Worried neighborhoods seek moratorium on controversial Fort Lauderdale development law

By Dan Christensen, BrowardBulldog.org

Proposed Bahia Mar PUD

Proposed Bahia Mar PUD

Spurred by a pair of high-profile zoning battles, a dozen Fort Lauderdale neighborhood associations have called on the city to halt the use of an innovative ordinance meant to encourage “unique” development.

Upset residents insist the city slap a moratorium on its eight-year-old Planned Urban Development scheme – commonly known as a PUD.

Some see the PUD as a nightmare that will corrupt the character of neighborhoods and allow large new buildings near their homes. Others call the PUD a saving grace that can breathe new life into a community.

Tens of millions of dollars in development dollars are potentially at stake; not to mention millions more in future property taxes and other projected income to the city.

The PUD is the planning vehicle for developers seeking to supersize beachside Bahia Mar, and to expand significantly First Presbyterian Church’s presence in the Colee Hammock neighborhood off fashionable Las Olas Boulevard.

Those projects carry price tags of $500 million and $20 million, respectively.

A moratorium on the consideration of PUD zoning requests could freeze plans for those projects – plans in the works for years – while the city reviews the ordinance’s language.

The fight in Colee Hammock and Bahia Mar worries distant associations who fear unacceptable changes coming to their communities in the future.

“There is concern that the spot zoning of PUDs will set the standard for neighborhoods,” Idlewyld homeowner’s association President Mary C. Fertig said in a recent letter to the city commission.

Stiles Corp. President Douglas Eagon, whose company is the project planner for First Presbyterian’s building program, calls such talk “PUD hysteria” and says it has been used unfairly to whip up neighborhood opposition to the PUD.

“They keep saying this could happen in your neighborhood as well, which is a total fabrication,” said Eagon.

Zoning law for ‘unique’ development

Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler said Tuesday that he’s willing to conduct a review of the PUD “to find out how it came about and whether it’s still something we need to be doing.” But Seiler, a lawyer, doubted it would hold up the two projects for long because legal precedent exempts zoning matters in progress from that type of delay.

The city’s PUD ordinance doesn’t contemplate such disputes. It permits “unique or innovative development that is not otherwise permitted under traditional zoning districts and development standards” so long as it is compatible with the surrounding area and the “general welfare of the public” is protected.

Seven PUD districts now dot the city and innovation hasn’t always been the watchword. They range from a stalled luxury resort hotel and condominium development on the beach at the site of the old Ireland’s Inn to a 253,000-square foot storage warehouse on State Road 84 near Interstate 95.

The city’s first PUD was the Village at Sailboat Bend, a 13-acre neighborhood of multistory townhomes developed by Lennar Corp. behind the Fort Lauderdale Police Department. The site was once a maze of more than a dozen ramshackle buildings owned by the Broward County School Board, including the historic but dilapidated West Side School.

The ordinance was conceived by a Lennar lobbyist, Lisa Maxwell, and drafted by a Lennar attorney, former Broward County Attorney Susan Delegal.

According to Maxwell, who no longer works for Lennar, the city’s hodgepodge of area zoning made a new ordinance imperative to making the multimillion dollar project happen.

“I met over 200 times with people in the neighborhood,” said Maxwell.

“They had a vision about what they wanted this to be. But when you put it all together and looked at the zoning code, it simply wouldn’t work. We were talking about 50 variances. It was silly.”

After “a lot of back and forth with the city,” Maxwell said, the commission approved the PUD ordinance in November 2002. You can read it here.

It encourages “flexibility of design” and a variety of integrated uses. The Village at Sailboat Bend, already in the planning pipeline as an anticipated PUD, was approved two months later.

Then Mayor James Naugle approved the redevelopment in Sailboat Bend, but nevertheless was wary of the PUD, saying it might one day allow “monstrous buildings” elsewhere in the city.

“He stated he supported the permitting of innovative designs, but feared this would allow buildings which would be incompatible with the neighborhood and should not be accommodated,” according to minutes of a Nov. 5, 2002 meeting.

What’s a PUD good for?

PUDs appeared after World War II as a tool in the unified planning of entire suburban communities, like Levittown on New York’s Long Island.

