Mid-day Sunday, about 75 people showed up near the Pirate Republic bar in Fort Lauderdale, then walked a block to the site of a now-famous rain tree. The six-story-tall, nearly hundred-year-old specimen will be moved if a developer is permitted to build a condominium complex called Marina Lofts on the surrounding property. Protestors hope the city will deny the project or force planners to redesign it so that the tree is neither moved nor harmed.
The "parade" was organized and led by Chris Brennan, a former mate on the Water Taxi, who was fired after making a YouTube video in defense of the tree.
Participants held signs saying "Stop Marina Lofts" and "Save the Rain Tree." They shared mayor Jack Seiler's phone number (some people called him on the spot and left messages imploring him to vote against the condo development) and gathered for a group photo cheekily in front of a sign for the Water Taxi. After walking to the tree, Brennan gave a quick speech, and fireworks were blasted into the sky.
Developer Asi Cymbal has hired one of the world's trendiest architects, Bjarke Ingels, to design Marina Lofts. It would be a 3-building complex; two buildings would have 28 floors each; a third would have 33 stories. Critics, however, complain that the housing development is not necessary, would bring too much traffic to the quiet neighborhood, and that it threatens the rain tree. Cymbal has pledged to hire some of the world's foremost tree experts to move the tree and to put up a $1 million bond in case the tree dies, but critics still object. Even if Cymbal is well-intentioned, they say, he could sell the project to another, less conscientious developer.
Nick Sakhnovsky, who for 12 years has lived blocks away from the site, noted that the proposed project would be almost double the size of the Esplanade condominium which already exists next to the rain tree. "There will be ten times the traffic," he feared, and noted that trucks often get caught underneath a nearby bridge.
Protestor Art Seitz -- a photographer and city activist -- said of the tree, "This is treasure. It's extraordinary. For a greedy developer to spend a couple hundred thousand on insurance is nothing. It dies, it's gone! He doesn't give a damn about the tree. He wants to build."
The Fort Lauderdale Planning & Zoning Committee meets this Wednesday and, according to its agenda, is expected to set a date for a special hearing about Marina Lofts in early May. After the Planning & Zoning committeee issues its recommendation, the full city commission will vote on whether to approve the development.
Cymbal did not return a message left Monday morning, and an intermediary said he will not be commenting for this story.
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