Now angry residents of Parkland are wondering if those political connections -- along with his apparently extensive wealth -- have helped businessman Howard Dvorkin get away with building what they consider a monstrosity that is ruining the Ranches, their genteel community of minifarms and country estates in the upscale north Broward city.Dvorkin -- whose visage is familiar to those who have seen the omnipresent ads for his debt counseling company -- is intent on transforming the subdivision into premier horse country, à la Wellington. He's bought lots in the Ranches totaling about 17 acres, is expanding the property to include a whopping 96 stables, and just built a huge covered horse arena on property that is nearly the size of a football field.
Most of it, especially the arena, should never have been allowed by the city, say incensed neighbors. who are now fighting Dvorkin tooth and nail. They claim the equestrian center, which Dvorkin has dubbed Pine Hollow, is out of scale with the rest of the rural community, violates zoning codes, is a commercial and entertainment venue rather than an agricultural one, and creates a legal nuisance.
For instance, the huge riding arena is at least 35 feet tall even though the height limit for "accessory buildings" in the area is 25 feet. The zoning is for small-scale and limited agricultural use, but critics say Dvorkin is building a huge horse business. They claim that Dvorkin plans to hold numerous shows in the arena, which is supposed to be no more than a barn, further violating city rules and adding traffic to their rural community, which has narrow streets and a single entrance and exit.
And they say that that the city's leaders looked the other way to allow it to happen. They point out Dvorkin's friendship with Mayor Michael Udine, who has supported Dvorkin's efforts. They point at Parkland Commissioner Jared Moskowitz, who told me he didn't know that his father, politically connected lawyer Mike Moskowitz, has served as Dvorkin's attorney.
This despite the fact that the younger Moskowitz worked with his father at the firm Moskowitz Mandell until recently. (The elder Moskowitz is also major Democratic fundraiser with close ties to Broward County Commissioners Ilene Lieberman and Stacy Ritter.)Ranches residents also point to the fact that Dvorkin's company, Consolidated Credit Counseling, has employed Parkland Commissioner Mark Weissman since about the time he was elected to office.
Pine Hollow critics allege that the political connections paved the way for the expansion of what was a small horse farm into what will be a major equestrian center that doesn't belong in the Ranches. Commissioner Moskowitz, who directly represents the area, says that's not true because the chief point of contention -- the giant arena -- was approved by city staff and didn't come up for a vote.
Moskowitz, in fact, seemed to blame everyone except for the elected officials like himself who oversee the town.
"I don't know the nitty-gritty details because this stayed at a staff level," Moskowitz said. "In hindsight, and I've been to the site several times, this should never have been built. But what I believe versus what the law said might be two different things. According to my staff, [Dvorkin] has met a lot of the regulations. And we had an outside lawyer [from the firm Weiss Serota] look at this, and it was OK'd. Staff is going to have to answer for this. I've met with the residents, and I've sided with
them. I was very clear on the record that has this come to me, I would have voted against it."
Yet when Dvorkin broke ground on the arena several months ago, Moskowitz was there smiling with a shovel and supporting it.
Neighbors like Kathy O'Dwyer say this has been typical of the kind of leadership they've seen from city officials who seem too close to Dvorkin. She and numerous other detractors says elected officials are hiding behind staff, hiding behind lawyers at the Weiss Serota firm, basically hiding behind anything they can so as not to take responsibility for the neighborhood-ruining structure they tacitly allowed by failing to take leadership on the issue.
"This just doesn't belong in the Ranches," says O'Dwyer. "It's incongruous with the neighborhood. It's not what the neighborhood was meant for."
They worry about drainage, waste from the horses, and traffic from the shows.
Dvorkin, though, said he's well within his rights. He told me he has no plans for shows.
"There are no shows," said Dvorkin. "We have no plans for shows, but if we do, we'll abide by the city's requirements."
Then I pointed out that he is already advertising for shows on the site.
"I don't know that," he said. "If we do, it's for a competition."
Pine Hollow is already listed by the Interscholastic Equestrian Association as having a show scheduled for November 6 and 7 of this year.
"I'm not sure when we're having it or if we're having it," said Dvorkin. "I've never said I'm having shows."
Dvorkin's critics say he won't admit he's having shows because they aren't allowed. But Dvorkin says that his neighbors have it all wrong and that many of them actually support him and the building of the arena, which he calls an "upscale barn."
"Truthfully my vision is to maintain the roots of Parkland," he says. "There is no financial incentive here. We're doing this for the community; this is my giveback. We're teaching kids how to ride. This is really my wife's business, and I'm within my rights. The thing is built already. It's not coming down. The only thing I have to do is put the dirt in the arena and put the lights on. It's already done."
You've likely seen Dvorkin, even if you don't know who he is. He advertises his debt counsling business heavily in the Sun-Sentinel, sometimes on the front page, and you see his face on ads all around town. Dvorkin is also no stranger to big-time politics. He made the news last year when he was referenced in a federal indictment as one of the contributors to political player Alan Mendelsohn, the well-connected Republican ophthalmologist and lobbyist facing federal charges.
Dvorkin has not been accused of any wrongdoing in the case; he gave money to Mendelsohn to help him with legislation in Tallahassee pertaining to his business. Dvorkin was apparently ripped off by Mendelsohn, who also notably collected political money from Mardi Gras Gaming's Dan Adkins and Ponzi schemer Joel Steinger.
So what about his dream to turn Parkland into the new Wellington?
"Isn't that a good thing?" Dvorkin answered. "You have properties that are going in Wellington for $700,000 an acre. You have properties in Parkland that are going for $125,000 an acre. The only difference is the horses. If I'm successful in doing what I want to do, [the neighbors'] property values are going to go through the roof."
But now Dvorkin has more than just the residents to worry about. They've won over the tardy Moskowitz, and city staff recently wrote Dvorkin a letter forbidding him plan to put up stadium lighting in the arena. Dvorkin said he's going to fight it and fully intends to ultimately put up the lights.
"It's ridiculous arguments," said Dvorkin. "We went through planning. It's already done. How can [the city] contemplate and approve a building of that size and not allow it to have electric in it?"
Although Dvorkin is intent on moving forward with his grand plan, his neighbors are intent on having it torn down. Dvorkin again says they are misguided.
"The stables are nicer than half the houses in the Ranches," he said. "There's a lot of jealousy out there because we were able to acquire the land and assemble the land, and no one has been able to do that. This will be the finest equestrian facility south of Wellington. That's what this will be. And it's already built. So this is nonsense, irritation and nonsense.
"Do they want a world-class equestrian training center that will cause their properties to raise in value beyond their wildest dreams? In Wellington, if you're right across the street, it's a million an acre. There's a couple of old-timers that don't like change. Doesn't matter what the change is, they just don't like it, period, end of story. I have taken my licks. I have been beaten up. I have been aggravated, and now I'm being aggravated by you, no offense, when I just want to preserve the history and culture of what Parkland was built on. That's my only motivation."