Decades later, Fort Lauderdale was among the first cities in Florida – many have followed – to turn the PUD idea inside out and apply it to urban redevelopment on a much smaller scale.

Two acres is the minimum area for a PUD zoning district. Permitted uses are established at the time of rezoning and projects must meet eight criteria. For example, the height, bulk, shadow, mass and design of a building must be compatible with the surrounding area. PUD projects also “shall have a long-term beneficial impact” on the area and the city as a whole.

LXR Resorts of Boca Raton wants a PUD district, and a 100-year lease, to allow it to redevelop city-owned Bahia Mar. Its $500 million plan envisions renovating the existing 15-story hotel, adding a new 300-room Waldorf Astoria Hotel, and constructing two high-rise condominiums and retail stores along A1A.

Plans also call for a large elevated waterfront park with a parking garage underneath, and that’s the reason for the PUD. The length of the park is longer than would be allowed under current zoning, said LXR executive Peter Henn.

“But the end result is a less tall parking structure which is hidden by the landscaped waterfront park,” he said.

First Presbyterian Church's proposed PUD

First Presbyterian Church's proposed PUD

Further west, in Colee Hammock, First Presbyterian Church and Stiles Corp. are seeking a PUD to build two large, Spanish Mission-style structures on land south of Las Olas Boulevard between Tarpon Drive and Southeast 15th Avenue. The buildings are a five-story parking garage/commercial office building and a two-story Family Center. The PUD makes the project doable in a location that’s a “quagmire” of zoning districts, said Eagon.

Neighborhood worries grow

Opponents of both projects have rallied support for a citywide moratorium on PUD approvals while the ordinance is reviewed.

Marilyn Mammano, the president of the Harbordale Civic Association and a former top zoning official in New York City, believes the ordinance is too developer-friendly. She said she wants it made “more responsive to neighborhood concerns.”

Land-use lawyer James Brady, who lives in Colee Hammock, calls the PUD ordinance “an abomination.”

“It clearly promises a lot of things and uses a lot of buzzwords,” said Brady, who opposes the church expansion. “Zoning is supposed to provide some predictability for people. This renders the issue unpredictable and subject merely to political whim.”

But Maxwell thinks such thinking is wrongheaded, and could backfire on neighborhoods like Colee Hammock by leading to even taller structures.

“We wrote safeguards into this ordinance, criteria requiring developers to meet with the community and help foster a bridge of understanding,” she said in an interview. “The church isn’t going anywhere, and if it doesn’t use the PUD it will expand under the current zoning code. And, trust me, that will be 10 times more draconian than under the PUD.”

Las Olas area real estate broker Jacquelyn Scott has helped lead the charge against the PUD. She said the ordinance is “vague” and needs to be made more responsive to local communities.

“I don’t think there’s a neighborhood in the city that’s not at risk to have a developer come in and attempt to do a PUD project,” said Scott. “Once it’s cleaned up I think the neighborhoods would be in good shape.”

That message has resonated at other civic associations throughout the city. Victoria Park, Croissant Park, Imperial Point, Golden Heights, Sailboat Bend, Lauderdale Isles, Tarpon River, Melrose Park and Melrose Manor all now support a moratorium.

Some applaud the PUD

Opposition to the PUD ordinance is not unanimous.

Bryan Sawchuk is a member of the board of the Lake Ridge Civic Association. He believes his neighborhood benefited from a PUD district that allowed the development of the 279-unit Satori apartment complex that opened last year at 1201 E. Sunrise Blvd.

“The PUD is an important tool that promotes reasonable development while giving more opportunity for public improvements to the neighborhood,” he said in a recent letter to city commissioners.

Attorney William Grundlach, former chairman of the Colee Hammock Homeowner’s Association’s church committee, also thinks the PUD is beneficial.

“Although there are those in the Homeowners Association who passionately oppose any development by the church and especially through a PUD, it is my opinion that a PUD is the only way we can protect the neighborhood,” Grundlach said in a letter to the commission.

