contained 178,590 people as of July 2015.)
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Via email, Tate also confirmed that the project had been killed. "The proposed new city lease, proposed new boat show lease, and the revised site plan made no economic sense for us to proceed any further," he wrote.
Here's a copy of the developers' withdrawal letter:
This is a breaking story. This post will be updated.