Friday, April 02, 2010

Conflict in Hallandale Beach over new project.

Conflicting views on "progress" and "development".

I am a Hallandale Beach resident; and a Realtor.

I have seen the last piece of land on the beach, the Postner Track, given up for development and three voluminous buildings obliterate the last remaining view of the blue ocean waters in our"City of Choice".

That was a few years ago. And under the flag of "increase the tax base" our municipality was going head on the "Development" doctrine.Thousands of apartments/condos would prop us up in a new and modern era of prosperity.

Have we residents seen an improvement of our quality of life? I leave the final word to the angry drivers at the unending traffic jams; or the reduced frequency and outright elimination of some of our trash removal; the ongoing increase of our property tax rates; the lack of improvement of our public schools; and yes the splendid city building with its sprawling bureaucracy: all thanks to the expanded "tax base" of our new condominiums.

Do we need further development?

As a realtor, I should jump up and down yelling "YES".

As a spectator of how my quality of life is being affected, I could perhaps have a conflicting opinion.

Hallandale residents should take an increased role in the government of their city, I guess.

This is what I read in the Daily Business Review, on March 25, 2010

The owners of The Diplomat Golf Resort & Spa are pushing to obtain approval for an ambitious redevelopment of a Hallandale Beach golf course as a critical deadline approaches.

Running the gauntlet of land use and zoning hurdles is never easy, but winning approval of such a huge project could get tougher after November. That’s when Floridians will vote on a constitutional amendment that would allow them to veto any changes to a municipality’s comprehensive land-use plan.

The Plumbers & Pipefitters National Pension Fund, which owns the Hallandale Beach resort, wants to build up to 950 residential units, a 500-room hotel, a 48-slip marina and about 3,000 square feet of commercial space and upgrade the golf course.

Diplomat officials proposed changing the land use from commercial and recreational use to a designation called “local activity center,” which would allow a mix of residential, hotel, commercial and recreation uses.

Some in the development community expect Amendment 4, also known as Florida Hometown Democracy, to pass. That would make it much more difficult to change land use and zoning, experts said.

That’s why the Broward County Commission’s failure on Tuesday, by a 4-to-4 vote, to send the development plan to the state’s Department of Community Affairs for review — a necessary step before the final approval — is a big setback for the pension fund. The commission’s vote raises doubt about whether the 96-acre project can get the needed approvals by the time voters go to the polls in November.

In addition to the land-use issues, the pension fund also needs to find financing for the $500 million project and faces increasing competition from condo projects already in the pipeline.

“They’re trying to rush this stuff through in advance of Amendment 4,” said Jack McCabe, a Deerfield Beach-based housing analyst.

The consensus among builders is that if Amendment 4 passes, “it’ll put tremendous constraints on large-scale building projects like this,” he said. Builders all over Florida are pushing for approvals now, McCabe said.

Specter of Change

The specter of the change to the state constitution wasn’t raised at the commission meeting. Instead, it was skepticism on the part of Commissioners Lois Wexler and Sue Gunzburger that dominated the discussion. Wexler questioned developers’ claims the project would add only 180 peak-hour car trips to nearby roads, which are already over capacity.

Gunzburger asked how the developer planned to comply with Hallandale Beach’s affordable-housing provisions, which require a developer to either set aside 15 percent of a project for affordable housing or that it pay into the city’s affordable-housing fund. Diplomat officials agreed to pay into the fund.

Gunzburger wondered how a city with nearly 3,000 condo units already approved but not yet built could absorb even more inventory. “I don’t see the need for another 950 units,” she said.

Diplomat officials argued that the residential portion of the project is critical to make it work financially. A hotel alone won’t work, they said. Wexler also asked if the property was for sale.

Debbie Orshefsky, a Greenberg Traurig lawyer representing the developer, answered: “It’s not for sale at the present time.” She then added: “The property is not actively being marketed.” Earlier, Orshefsky said the entitlements would position the property for when the market rebounds. She acknowledged that the owner currently doesn’t have financing or investors in place to pay for construction and said the pension fund would most likely need to partner with an experienced builder.

Joining Commissioners Wexler, Gunzburger and Kristin Jacobs in voting against sending the proposed land-use changes to the state was Mayor Ken Keechl. Computer animated overhead view of the Diplomat’s gold course redevelopment . Commissioners John Rodstrom, Stacy Ritter, Diana Wasserman-Rubin and Albert C. Jones voted in favor. Commissioner Ilene Lieberman was out of town.