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21 Comments Post a Comment
  1. not so fast says:

    I have read the PUD Ordinance after the group made their presentation to our HOA and I TOTALLY agree it is a terrible ordinance that seems to have been drafted for one project in Sailboat Bend. I say either clean it up or get rid of it! Time for the City Commissioners to step up to the plate.

  2. Keep an eye out for... says:

    Keep an eye on the County Commission lobbiest who is not a registered lobbyist in Fort Lauderdale, Judy Stern. See while Judy has ties into Seiler, Dubose, Rogers and of course gal pal Charlotte Rodstrom, by helping their campaigns, she slyly plays the innocent because she is not registered to lobby in the City.

    But…

    She does lobby the County Commission on behlaf of the types of developers trying to do Bahia Mar and the Church, and many of those involved in those projects DO lobby the County Commision. Watch out residents. Ask yourself why would Stern be at every Commission meeting if she is not there to do business?

    http://weblogs.sun-sentinel.com/news/politics/broward/blog/2009/11/lobbyist_watch_mayor_seiler_sa.html#more

    http://blogs.browardpalmbeach.com/pulp/2007/10/the_broward_lobbyist_list.php

  3. Carla Vick says:

    It bothers me to see that the financial gain is brought into this challenge, does the Church pay property taxes?

  4. Can't believe this... says:

    Re: Bill Gundlach’s letter to the Commission praising the PUD. Mr. Gudlach’s major concern has always been with his own property – across from the First Presbyterian surface parking lots. He has always wanted a fence, a buffer and restricted ingress and egress. He got that for himself as Chairman of the Colee Hammock church committee while “negotiating for the neighborhood”. End of story for the rest of Colee Hammock! Please don’t think his letter praising the PUD has anything to do with what is really best for ALL the homeowners in the neighborhood!

  5. Dennis Ulmer says:

    I’d be interested in knowing how the associations that support a PUD moratorium arrived at that conclusion? Was a presentation made to the associations pro and con? Who made the presentations?

  6. A resident says:

    To Ulmer of The Church, the Association members can read the PUD Ordinance and decipher the differnece between the use of the word ‘MAY’ which allows developer looopholes and loose city staff interpretation and ‘Must’ which sets guidelines for developers and neighborhood expectations.

  7. not so fast says:

    Dennis, Your comments prove you have an opinion but you didn’t do your homework! I did my homework because I listened to a presentation and then read the ordinance. Maybe if the City would have adopted the ordinance with the entire city in mind (instead of just the school board project) we would not have this mess. Time to clean it up so Dennis does not have to fight a PUD in his neighborhood. I notice you are a member of the FPC church!
    Also you might not want to insult the neighborhoods who have already done their homework and have decided to take a position to protect themselves against this PUD Ordinance.

  8. JIM says:

    I have read section 47-37 of the LDR – Planned Unit Development. Even a cursory reading reveals that the “regulation” is no regulation at all. Before commenting on the quality of the Sec. 47-37 as a zoning tool, just read the PURPOSE section, 47-37.1. There are two “initiatives” set forth in abundant detail, and an applicant may pursue either OR NONE. The provision is permissive. There is no good reason even to set forth the initiatives, because an application does not have to serve either and, by the way, this is not my opinion; it is the position of the City staff. Then take the language which appears to require a minimum of 2 acres and read onto the provision that 2 acres is really not required, but if you don’t have at least a to 2 acre site, heaven forbid, the Commission may require some public give-backs. OOOPS! There’s that word, again, “MAY.” In other words, the City might, but might not, approve the less-than-2-acre application, with or without public give-backs. And so on and so on. Truth be told, this is the 3-vote regulation the text of which could be greatly shortened, leading to the saving of paper, therefore tress and energy, ink and eyesight: PURPOSE: It is the purpose of this regulation to allow whatever developement team can garner 3 affirmative votes for whatever development, wherever. CAN YOU COUNT TO THREE?
    In a perfect world – no problemo; my good many years has taught me that this is not a perfect world and a good deal of the imperfection arises from the negotiations that occur behind the veils of government and outside the purveiw of the public. The PUD provides the perfect window dressing for these kinds of shenanigans. SUPPORT THE MORATORIUM and the RE-WRITE OF THE REGULATION.

