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Hooray For Hollywood!

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In fact, on a cool, bright morning last December, Giulianti, who is well-known for being blunt, made a remark that galvanized opposition to Turtle Nest Suites. Emilio Benitez had just emerged from his beachfront townhouse to watch Hollywood's annual Candy Cane Parade on the Broadwalk, the 30-foot-wide sidewalk along Hollywood beach. Benitez spotted two city commissioners and asked them about the rumor that a high-rise hotel was planned for the lot behind his house. Then he spied the mayor. He expected her to offer an open ear, because he had worked on her reelection campaigns. But he was in for a surprise. "The beach is for tourists, not for residents," he recalls her saying. "If you don't like that, move to Emerald Hills [a residential section of north Hollywood]."

She told New Times something similar. "The people living on the beach are really lucky," she said. "But people all over Hollywood pay taxes, and it's their beach, too. Working people here think those people living on the beach, who want to deny others an opportunity to build something that's more than a couple of stories, are just selfish."

Benitez, a criminal defense lawyer, was livid. "For her to say that to me, a 15-year resident of the beach who's invested a lot of money in my property, that was the wrong thing to say to the wrong person," he fumes. Afterward he researched Hollo's proposal and compared it to the city and county comprehensive land-use plans and the city's beach master plan. He soon organized his neighbors and arranged meetings with city and county commissioners. "It's almost a blessing that happened," he says of the encounter with Giulianti, "because otherwise there would probably be groundbreaking ceremonies for the hotel any day now."

Even Koslow gingerly concedes that the mayor's big mouth may have hurt his cause. "Mara always does what she believes is in the best interests of Hollywood," he says, choosing his words carefully. "It's how she sometimes say things that are misinterpreted or become overly aggressive."

Coleman, who was elected on a planned growth -- many would say anti-growth -- platform, couldn't believe his luck in finding a skilled, committed beach resident opposed to the planned 12-story hotel. "I told my people not to let Emilio out of their sight, because he was too valuable," he says.

Benitez led the opposition at the January planning and zoning meeting with a well-researched, 15-minute speech arguing against the project. Building a high-rise hotel less than 20 feet from North Beach Park, he said, would violate the beach master plan mandate to protect the park's dunes system and fragile vegetation. The master plan, he noted, lists 15 endangered or threatened species in nearby parks, including three kinds of sea turtles, but the developer's proposal fails to address the potential impact of the hotel on these species.

Benitez lost that round, but Koslow realized he would have trouble getting approval for Turtle Nest Suites if he didn't address the neighbors' concerns. So he accepted Benitez's invitation to meet with them and asked the city commission to delay a vote on the land-use change. On March 18 half a dozen beach residents met over deli sandwiches with Koslow, Friedman, and Tibor Hollo's son Jerry at the Becker & Poliakoff office on Stirling Road.

That closed session produced good will but little agreement. Jerry Hollo explained that Turtle Nest Suites wouldn't be profitable unless it was operated by a national hotel chain, and that the company with which he was working -- Hawthorne Suites, a Hyatt affiliate -- wouldn't be interested unless there were about 200 rooms. He said his firm could possibly reduce the number of stories from 12 to 10 if the city agreed to an off-site parking arrangement, which would eliminate the need for some garage space. But the neighbors said that any hotel would have to stay within the 50-unit, five-story limit set for the entire north and central beach area.

No deal, Tibor Hollo said two weeks later. As president of Florida East Coast Realty Inc. in downtown Miami, he has a large corner office with a grand view of Biscayne Bay. He proudly pointed out an article about himself on the wall. The headline: "Edifice Complex." "I like to build big buildings," he said. He politely but firmly rejected the idea of building a smaller hotel on the Hollywood beach property, which he bought two years ago for $650,000, according to county records. "That's not a realistic business," he said.

If the city turns down the Turtle Nest proposal, he added, he'll sit on the land and wait. Ten stories is his final offer. "The area is rundown and has no life," he said, momentarily forgetting the plant and animal life he wants to market to tourists. "This is a perfect way to bring families to learn about nature and have a beach vacation at the same time. But if the community at large, not just two or three people, don't want it, fine. I'm not in a hurry. In my business you can never be in a hurry."

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Harris Meyer

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