The developer, union officials and their supporters that filled the commission chamber were stunned by the vote. “It’s a procedural nightmare,” Orshefsky said after the vote. “I don’t know what it means. But it’s a procedural nightmare.” The county commission will hold another public hearing on the project in April. Both the city and county have to vote to send the proposal to Tallahassee for review by the DCA. Another public hearing and a final vote of approval by the city and county commissions are required after the DCA’s input. It’s a process that often takes months.

Long Fight

Opponents and proponents are sure to gear up for yet another battle. It has been going on for years.

In 1997, the Plumbers & Pipefitters National Pension Fund bought the resort and spa on Diplomat Parkway, east of Northeast 14th Avenue, north of Hallandale Beach Boulevard and south of Atlantic Shores Boulevard. It also owns the oceanfront Westin Diplomat hotel several miles away on A1A in Hollywood.

In 2000, the fund refurbished the golf course, added a new club house, tennis center, spa and a 60-room boutique hotel. The cost was about $45 million. But like many golf courses across South Florida, the one at the resort saw its fortunes decline.

Golf Course Costs Increasing
It was originally envisioned to be a high-end resort and golf club sustained by locals and guests from the Westin Diplomat. But that hasn’t happened. And while the golf course loses customers, its operating costs have continued to increase, officials said. To preserve the golf course, planning started about four years ago to create a golf course community and destination, Orshefsky said before the meeting.

The first proposal was for 1,600 residential units and a 350-room hotel, Orshefsky said. By the time Diplomat officials submitted their first application in early 2007, they proposed building 1,400 residential units and the hotel, she said. After months of back and forth with Hallandale Beach officials and residents, Diplomat officials withdrew their application. They refiled with the city in September 2009 after lowering the density and rethinking the design, Orshefsky said.

The wrangling with Hallandale Beach and Hollywood residents and Hallandale Beach city officials continued. The original proposal was too much, Hallandale Beach Mayor Joy Cooper said.

“It didn’t fit our city,” she said. But after a year and half of back and forth and many changes, city and Diplomat officials developed a plan they could agree on. The Hallandale Beach City Commission voted 3-2 in December to approve the plan. Cooper and commissioners Dotty Ross and Anthony Sanders supported the measure with Commissioner Keith London and Vice Mayor Bill Julian opposed. This “will continue to make that a viable, sustainable golf community,” the mayor said.


No one is completely happy, including Terry Cantrell, president of Hollywood Lakes Section Civic Association. The association worries mostly about traffic heading north through neighborhood streets.

“Hallandale Beach represents development run amok,” he said.

City officials there “never take into account” the amount of traffic its residents have to deal with, he said. He called the traffic studies the developer conducted “grossly inadequate.”

Luis Paredes, president of the United Condominium Associations of Hallandale Beach, said his group’s main worries are the added traffic and the compatibility of the high-rise project in a low-rise neighborhood. In e-mail blasts he sent out, he raised issues such as the number of empty condo units currently in Hallandale Beach and the possible sale of the property. He also questioned why the developers were fast-tracking the project.

David Schwartz, a third-generation South Florida hotelier and principal of The Management Consortium, a hotel consultant group, doubts the project will ever get built. “I can’t see the pipefitters taking on that risky venture,” he said. Schwartz said he also doesn’t think there will be any buyer for the property in this economy. Still, the supporters of the project say it’s important for the city’s future success.

“With all due respect, the time has come for Hallandale to shed its reputation as a senior citizen community,” said Gregory Dell, a local resident and lawyer not connected to the project. “In an economy that is suffering, Hallandale needs to seize an opportunity and look to the future growth and reputation of our city.

“I fear that if this project is not approved and the Diplomat golf course is forced to shut down, our property values will further decline and our city will have another vacant lot with no development.”

McCabe questioned the Diplomat’s contention that the project is needed to maintain the golf course’s viability.

The project would cost hundreds of millions of dollars, he estimated. And with Amendment 4 looming, getting the rights to build such a large project would dramatically increase the property’s value, he said.

“They really just want to get the entitlement to flip it to someone else,” McCabe said .

Henry B. Nathan is a Florida Licensed Real Estate Agent. Please visit my website to search for:

Aventura Condos

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