After hearing about a $43 million, 75-foot parking garage proposed for a spot in front of her building, C. Ann Lanese attended the Fort Lauderdale city commission meeting last Tuesday night in opposition. But there were many items on the agenda, and residents commented on each one. The meeting lasted seven hours and didn’t end until 1:30 a.m.
When the 85-year-old returned to her apartment early Wednesday morning, she collapsed and broke her leg. She died from complications the following day at the hospital.
That was more than a week ago. Though the $43 million Las Olas Corridor Improvement Project passed its second reading, neighbors and friends have vowed to keep fighting. They have dedicated the struggle to Lanese’s decades-long dedication to preserving the central beach.
Paul Chettle, a Leisure Beach resident and activist, says Lanese’s death raises other concerns. “The public process is out of reach to the elderly,” he says. “There are people like Ann who want to participate, but they can’t because they don't have access to smart phones, internet, and government websites. It strains the link between public disclosure and public information.”
A large senior population lives at the Leisure Beach towers along the Intracoastal. Many elderly residents have limited access to the internet and struggle to navigate the city website to stay up-to-date with meetings and upcoming projects. Also, many can’t drive; even if they can, most prefer not to drive at night. This makes attending a commission meeting almost impossible, especially if it doesn’t finish until 2 a.m.
Though a vast majority of residents opposes the construction of the 75-foot parking garage in front of their building, the proposed project made it to second reading without many hearing about it. They were informed about the Planning and Zoning Board meeting on a “plat amendment,” but critics say the wording was vague and didn’t depict the totality of the project.
"They were not told that a plat amendment means a 75-foot garage in front of their building," Chettle says.
Because staying informed has been so difficult, Paul Chettle and Craig Fisher, another Leisure Beach resident and activist, work as liaisons between residents and the city. Both stay organized with meeting dates, track upcoming agenda items, and help disseminate that information to the people in their building.
About 20 people over the age of 70 attended last Tuesday's meeting. Though a handful of people of all ages slipped out as the meeting carried on into the wee hours, many stayed — including Ann Lanese. “Ann was fine and in tremendously good health,” says Fisher, one of Ann's longtime friends. “I think the stress of all this and the anxiety and the hour certainly contributed to [her death].”
Fisher was particularly devastated by Lanese’s passing. When people move into Leisure Beach, he often jokes that Lanese was here first and that the 12-story condominium was built around her. A resident since 1974, she was the building’s matriarch. Even at 85, Lanese chatted with her neighbors, embedded herself in the day-to-day happenings, and was a fixture at commission meetings. At the time of her death, she was vice president of the condominium association's board.
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When Fisher heard about Lanese's fall, he visited her that morning in the hospital. She was tired, he says, but coherent. That morning Fisher gave her a kiss. He told her to get better and to come home soon. He was shocked when Lanese suddenly died the following day.
“It was a sad day, and we lost a very wonderful person,” Fisher says. “This is a tremendous loss to her family and to all residents in Leisure Beach. [Ann] will be sadly missed and always remembered as someone who really cared about all her neighbors and her neighborhood for over 40 years.”
Craig Fisher, Paul Chettle, and many Leisure Beach residents are determined to keep fighting the Las Olas Improvement Project. “We’re not done with this," Fisher asserts. "In Ann’s honor and memory, I’m not giving up on this. She thought it was a horrible idea.”
C. Ann Lanese leaves behind two children, four grandchildren, five great-grandchildren, four sisters, and four brothers. She was preceded in death by her husband, Ralph, and two brothers.