Build Me an Island

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?

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Edmund Newton