BALANCE SHEET BLOG – HOLLYWOOD, FL


Coral House and Towering Oaks: 2006
August 25, 2006, 12:00 AM
Filed under: Development, Historic Preservation

August 25, 2006

Question:  Where can you find an old house built of coral, surrounded by hundreds of ancient, towering oak trees?

Answer:  In Hollywood!

But the City Commission has just approved changing the land use for this property to allow a huge 1600-residential unit, office, hotel, and retail development that could include as many as 99 three-story townhomes where the grand live-oak hammock miraculously still stands right in the middle of Hollywood. And tucked away in its midst is the coral house.

The developer’s and city staff’s many presentations on this massive development project have never, to our knowledge, included mention of the coral house.  What is planned for it, and how can it be saved? Why have developers and staff failed to even mention it?

As for the spectacular oaks, city staff say they are working with the developer “to adjust the site layout” in order to preserve “some clusters of these trees.” But the demise of old oaks lies hidden in the staff report’s language: an unspecified number of trees “may need to be mitigated.”  Mitigation in this context means the developer will be allowed to destroy them and plant new ones either on this site or elsewhere.

The towering majesty of these oak trees cannot be over-emphasized.  The typical tree canopy in Hollywood. and for that matter all of Broward, is just puny by comparison, especially since Hurricane Wilma.  Interestingly, this majestic native oak canopy “was mostly unscathed” by Wilma, according to the staff report on the proposed project.

The huge new development, now called “Sheridan Stationside Village,” is to be a “transit-oriented development” (T.O.D.), packed into the area around the Sheridan Street Tri-Rail Station, from Sheridan to Taft, between I-95 and the railroad tracks.

The developers have secured a 99-year lease from the State Department of Transportation for the land around the Sheridan Tri-Rail Station.  In addition, they have purchased the trailer parks nestled beneath the towering live-oaks, and are in the process of relocating (i.e., evicting) all of the residents to make way for the new “village.”

In September, the Hollywood City Commission approved the T.O.D., despite repeated opposition from residents of the nearby neighborhoods. This opposition was based primarily on (a) incompatibility of the proposed 15-story high-rise buildings with the low-rise, traditional Hollywood residential neighborhoods in the area, (b) too many people in too small a space with limited access and egress, (c) destruction of the oak hammock, (d) school overcrowding, and (e) the traffic nightmare such a huge project would visit on the surrounding residential streets as well as on Sheridan Street and the I-95 ramps.

At a community meeting on October 7, the developers presented their project once again to the 25 or so residents who took the time to attend.  During the question period, residents expressed traffic, building height, and quality of life concerns.  With respect to traffic, the developers said they had hired a local traffic consultant, Calvin-Giordano, to make recommendations.  What no one said was that Calvin-Giordano is also the city’s consultant on this project, a fact that leaves us with no independent review when it comes to traffic.

The city planning director also spoke at the October 7 meeting. He said he believed that 15 stories was too high, and that 8-10 stories would be more appropriate.  There was also talk of creating more office space and fewer residential units. But this talk of down-sizing was easy and no commitment was made to accomplish it.  What we have as of now is the Hollywood City Commission’s approval of 15-story buildings, along with others of lesser height, for a total of 1600 residential units, plus office, retail, and hotel, for the proposed “village.”

City planning staff routinely tell opponents of development projects, as they did in this case, that “this approval” is only “preliminary,” and details are yet to be worked out over time.  Anyone who observes closely Hollywood’s development approval process has learned by now that each preliminary approval locks the city into final approval, and soon it will be too late to make the project smaller because the developer will have invested so much in securing the preliminary approvals for the larger one.  How many times have we heard city commissioners say that they feel bound to grant final approval to a project because of what has been approved already?

The next stop in the approval process for the proposed “village” will be the Broward County Planning Council’s review.  The Planning Council’s public hearing on the Sheridan Stationside Village is expected to be scheduled some time in the first part of 2007, date and time not yet set.

Postscript. A word must be said about the city planning director’s performance at the Oct. 7 community meeting.  He gave up a Saturday morning to attend this meeting, for which residents can only thank him.  But when he stood up to speak to the group, he lost the good will that might have been his. Instead of presenting his subject in a positive, professional way, he lit right out against the president of the North Central Hollywood Civic Association who had spoken against the size and scope of the project.  “It would take me longer than we have been here this morning to turn what Pete Brewer has said into the truth,” was how Mr. Epstein began his own remarks.  The audience booed at this nasty dig from a city department head. This would not be worth a mention if it were an isolated occurrence, but too often the planning director has disrespected Hollywood residents in public meetings. Fortunately, this gratuitous, momentary nastiness was the only negative occurrence in what was otherwise a well-run meeting on a controversial subject.  
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