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Condo towers and developer’s plans disappoint beach commissioner

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Editor’s note:  Ft. Lauderdale Vice Mayor/Commissioner Dean Trantalis shared his comments on the approval of plans to renovate Bahia Mar Resort & Yachting Center by the Fort Lauderdale City Commission on May 11. The facility is home to the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show and a marina facility. The article has been edited for space.

 

During the course of the last several months, thousands of citizens from across Fort Lauderdale united behind a shared view that a developer’s plan to reshape the Bahia Mar simply went too far.

They signed petitions. They wrote emails. They spoke up at city meetings, with some waiting until the wee hours of the morning for their chance to be heard. The city has not witnessed such an impassioned and widespread grassroots undertaking in more than a decade. I shared their desire to protect this treasured piece of city-owned land.

Regrettably, when the moment arrived for a decision on May 10, the rest of the City Commission voted to concede to the demands of the developer. I believe the commission not only could have held out for something better but had a responsibility to do so.

The developer won the right to build two 29-story condo towers.

That’s a height that had been banned on the barrier island after a debate in 2002 about overdevelopment. A four-story parking garage wrapped with five stories of residences will double as home for the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show.

We can all agree that the Bahia Mar needs a facelift. It should be home to a world-class marina like it was back in its heyday. And, we all support the importance of economic development in our community. The marine industry is a cornerstone to our economy.

Yet, the barrier island is a fragile ecology. The future is problematic as we deal with the impact of rising sea levels caused by climate change. The city’s own long-range planning document talks about discouraging development in such vulnerable areas.

We need to draw a line in the sand. The City Commission is the public’s steward for both the beach and the Bahia Mar. We don’t want to “Manhattanize” our beach.

A massive development at the Bahia Mar is also concerning because of the traffic around the barrier island. Gridlock is too common on State Road A1A and its east-west links like Southeast 17th Street, Las Olas Boulevard and Sunrise Boulevard. The public’s frustration is palpable.

Finally, I have an aversion to using public land for private development. I’m not against restaurants or retail shops to supplement the marina at Bahia Mar. But we should be able to come together and find something more appropriate than building private condos on this property.

Public property should be open to the public. Condo development turns the land over to private use not just for the rest of our lifetime but that of our children and grandchildren.

Despite these feelings, I do see positive aspects in the plan. The development team lowered the towers 10 stories. They proposed and later expanded a park along the Intracoastal. They will create a public promenade around the site. They will renovate the existing hotel. And most importantly, the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show is happy with the final design.

We have forgone other possibilities so let us now move forward.

Soon, the City Commission and the developers will negotiate a long-term lease based on these approved plans. We all need to remain vigilant. We need to make sure the Boat Show is protected well into the future and that city taxpayers receive their fair share of the profits the developer will reap.

Dean Trantalis
Ft. Lauderdale City Commission

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