FORT LAUDERDALE — A controversial proposal that would have set the stage for towering skyscrapers up to 500 feet tall — not just downtown, but all over Fort Lauderdale — appears to be dead.
Critics from across the city lambasted the whole concept at a recent meeting, saying it would ruin neighborhoods, create even more traffic jams and overload the city’s aging network of underground pipes.
Fort Lauderdale executives toyed with the idea of nearly doubling the maximum height from 300 feet to 500 feet on projects outside of downtown for developers with special zoning. But first, they thought it might be a good idea to check with residents.
“Let’s not be the only ones to decide,” Mayor Dean Trantalis said during a meeting at City Hall in June. “Let the community decide.”
City staff spent months soliciting public input, sending emails and meeting with neighborhood civic associations.
Then, on Nov. 1, with a municipal election to replace three outgoing commissioners within a week, more than a dozen community leaders took turns gutting the idea at an afternoon commission conference meeting. at the town hall.
“We are happy to have 500-foot buildings downtown,” Joanne Robinson, president of the Harbor Inlet Homeowners Association, told the commission. “That’s where they belong.”
Mary Peloquin, president of the Council of Civic Associations of Fort Lauderdale, told commissioners that she actually likes lean buildings with some height.
“Buildings like this have their place,” she said. “And they’re not in the neighborhoods. You put a building 500 feet tall in a neighborhood [and] all these backyards lose their privacy.
Peloquin, who lives in Coral Ridge, wanted to know how such a crazy proposal had legs.
The mayor had the answer.
The idea first emerged a year ago through a proposal from an out-of-town developer.
Tavistock, the Orlando-based builder redeveloping Pier Sixty-Six, pitched the idea of building three 480-foot-tall luxury condo towers in a neighborhood with a maximum height of 120 feet.
Two towers would be located on the south side of the 17th Street Bridge, just off the Harbor Inlet neighborhood. A third tower would rise on the north side.
But the plan wouldn’t work unless the commission changes the code to allow building heights of 500 feet outside of downtown for developers seeking zoning of the city’s planned development district.
The current code, in place since 2013, limits the height to 300 feet.
Two candidates for the District 4 commission seat – Jacquelyn Scott and Warren Sturman – were among several speakers who urged the commission to postpone any decision until after the Nov. 8 election.
On Election Day, John Herbst won the District 1 race and Pamela Beasley-Pittman won the District 3 race. Sturman won the District 4 seat by 52 votes, but the election supervisor could order a recount on Monday because the race was so tight.
The new commissioners will be sworn in Tuesday at 11 a.m. at City Hall.
All three told the South Florida Sun Sentinel that they oppose changing the maximum height.
“It’s not something I think my constituents would be comfortable with,” Beasley-Pittman said. “It would take away from the appearance of the neighborhood to have these tall buildings. We want to keep the atmosphere of the neighborhood.
Herbst spoke out against the plan during the election campaign and said his election victory did not change anything.
“I don’t think we want to see 500-foot-tall buildings in our neighborhoods outside of downtown,” he said. “I hope it will not go up. And if so, I oppose it. [But] I don’t see them giving up easily. I don’t see them walking away without making another attempt.
Sturman noted that nearly every neighborhood in the city rejected the idea.
“I’m against increasing the height,” he said. “I think it’s ridiculous. I can’t imagine this thing passing. The commission said it was not going ahead. I just assume he’s dead.
Jack Clark, a real estate broker, told the Sun Sentinel that he too was strongly opposed to the plan.
“We live in a condo in downtown Flagler Village, and the density of luxury rentals in high-rise buildings is out of this world,” Clark said. “We don’t have a subway system and emergency vehicles are already experiencing delays on the streets going east to the federal highway. Traffic will be impossible to navigate, and lay at Searstown [a new five-tower megaproject] with 1,100 more cars added per day at this intersection. Beyond madness!”
At the Nov. 1 meeting, Commissioner Steve Glassman said he had read all of the emails from critics of the plan. He agreed that any debate should take place after the election.
But the mayor suggested they stop spending time on an issue that had so clearly annoyed the public.
“I’m not sure there’s a lot of appetite going forward,” Trantalis said. “I personally wouldn’t want to waste the city’s resources on this any more, because I don’t think it’s really appropriate for our city.”
On Friday, Glassman said critics sent their message loud and clear.
“We got a few calls from people who preferred to be tall and thin rather than shorter and stockier in terms of sights,” he said. “But most people said to keep that height in the city center.”
As for Tavistock, Glassman said he hopes the developer comes up with a sleek new design that meets zoning requirements while making a statement.
Trantalis said the developer can still build three towers but would have to stick to the current height cap of 300 feet.
“They can still build the project, but they should go shorter,” he said.
Tavistock officials were also paying attention to community feedback.
“We agree that a whole city-wide approach with limitations on development was not the answer,” said Jessi Blakley, vice president of Tavistock Development Company. “As Pier Sixty-Six’s first-ever residences continue to rise and the reimagined resort takes shape, our goal remains to revive a landmark and celebrate one of the city’s most iconic destinations.”
The developer has already inaugurated an 11-story condo tower on the north side of the bridge. The project also includes two four-story resort residences and a 10-story hotel that will adjoin the Pier Sixty-Six tower.
Construction began in late 2021 and will be complete in early 2024, coinciding with the debut of the reimagined Pier Sixty-Six Resort.
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On Friday, Tavistock officials declined to say whether they plan to go ahead with a request to build 300ft-tall towers at the site.
“The vision for this site will continue to evolve,” the mayor said. “What they’re building now [on the north side] is truly a remarkable residential development with a beautifully reimagined Pier Sixty-Six hotel. They add more green space, more dirt, and more amenities.
Harbor Inlet resident Nancy Thomas says most people are waiting to see the developer’s next move.
“I suspect Tavistock will try to go up to 300ft max,” she said. “The towers on the south side would dominate our neighborhood.”
But Thomas hoped the general message about keeping tall buildings downtown would resonate with the commission.
“They had their answer,” she said. “Now we’ll see what happens next.”
Susannah Bryan can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @Susannah_Bryan