Critics question the need for taller towers in Fort Lauderdale

FORT LAUDERDALE — Super-tall towers reaching 500 feet could start popping up all over Fort Lauderdale, critics fear.

That could happen if a controversial proposal passes that would increase the maximum height to 500 feet for projects with special zoning. The new ordinance would apply to the entire city, not just the high-rise-friendly Downtown, where zoning already encourages oversized towers.

So far, the idea is getting a cold reception.

“We are not from the Sunny Isles. We are not Miami. We are not in New York,” said longtime resident Nancy Thomas. “I would prefer it to be shorter and denser. If we enter into this request for height, we are going in the wrong direction. We’re going to start looking like Sunny Isles.

John Burns, president of the Venetian Condo Association, also has reservations about such a drastic change that would apply across the city.

“Once he’s there, everyone’s going to want him,” Burns said. “You could have 500 foot buildings popping up all over the place. It is a dangerous path.

Some wonder what is behind the push for taller buildings.

Look no further than the Pier Sixty-Six plan.

Tavistock, the developer redeveloping the historic site, wants to build three luxury condo towers that would rise 480 feet high in a neighborhood with a maximum height of 120 feet.

“Proposing taller buildings with fewer residential units and fewer commercial uses will significantly reduce traffic, preserve views and create more open spaces – everything we heard was imperative for our neighbours,” Jessi said. Blakley, vice president of Orlando-based Tavistock Development. Company. “Our vision will make Pier Sixty-Six a gateway and destination icon once again.”

The vision is not an option unless the city commission changes the code to allow building heights of 500 feet outside of downtown for projects that apply to the zoning of the development district of the city. planning.

The current code, in place since 2013, limits the height to 300 feet.

The code should be rewritten, changing the maximum height from 300 feet to 500 feet to clear the way for developers to build higher. And the change would require committee approval.

Outside of downtown, a developer needs at least two acres to apply for PDD zoning. Only half an acre is required for downtown properties. It was unclear if that would also change.

At a recent town hall meeting, longtime resident Marilyn Mammano warned the commission that she would be opening a Pandora’s box by changing the code.

“No one is asking for taller buildings. This is done at the request of the developer,” said Mammano, president of the Harbordale Civic Association.

During the meeting, Mayor Dean Trantalis argued that allowing buildings to go taller would help build Fort Lauderdale’s housing stock.

“We hear the drumbeat of the community: people say we’re overdeveloping, we’re overbuilding,” Trantalis said. “And at the same time, people are saying the price of housing is just crazy. More development stabilizes the price of housing. We need to have a “Come to Jesus” moment and decide if we are going to allow development to continue to come to this city. »

Commissioner Heather Moraitis countered that many of the projects are considered high-end and would not help boost affordable housing across the city.

The mayor and commission suggested that city staff seek feedback from ward leaders and report back before a commission vote is scheduled.

“Let’s not be the ones to decide,” Trantalis said. “Let the community decide.”

Staff plan to present information in November to the Fort Lauderdale Council of Civic Associations, but welcome comments at any time, according to a July 15 city email to neighborhood leaders.

Leslie Fine, whose condo is on Fort Lauderdale’s Galt Ocean Mile, didn’t get the email but has a message for the city: It’s a bad idea.

“It’s not Dubai,” she said. “Why does everything have to be so big? It’s not like people come here because we have big buildings. It puts more pressure on streets, sewers, waterways, storm drains. These tall buildings can cast long shadows. And the roads can’t handle the people we have now.

Mary Peloquin, president of the Council of Civic Associations of Fort Lauderdale and board member of the Coral Ridge Civic Association, received the email.

“Everyone is concerned about this,” she said. “High-rise buildings sound great until they come to your neighborhood. High-rise buildings make residential backyards not private. High-rise buildings are great downtown, but we don’t have functioning public transport and this needs to be fixed if we want to have a dense area in downtown and other areas.

Jim Concannon, president of the Sunrise Intracoastal Civic Association, says he understands the push to allow taller buildings. But he fears it will change the character of neighborhoods outside the city center.

“There’s no doubt that the city is going to grow a lot,” he said. “And the only way to get there is up. But you lose that small town character. By allowing 500 foot buildings to be anywhere in Fort Lauderdale, you changed the character of the city.

Local developer Charlie Ladd declined to say whether it was a good idea to change the height ceiling, but said it was important for residents to be on board.

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“These are big changes for our city,” Ladd said. “We all have to be on the same wavelength. We have to make sure we get it right when these other parts of the city are looking to redevelop. »

This week, Trantalis had more muted comments on the overall plan.

“I think there needs to be a lot of community outreach,” he told the South Florida Sun Sentinel. “I don’t hear a lot of support for this, but the process is still ongoing and we are trying to be objective on the matter. I don’t think there is much appetite in the commission to change the ordinance as it would affect properties across the city. We recognize that growth should be downtown focused and not impact long-established neighborhoods. »

Property analyst Jack McCabe says he would expect an outcry from residents at all levels if the commission were to approve the plan.

He gestured to the wall of condos lining Surfside Beach.

“There are so many condos so close together, locals call it the wall,” McCabe said. “And you can’t see the beach at midday because of the shade. If you could argue that Fort Lauderdale is built and they need 50-story buildings all over the city, then maybe there’s a reason to change the rules. But people will revolt if all those 50-story towers start rising, blocking their view and hampering traffic in an already congested traffic system.

Susannah Bryan can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @Susannah_Bryan

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