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

Opponents are trying to bypass elected officials and beat back the plan through a direct referendum.

Hollywood Beach in Hollywood, Florida.

Hollywood Beach in Hollywood, Florida. Tamanoeconomico, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

The latest chapter of Florida’s fraught history with building on its barrier islands is being written on Hollywood Beach. And opponents of one planned tower are so incensed they’re trying to bypass their own elected officials. 

The Related Group, a Miami-based developer that boasts it has “​​enhanced skylines” since 1979, want to put up a 26-story, upscale condominium building at 1301 South Ocean Drive with 135 units. The Hollywood City Commission OK’d the construction but a growing number of community activists and residents are fighting it.

Here’s how: They’re aiming to end the project through a referendum. The city charter allows residents to turn back decisions by the city commission if they can get 15 percent of residents to sign petitions. In this case, opponents of the tower need 14,800 residents to agree with them and they’ve had several events to get those signatures. So far, they have around 2,000.  

“The signatures have to be in person and we have been going door to door (to get) residents to sign the referendum,” Cat Uden, a community activist who’s leading the effort to kill the project, tells City & State. She and others point out that the land was not intended for private residences and is instead supposed to be public open space. Uden says she made countless presentations to community groups and city commissioners, to no avail. 

Big money’s at stake so there’s a vested interest to see the deal through. The project will involve a long term ground lease from the city, as landlord, to the developer for 99 years. City revenue from condo sales, property taxes, rent payments, and other sources of income from the redevelopment project could exceed $1 billion over that nearly century-long term, according to city staff. 

At the same time, sensitivity to beach construction in Florida has always been high – with concerns over environmental effects and towers blocking natural light – and has been exacerbated by last June’s Champlain Towers South collapse in Surfside, nearly 10 miles to the south, in which 98 people were killed. “In the beginning, like many residents, I thought the project was a done deal,” Uden says. “But then I learned there were ways it could be stopped.” 

There’s already a relationship between the city and the developer: City officials have been working with The Related Group on a public-private partnership to build an ocean-front community center on Hollywood Beach at Azalea Terrace. The project at issue also includes a public park, enhanced dunes, open space and added public parking. It all will be funded through the condominium building, officials say. The four-acre site currently houses the City’s Hollywood Beach Culture and Community Center, Harry Berry Park and two parking lots.

According to city officials, The Related Group has made adjustments to the plan after feedback from residents in the community. “We anticipate we will return to the community for specific input on the potential community center programming, public park space and other public amenities,” says Matthew Hege, who runs outreach for this project for The Related Group, in a statement. “A series of announcements pertaining to the 1301 South Ocean Drive Public Private Partnership will be ensuing during the process with additional opportunities for input and participation in public hearings to ensure that appropriate community benefits are conveyed for this important public-private partnership.”

Among the proposed public improvements so far:

  • A 25,500 square foot oceanfront community center.
  • A restaurant and coffee shop. 
  • A 5,000 square foot dining and ballroom area that could also be used for conferences and meetings. 
  • A fitness center. 
  • An additional 8,800 square feet of public space and an elevated outdoor terrace.

The site plan also calls for a new 43,000 square foot Harry Berry Park, including restrooms and a new playground – more than doubling the current 18,500 square foot footprint. A 12,150 square foot public plaza and event lawn is planned there, along with a 13,125 square foot landscaped sculpture park along A1A, and about 158 parking spaces.

Under the agreement, the city retains ownership of the land and public facilities, and all improvements – public and private – will be built at no cost to taxpayers. Private facilities will be owned by the tenant for the duration of the lease, and there will be a prohibition on short term rentals. Opponents claimed the project would violate a deed restriction on the site, but under Florida case law a private development on city-owned land is allowable if it produces a public benefit – including revenue for a city.

City Commissioner Traci Callari is bullish on the project. “The beach will not be damaged and is protected," she says. "Right now we have a small park and an old community beach center. The residents want a new community center. We have to be good stewards of (our) finances and move forward. We are a growing city and we need to come up with creative ways to make our city beautiful.”

Moreover, the planned 26 stories is in line with other high-rises along South Ocean Drive, including the 26-story Summit condominium immediately next door to the community center site, the 38-story Ocean Palms, the 40-story Diplomat Hotel and the 47-story Trump Tower.

But the deal killer for Uden and other opponents is the promise of another looming tower. The next step, she says, is going to the Broward County Commission to ask commissioners to deny the developer a land use amendment. She also says they’ll ask the National Park Service to deny permits for The Related Group to make any changes to land under their control. Vice Mayor Caryl Shuham has spoken out against the project, believing it won’t be the boon to the area that developers have promised. She adds, “Most of the residents who have contacted me on this matter say they are opposed to the project.”

As Uden puts it, “This condominium project is just wrong. I love the beach and it is our golden goose. … We don’t need another skyscraper on Hollywood Beach. This land is supposed to be an open space for everyone to enjoy.”

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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