  9. Dennis Ulmer says:

    I am a member of the First Presbyterian Church, but that is not why I’m asking about the moratorium on the PUD Ordinance. More and more associations take positions on things that maybe they should not. I would bet a majority of members of any given civic association could not even tell you what a PUD is, or for that matter, what the ULDR is. I have been a past president of my association, and the Council of Fort Lauderdale Civic Associations. I believe that if you take a position you make sure that both sides of an issue are discussed. I also wonder again, if presentations were made to associations, who did them, ans was it to the association board, or members? I personaly don’t think the City could have a moratorium because there has not been enough PUD projects actually built. The City could be sued, and may have to prove a negative effect on a neighborhood from existing PUD approvals. The moratorium is also not necessary because any PUD request could be approved or denied. In these economic times, how much would the City have to spend to defend a moratorium, and for that matter, would an expensive study be necessary to enact a moratorium, and with so few built, where would they get the data to substantiate a moratorium?

    In all of my civic involvement, I have never taken a postion on anything just because it something that I personally wanted or supported. Again, my membership in First Presbyterian Church has nothing to do with how I feel about the PUD.

  10. basketcase says:

    There are a lot of problems beyond the scope of the developer friendly PUD.

    First we have a situation where a 5 story parking garage is going to be built on a road which has ONLY 2 lanes. Las Olas Blvd has street parking on the weekends which will create a bottleneck for anyone trying to get to a church function on time. What will these people do? They will fly down the residential side streets imperiling the lives of residents and pedestrians alike. Nobody will stop them because the Ft Lauderdale Police Dept is understaffed among other concerns.

    Second the entire surrounding residential community is opposed to this project. What is in jeopardy here isn’t the developers, its the property owners land values. In my view the people who live in a neighborhood deserve first priority over developers, lobbyists, and city employees.

    Lastly, it is most appalling that this church has declared war on the residents in the surrounding community. Why not just pass out knives at the next service and instruct the churchgoers to slit the throats of everyone against them? What is up with church leaders who support TERRORISM???

    The lobbyist who wrote the PUD ordinance threatening homeowners everywhere with the idea things will be much worse if this monster isn’t approved deserves to be disbarred. If heavy payola wasn’t being circulated around the govt offices this would never even be considered.

    Rational thinking residents who care about where they live are already paying exhorbitant property taxes, just not directly to the city planning boards. I wonder who the “Christians” are paying…

  11. Dennis Ulmer says:

    Zoning and land use is alway interesting. Many don’t want McMansions in their neighborhoods. Of course if they could get a good price during the “boom” that was a different matter. They didn’t want McMansions on their neighbors property, but for a good price they would sell and a developer would build a McMansion or cluster town-homes if permitted, on what previously was their property. Then the McMansion issue didn’t matter much to them.

    Everyone has property rights, even a church and its members. It’s not practical to think a church or any land owner is not going to propose and build something on their property.

  12. basketcase says:

    The property rights are found in the current zoning laws. The current zoning laws say NO to your church proposals. That’s how practical it really is and why your church is pursuing other alternatives.

    By the way, McMansions house single families, which do not disrupt the flow of traffic in residential neighborhoods.

    You keep saying how unbiased you are. You don’t live in Colee Hammock, and you are a member of the church seeking zoning law changes. Try on the shoes the residents of the Hammock have to wear and see how poor a fit they really are, you know, from a practical point of view.

  13. city resident says:

    Mr. Ulmer, your points are well taken. A clear description of the PUD presented by both sides represents conservative and open minded thinking. It does not insult the public into thinking that irrational members of our government construed a document that is not thought out. It is easy to sway a crowd with scare tactics however when you provide the public with ALL of the information, they can make an informed decision. It has been clearly said throughout the residential community that the associations that are asking others to join in for this moritorium only provide one side of the story. This is not a responsible use of their voice and raises questions as to what the objectives are. (NIMBY)

    Thank you for asking the needed questions – were both sides at the table to give a comprehensive description, open discussion ……the answer is no.

