Fort Lauderdale taps brakes on development

Fort Lauderdale is entering a phase where developers face more scrutiny as the mayor calls for smart growth in the city’s downtown. There’s also an issue with a traffic cap on the beach.

Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis gives a state of the city address in February

Already one condo association, allied with developer Trammell Crow Residential, has filed suit with the city, alleging it has discriminated against its plan to add a new 21-story, 180-unit apartment tower near the south shore of the New River, The Real Deal reports.

While plenty of cranes dot the city’s downtown landscape, Mayor Dean Trantalis and other commissioners are casting a wary eye on new projects.

The mayor’s May email to city residents is headlined, “City growth stands at a crossroad. Smart-growth rules coming soon, but development discussion needed.”

The background: Fort Lauderdale has struggled with basic infrastructure to accommodate its impressive growth, including sewer lines that have broken. Rising sea levels are resulting in king tides splash over the seawalls on Las Olas Boulevard and running into the street.  An effort to address traffic issues by building a fixed-track trolley system evaporated after cost overruns. There’s a need for more workforce housing.

A 2018 Sun Sentinel article said it might cost $3 billion to overhaul infrastructure over a 20-year period.

Trantalis’ email notes that he and other commissioners campaigned last year to find the right balance for growth.

“From the barrier island to downtown, Fort Lauderdale’s skyline is dotted with construction cranes where new housing, new hotels and new business space is being built,” Trantalis wrote. “It is a dizzying transformation. For some, it’s a statement of our prosperity and a sign of Fort Lauderdale gaining international renown as a great place to live and visit. For others, it raises concern of traffic and infrastructure and whether we are losing our sense of place as a community.”
The worrisome phrase for developers and property owners is Trantalis saying the city is “in the midst of runaway growth.” Trantalis, who is also an attorney,  says he wants to find a middle ground.
He proceeds to lay that out in his newsletter:
City staff is working on an update to the downtown master plan that will put into law important principles that previously were mere suggestions. Developers and past commissions often ignored these guidelines. The City Commission is scheduled to vote on these reforms in the fall.
The most important reform is something called transition zones.
Right now, a 30-story building can be built at the edge of downtown next to single-family home neighborhoods. That would no longer be the case. The proposal coming forward creates a transition area around downtown’s borders. New construction in the transition area would need to be smaller than if at the center of downtown, creating more of a buffer for surrounding neighborhoods.
Other items being codified include the separation between towers on a site, the size of a building’s base, the maximum length of buildings, the need for projects to include open space and the need for adjacent streetscapes with trees and lighting.
The City Commission also wants to change a key rule regarding what developments automatically come to us for a vote.
Under the current land development code, many downtown projects are approved with only a review by city staff. The commission can only intervene if it finds substantial evidence that staff made a grievous error in judgment. Legally, it’s a difficult challenge. It also frustrates the very mission we were all elected to fulfill.
The last paragraph seems to foreshadow the type of litigation that’s been filed over Trammell Crow’s Alexan Tarpon River project As Real Deal puts it, the project seemed “like a sure thing” given previous approvals.
The situation seems reminiscent of Palazzo Las Olas, a planned urban village on the northeast corner of the Intracoastal Waterway and Las Olas Boulevard. The project proposed for a city parking lot seemed to be sailing along, but many residents didn’t like its size. They helped elect a new city commission that rejected the project. Ultimately, a new parking garage was built.
The city settled the lawsuit in 2011 for $475,000, which might be considered cheap since the developer said it had out-of-pocket expenses of $5 million, $9 million in debt and condo pre-sales of $100 million, according to a Sun-Sentinel article.
While the downtown area is booming, there is a lot of space for redevelopment or new projects.
For example, there’s a major tract of land on the north side of the 100 block of East Broward Boulevard, next to a federal courthouse that needs to be replaced. There has been talk about the need for a new city hall
A concept for development at FATCity
A concept for development at FATCity in downtown Fort Lauderdale

In January, BH3 paid $23.12 million for the 2.8-acre site of FATCity in the 300 block of North Andrews, which has approvals for 1.3 million square feet of development—612 residential units, 85,000 square feet of retail, 270,000 square feet of commercial space and 1,300 parking spaces. Time will tell whether the city commission has issues with that.

The mayor also outlines a major issue on the city’s beach.
When the city moved to redevelop the beach in 1989, the county was concerned about how that would affect traffic on State Road A1A. A system was established to evaluate how much traffic each additional development would bring and caps were put on the number of peak-hour trips.
The formula allocated 3,220 additional trips and there are only 334 left to be allocated, the mayor writes. Projects under review would take all but 58.
The mayor indicates he is not necessarily against development, saying there are still spots on the beach that are blighted.
“We need to think of ways to improve traffic on the beach. Are there ways to improve mass transit, perhaps with shuttles from places like the Galleria Mall? This is where we need to get creative, because I agree with many others that we certainly don’t want any more cars on Fort Lauderdale beach,” the mayor writes.


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Drew Limsky

Drew Limsky



Drew Limsky joined Lifestyle Media Group in August 2020 as Editor-in-Chief of South Florida Business & Wealth. His first issue of SFBW, October 2020, heralded a reimagined structure, with new content categories and a slew of fresh visual themes. “As sort of a cross between Forbes and Robb Report, with a dash of GQ and Vogue,” Limsky says, “SFBW reflects South Florida’s increasingly sophisticated and dynamic business and cultural landscape.”

Limsky, an avid traveler, swimmer and film buff who holds a law degree and Ph.D. from New York University, likes to say, “I’m a doctor, but I can’t operate—except on your brand.” He wrote his dissertation on the nonfiction work of Joan Didion. Prior to that, Limsky received his B.A. in English, summa cum laude, from Emory University and earned his M.A. in literature at American University in connection with a Masters Scholar Award fellowship.

Limsky came to SFBW at the apex of a storied career in journalism and publishing that includes six previous lead editorial roles, including for some of the world’s best-known brands. He served as global editor-in-chief of Lexus magazine, founding editor-in-chief of custom lifestyle magazines for Cadillac and Holland America Line, and was the founding editor-in-chief of Modern Luxury Interiors South Florida. He also was the executive editor for B2B magazines for Acura and Honda Financial Services, and he served as travel editor for Conde Nast. Magazines under Limsky’s editorship have garnered more than 75 industry awards.

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