Last night, before the Fort Lauderdale City Commission was to vote on a controversial plan to rezone and develop the Bahia Mar resort area, at least 70 people spoke before the city's governing body, turning the meeting — scheduled to last a little more than two hours — into an eight-hour gauntlet that ended around 4:30 a.m. today.
After the throng of Fort Lauderdale residents nitpicked virtually every detail of the development plan, the commission decided to delay voting on the proposal until March 1.
The Bahia Mar Resort currently sits on public land leased from the city. Developer Rahn Bahia Mar LLC, headed by Jimmy Tate, wants to build two additional, 39-story towers on the property, which would include space for more than 625 new condominium units. Additionally, a new parking garage would be built, along with retail space and a supermarket. In order for the resort to be built, the commission is considering both rezoning the land and signing a new lease with the resort. The proposed lease could last for a maximum of 100 years.
The proposal has attracted a tidal wave of criticism from the public, largely for two reasons. One, residents fear that the towers would jeopardize the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show, which occurs annually in the marina outside the resort. Second, droves of residents complained that the proposed towers are simply too tall and would both obstruct residents' views of the ocean and cast long shadows along the beach.
Just before the meeting began, multiple Fort Lauderdale residents spoke to New Times via phone from their seats within the commission chamber.
"Many people did not even know this was on the horizon," said Mary Furtig, who lives in Idlewyld. Furtig helped organize many of the protesters who showed up at last night's meeting. "We've received 800 paper petitions about this and have a separate petition going on change.org."
Craig Kurlander, a retiree who has lived in Fort Lauderdale for 15 years, complained that the towers would "totally obliterate" his view of the marina.
Judy Summers, another resident, said in an interview that she walks to the beach most mornings, as she is "environmentally sensitive" and the ocean air helps her "get [her] day going." She was scared shadows from the towers would ruin her favorite stretch of beach.
"I was at the beach one morning and saw this yellow sign over by the Bahia Mar entrance," she said. "So I asked, 'What’s that?' I didn’t know anything about it. The city could have done more to get the word out about the project."
A veritable horde of residents echoed many of the same sentiments in front of the City Commission last night, though a smaller contingent of people seemed pleased with the proposal.
"Before I talk, I have to get up at 4:30 in the morning to go to work," one man said around 3 in the morning. "But I work for the city, so I'm sure that the city manager will write a note to my boss."
After grilling Bahia Mar's representative, lawyer Robert Lochrie, most members of the commission seemed pleased with most aspects of the project, including a proposed home for the boat show. But almost all were still concerned about the towers' height.
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But they chose to delay the vote.
Early Wednesday morning, while still on the dais, Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler attempted to summarize how the commission's views on the project had changed after making it through the gauntlet of public comments.
"I think the developers truly tried to take the boat show to the next level," Seiler said early this morning. He later added: "But I'm not a fan of the height.
"I am definitely flexible on the height," he repeated later.