  14. Susan Bryan says:

    First, I have read the ordinance and I have to agree with “Jim” writing above. The ordinance is not clear, there are too many “mays” which allow developers to arrive at any outcome they desire.
    I have never been against First Pres. developing their land in a way that is sensitive to its surroundings, but from the first they have insisted on using every sq. ft. of land and height they could manage. This project will only contribute to traffic, noise, and add significantly to stormwater runoff, already a big problem in the area. I remember years ago when First Church wanted several important variances to rebuild their current education building. At that time they said, if we can have this we won’t need anymore. Well, here we are again.

  15. Bulldog says:

    Remember back in October 13, 2009, on the Agenda of Florida State Board of Trustees Internal Improvement Trust Fund (TIITF) when Hall of Fame Associates, a California Limited Partnership (do not mistake for International Hall of Fame, no relationship) applied to TIITF to modify existing “25 year” lease by only increase the preempted (nice word for “has been in Breach of existing Contract”) area from 115,399.54 to 146,978 square feet submerged land north of Intenational Hall of Fame. By the way shortly therafter approve by TIITF, Broward County Recorders, Book 47049, Page 700-719
    Let me remind you Department of Environmental(dep) Regulations back in April 3, 1984 issued Permit/Certication Number :060448116. Construction of 060448116 dictating what DEP would allow to be constructed: 8′ X 580′ concrete or wood marginal pier 10′, (13) 4′ X 25′ finger piers and (one) 8′ X 80′ marginal pier. Permit able according to DEP’s Permit is a total square footage of dock to be constructed is 6,580, on TIITF total submerged land Lease ORIGINALLY containing 49,121 sq.ft. THE ORIGINAL SUBMERGED LAND LEASE WAS AS ALWAYS 5 YEAR.
    THE SUBMERGED LAND LEASES HAVE NEVER BEEN LEASED FOR MORE THAN FIVE YEAR PERIODS. As everone was asleep trusting there elected officials would take care of them and there natural resources. Well the nightmare has began, since 1984 and that original DEP Permit, a few feet here and few feet there along with lease exentions to 25 years.
    Why after all these years would TIITF issue a 25 year submerged land Lease, and upland land leases on the unnumbered lots lying west of Seabreeze Blvd and west of lots 2. 3 & 4. You have heard the frase, “life repeats it’s self”.
    This is not quiet “life repeating it’s self”, but close. Back in August 11, 2006 it was Rahn Bahia Mar, LLC as mortgagor, using our beloved Bahia Mar as collateral, for a wow $900,000,000 (Broward County Recorders Book 42589, Page 278) and the Lender was Wachovia Bank, National Association. Who knows where the money went, but it certainly take the wo’s out of that wow. Publicly owned land used as collateral for private enterprise.
    This is the life repeating it’s self.In this scenario, on July 1, 2005(Broward County Book 40050, Page 564-597)Morgan Stanley Mortgage Capital, Inc, and Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. are the lenders, Lending only $240,000,000 on the unnumbered lots lying west of Seabreeze Blvd and west of lots 2. 3 & 4, more common known as the 2 parking lots between 401 & 429 Seabreeze Blvd. The Lenders also included in their porfolio Courtyard Marriott, at 440 Seabreeze Blvd., Fort Lauderdale, owned by PHF Ocenfront LLC C/O Pyramid Advisors LLC. Publicly owned land used as collateral for private enterprise. Lenders must have a special wond that gives them the abillity to make a loan without abiding by SEC requirements, no appraisal were ever done on those parce1s.
    To make sure all there asses are covered TIITF will supply a “Temporary Use Agreement” on October 31, 2008, Broward CountyRecorders Book 45802, Page 45-51. NOW WE KNOW WHY TIITF GAVE PHF OCEANFRANT A TWENTY FIVE YEAR LEASE, NO LENDER WOULD EVER CONSIDER LENDING FOR 5 YEARS.

