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Showdown at City Hall Tonight on Rain Tree and Marina Lofts Development

Tonight, people who both support and oppose the Marina Lofts development proposed for near downtown Fort Lauderdale will meet for what promises to be a heated showdown in front of the Planning and Zoning Board. The board will make a recommendation to the City Commission, which will ultimately vote on whether to allow the project. Today's hearing will take place at 6:30 p.m. at Fort Lauderdale City Hall. Commenters will get three minutes to speak.

The project is big (two 36-story towers and one 25-story building with about 1,000 units), and its design is downright radical for Fort Lauderdale. The vision of hotshot Danish architect Bjarke Ingels, it has jagged walls, appearing as though the building has been ripped in half. Its developers proudly describe it as "a cross between a Rubik's Cube and Lego creation." The idea was to create a "cave" that would invite people to walk through the middle and come to the river, where one day, if you believe the developers, there could be farmers' markets, entertainment, and a pedestrian bridge across the water to Riverwalk.

Developer Asi Cymbal says Marina Lofts would finally bring something cool to downtown, inject life into a sleepy area, and make use of the underutilized waterfront on the New River. "Too many people in Fort Lauderdale who love this city end up leaving because they can't find affordable housing options that are luxurious and cool in downtown," he has said. "Imagine hopping on the Water Taxi to jump to Las Olas for work or shopping, catching a show at the Broward Center, and then going home."

But the project has garnered a lot of opposition, partly because of its size, partly because demand is debatable (Fort Lauderdale already has plenty of other mixed-use projects with empty ground-floor retail), and largely because, to build it as currently planned, Cymbal intends to move a majestic, nearly 100-year-old rain tree that was somewhat protected years ago by a city resolution that declared commissioners must consider the tree in any proposed development.

We've told you about the folks who oppose the development -- like Chris Brennan, the Water Taxi employee who was fired after making a YouTube video in defense of the tree, and dozens of people who showed up at a parade last month. Activist Cal Deal has been railing against the project on his blog. He fears that the development would plunge the neighborhood into shadows and that traffic from so many new tenants would adversely impact the area. He also questions the integrity of Cybmal, who on a "portfolio" page of his website takes credit for New York projects he worked on under his former employer, Shaya Boymelgreen (who disappeared after facing multiple lawsuits for shoddy construction), and also takes credit for projects that were designed but never built. Some fear that Cymbal could get all of the permitting, then sell the project to someone who would not deliver the promised affordable rents or other amenities.

Cymbal did not respond to a call asking to address Deal's concerns, but last week, he released the above bit of counter propaganda, in which he is interviewed with softball questions by one of the lawyers he's retained. He promises that apartments will rent for $1,100 and that for $2,000 or less, residents can have an apartment and keep a boat onsite. Cymbal has offered to hire some of the world's foremost tree experts to move the rain tree to a new park he'll establish and put up a $1 million bond in case it dies. The Sun Sentinel on Sunday ran an editorial in favor of the project, written by Dan Lindblade, CEO of the Chamber of Commerce.

(In an email, Deal responded, "If the Sun-Sentinel was a decent, responsible local paper, they would have had a balanced presentation. Instead they let the C of C Cheerleader parrot the developer's arguments" and chided Lindblade, who "seems unable to wrap his head around the idea that we enjoy something green that does not go into a wallet.")

For more information from the developer, see marinaloftsfortlauderdale.com. For more renderings of the project, see here.

The hearing should be one of the most exciting times at City Hall since people sent former Mayor Jim Naugle all that toilet paper.

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