Homeowner in Las Olas Isles Spends $1 Million to Raise Property to Prepare for Sea-Level Rise

Wayne Huizenga used to live at 516 Mola Ave., on one of the man-made finger islands known as Las Olas Isles, just off Las Olas Boulevard. His two-acre homesite was once advertised as “the largest assemblage of waterfront property in Fort Lauderdale.” His old house sat on a little peninsula surrounded by the New River and the Mola and Riva canals.

In 2005, Huizenga sold this parcel for $9.8 million, and it switched hands a few times before Brad Tuckman purchased it in 2014.

But the land was only 2.7 feet above sea level. It would flood during heavy rains and king tides. Last year, Tuckman enlisted the help of Coastal Risk Consulting, a Plantation-based sea-level-rise adaptation firm. The company found that by 2035, the high tide would flood the home and that by 2045, the property would be almost completely inundated.

“It was a surprise, because when I bought the property, I thought it only flooded a couple of days a year,” Tuckman says. “And it’s not just me. My neighbors flood too.”

Tuckman tore down Huizenga’s old house and divided the land into six parcels for new homes. He invested nearly a million dollars to truck in fill, raise the entire property more than three feet, and heighten a seawall. Now the home sites — which have all been sold, except for the one where Tuckman lives — sit almost six feet above sea level, the highest on Mola Avenue. In 30 years, the property is expected to experience only seven flood days a year — as opposed to 317 before the revitalization.

“Somebody has to do this,” Tuckman says. “If not, no one will decide to live here.”

Tuckman reports a lot of new construction on Mola Avenue and says his neighbors are also demolishing old homes, filling in land, and building new residences that are ready for sea-level rise. “When it comes to flooding and sea-level rise, Mola has the blackest eye,” Tuckman says. “This is a new beginning, though, to take Mola from the blackest eye to the nicest.”

Currently, residents are talking with City of Fort Lauderdale officials about raising the Mola Avenue roadway, which is the lowest-lying part of the block and frequently floods.

Shannon Vezina, a city spokesperson, said of the roadway, “It is one of the areas we closely monitor during the king tide and inclement weather. We are aware of the vulnerability to sea-level rise, high tide, and other impacts of climate change.”

Right now, Vezina says, there are no specific plans to raise it. However, she explains, the city takes proactive measures to prevent roadways from flooding, such as checking one-way tidal valves, storm drains, and pump stations. After heavy rains, vacuum trucks remove excessive water.

Together, the 17 homes on Mola Avenue are valued at more than $32 million. In 2014, Mola Avenue residents collectively paid $457,273 in property taxes. With the new construction, Tuckman estimates an added $300,000 in property taxes in the coming years. He suggests that some of that money be used to finance the road-raising.

“There is no protest. Everybody is working together and aware what is going in,” Tuckman says. “It’s not just a city problem or just a homeowner problem. It’s a matter of working together.”

Keren Bolter, a geoscientist and sea-level rise expert at Coastal Risk Consulting, says that in the future, property owners will have to reinforce their homes and band together to pressure cities to update municipal infrastructure.

“Brad should be acknowledged for what he is doing and taking initiative,” Bolter says. “The big idea is that there needs to be a whole new way of partnership between local government and property owners.”
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Jess Swanson is a staff writer at New Times. Born and raised in Miami, she graduated from the University of Miami’s School of Communication and wrote briefly for the student newspaper until realizing her true calling: pissing off fraternity brothers by reporting about their parties on her crime blog. Especially gifted in jumping rope and solving Rubik’s cubes, she also holds the title for longest stint as an unpaid intern in New Times history. She left the Magic City for New York to earn her master’s degree from Columbia University School of Journalism, where she spent a year profiling circumcised men who were trying to regrow their foreskins for a story that ultimately won the John Horgan Award for Critical Science Journalism. Terrified by pizza rats and arctic temperatures, she quickly returned to her natural habitat.
Contact: Jess Swanson