Broward environmental activist Cat Uden is trying to beat the odds on controversial beach project

Uden, an avid paddleboarder, is fighting an uphill battle against a planned 30-story luxury condo tower on Hollywood Beach.

'I care a lot about the beach, the environment, and when I see injustice happening, I want to do something about it,' Cat Uden says.

'I care a lot about the beach, the environment, and when I see injustice happening, I want to do something about it,' Cat Uden says. Photo illustration by Anabel Dayao

For Catherine “Cat” Uden, the ocean is like a church: It’s where she draws her strength. 

Uden, a Hollywood resident and activist, loves to paddle board off Hollywood Beach, for instance. Her passion: Preserving the beach and the ocean, which she believes should be open to all. 

But there are powerful developers in South Florida who don’t share her passion. They see the beach as a perfect place for large luxury condominium development – and big profits.

For the past few years, Uden has fought the development of a planned 30-story luxury condo tower at 1301 South Ocean Drive on Hollywood Beach, on a site she believes should be public open space. The Related Group, which is building this project, has promised Hollywood millions of dollars in benefits. A request for comment with them is pending. 

Previous coverage – Tale of a tower: Proposed condominium project on Hollywood Beach is last straw for some residents

But Uden has continued to fight the project even against difficult odds. “It is irresponsible and will harm the environment. I am fighting it because it is the right thing to do,” she told City & State.

She’s begun to see some results. Commissioner Caryl Shuham has become a powerful ally in fighting the project. And the city’s planning and development board voted 8-0 to recommend that the Hollywood City Commission reject the project. 

On the other hand, longtime Hollywood City Commissioner Traci Callari said she opposes Uden’s hardball tactics, accusing her of being overly aggressive, including on social media. 

“I am in favor of the 1301 development. When the vote took place, I asked them to lower the height and possibly make it 25 stories. I respect the input of residents,” the commissioner said. 

Callari said the tower won’t obstruct as much of the view of the beach as Uden says. “And we will actually acquire more green space and more parking spaces. We could have a very environmentally friendly building at the beach. I think this project meets all the needs for all the residents of Hollywood,” she said. 

Callari added: “This will also generate millions of dollars for the city and will allow us to pay for improvements to roads and salaries and pensions of city workers. We need this money to keep the city going.”

Uden disagrees, responding, “I care a lot about the beach, the environment and when I see injustice happening, I want to do something about it.”

A teacher, and a ‘bit of a rebel’ before that

Uden began her career as a teacher in Broward County and worked in public school classrooms for 15 years. Uden said she was a “bit of a rebel” during her youth. She left teaching and devoted her life to fighting for the environment. And she has begun to gain results.

An advocate for ocean life, Uden stood for enforcing laws on the books that restaurants east of the Intracoastal Waterway could not hand out plastic utensils or foam food containers. By the end of 2018, Hollywood began enforcing the ordinance.  

She began her activism when Hollywood officials said she couldn’t paddleboard along most of the Beach. 

“The City claimed that standup paddling was illegal on 89 percent of the beach, and they ticketed me and took me to court – and the judge ruled in my favor. The case was dismissed because the city was wrong,” she said. 

“... Eventually the standup paddleboard law was changed and I was placed on the parks and recreation advisory board. And I advocated for changes to paddle board regulations. Now we have more freedom and space to paddleboard,” she added. 

Soon, she started showing up at city meetings and talking with elected officials. “We changed the ordinance, and we have much more area and freedom to paddleboard. The area and times of the day for paddleboarding were extended. I can paddle anywhere I want before 10 a.m.,” she said. 

Her persistence caught the attention of Mayor Josh Levy, who invited Uden to go stand-up paddleboarding. “We paddled past 1301 and he asked me what I thought … I said I would oppose that because I want that area to remain low rise, quiet and natural.”

Dale Bruschi, a resident, spoke against the project at a recent community meeting. “This is the wrong project at the wrong time and the wrong place,” he said in an interview. 

“I don’t believe we should have a large condominium at the beach,” he added. “Cat Uden is a concerned citizen, and she is an activist who cares about the environment.”

Scott Evans, another resident, is also against the condo project. “I don’t believe we should have this condo building at the beach. Cat Uden has done her due diligence on this project,” he said.

Elected officials favor condo tower – and funds it will bring

Most of the leaders in Hollywood, however, continue to support the project. 

“This project will be good for the city, and it will help the general fund,” Commissioner Kevin Biederman said. “The developer is putting a lot of money up front, and this will help us make improvements to neighborhoods that have been left behind.”

Commissioner Idelma Quintana has not made up her mind on the project, calling it “a difficult decision to make.”

“I put a lot of weight on the words of Dr. Jennifer Jurado and her memo,” she said. Jurado, director of the Broward County Resilience/Environmental Department, has said the 1301 project is in conflict with the county’s climate and resiliency goals.

“I am aware of the environmental risks,” Quintana said. “I am leaning in the direction of this being a very risky venture for Hollywood (but) I am open to hearing more from my colleagues and city staff.”

The Related Group has continued to work with Hollywood to win the support of city leaders and residents. The developer has offered to make improvements, including some from resident suggestions, such as a 25,500-square-foot oceanfront community center with a 2,385-square-foot restaurant and public library, a 5,025-square-foot meeting space and a fitness center. 

The project is expected to come before the city commission in late June but a date has not been set. If the commission votes in favor of it, then it goes before the Broward County Planning Council and then the full Broward County Commission. 

David Volz has been a reporter for numerous community news publications throughout South Florida over the past two decades, as well as the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Miami Herald and South Florida Business Journal. He covers local government, schools, sports, culture, faith groups and workplaces.

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