  16. Jacquelyn Scott says:

    The PUD ordinance was written with one project in mind in Sailboat Bend. Since then it has been abused to rezone at least 8 more sites. When you rezone properties in many different areas of the city these PUD’s are nothing more than spot zoning. It makes no sense to continue this atrocity of allowing developers to assault the city with requests to rezone when the Ordinance is so grossly flawed. Once you read the ordinance it will be clear that a MORATORIUM must begin immediately to stop Spot Zoning. Once a PUD is granted and the oversized buildings are finished that becomes the standard for the area and it is very difficult to say NO to the next request for a PUD. This is how the elected officials can destroy our neighbohoods. I am optimistic they do not want that to happen for a number of reasons and will soon see what this ordinance is doing to the city and the future of neighborhoods. Maybe it could be a good ordinance after it is rewritten and properly vetted. I still have Faith the commission will do the right thing! If anyone knows or thinks otherwise I would love to hear from you.. PUDmoratorium@gmail.com

  17. Fll Resident says:

    Mr. Ulmer –

    Thank you for joining the conversation. I appreciate hearing from an FPC member. I attended a service a few weeks ago to try to open up a dialogue, but no one would speak to me.
    I live in the neighborhood and bought here because of the current zoning: the “quiet end of Las Olas” allows us the ability to walk to the post office, dry cleaners, alterations store etc.
    A change in zoning is a big deal, and we need to understand all the impacts, especially to those who live here. The church now owns the land with some of these stores – the new building puts them out of business.

    Where I grew up, our church wanted to expand, but the zoning didn’t allow. It almost split the community, but here’s what we ended up doing: We kept the stately, older church and built a new one in the suburbs. I thought it was a bad idea at the time – I wanted one big church; however, it ended up being the best thing for all. Those of us who want the “in-town” location still go. Those who live in the suburb get to the new church in less than half the time.
    I hope we can resolve this civily. Thanks again for joining the conversation.

  18. Raymond Dettmann says:

    I am against the proposed Pud development in Colee Hammock I want to protect the character of Colee Hammock the Large Facilities should be in a area that the Roads can Handle and that does not effect the charm of the Neighborhood’s and I do not believe it Fair to change Zoning that has been Residential for years and allow a much larger use which will effect the other near by Residential Properties. I believe this Issue should be a deciding view to See what type of Elected Officials we have and we should force them to show their true Colors I am tired of hearing Elected Official’s not state their Vision or hanging their Hat on the City Attorney that why in most part the one with the biggest war chest seems to win We need Leaders that will make it clear what they believe in a what is their Vision is for this City and if we do not get that I will take that to the ballot Box.

  19. FPC Against says:

    Some interesting facts about First Presbyterian Church I will share for your information. We have never been asked to vote if we the membership are for or against the project. Many of us are terrified to come out against it because of what the church may do or the way we will be treated. I know I am not alone on this. Almost 50% of our membership does not live in Ft Lauderdale so it is not a surprise they don’t seem to care about what this expansion may do to Colee Hammock. Our classsrooms are not even close to ever being full so I don’t understand why we need these big buildings. If we need to provide basketball for our youth let us rent St Anthony’s Gym. Can’t we just go back to being the loving church we have always been and concentrate on the good things we do in the community? I beg the powers to be “Stop this Non Sense”! PLease everyone speak out I know I am not alone!

  20. Peggy McCormick says:

    This is Bernard McCormick free loading on the bride’s email. Two things are repeatedly brought up by church supporters or the development team. Both are false. One, the Colee Hammock neighbors are being described as “a vocal minority.” In several association votes, 100 percent were against the church. Of the approximately 30 speakers who opposed the church at the P & Z hearing, all but three live or own property in Colee Hammock. The others were sympathetic members of nearby neighborhoods who oppose the PUD concept. Of the 50 who spoke for the church, only one owns property in the area. All the church members who reside in Colee Hammock oppose this PUD. The entire community, and this now includes neighboring civic groups, oppose this PUD. Thanks to Broward Bulldog, public opinion has been steadily building in opposition to the PUD concept. It is now recognized as a developer’s device to get around the zoning code.

    The second untruth is the often expressed notion that the Colee Hammock Homeowners will not compromise. Members of the community met with church leaders in May, and the church will not budge on the key issues of the mass of the structures, and the desire for a PUD. As Susan Bryan points out, the neighborhood accommodated the church in years past. It would do so again if the church were willing to scale back its plans to something compatible with the neighborhood.

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