BALANCE SHEET BLOG – HOLLYWOOD, FL


Block 55
June 16, 2009, 9:28 PM
Filed under: Development, Young Circle

June 16, 2009

Forget Zoning and Design Standards

Question: Why is Block 55 on the City Commission agenda now, just a month or so before Zyscovich Architects, the consultants hired by the city last June, can complete the Master Plan and Zoning Code for Young Circle and parts of downtown?

Have we forgotten the words of Commissioner Blattner last summer when our elected officials voted unanimously to spend $200,000 for the plan and code? “If we don’t establish our vision based what Zyscovich presents to us in the next six months to a year, whatever it takes, all we’re going to get [are] projects that don’t meet our vision.”

Now – after numerous meetings with the public and stakeholders – March 10 is the anticipated date on which Zyscovich’s recommended zoning changes and design standards will be issued. “We are that close!” said Terry Cantrell, President of the Hollywood Lakes civic association, one of the stakeholder groups that is actively pushing to have the hearing on Block 55 postponed. Only after the zoning changes and design standards are available, will our elected officials have the tools they need to assure that new Young Circle development truly meets the city’s vision for the ArtsPark and downtown.

Commissioner Asseff has repeatedly expressed her concern that city commission action not interfere with developer entitlements. In this case, postponement would have no bearing on entitlements, because the developer’s proposal for this project does not comply with the city’s development agreement. Hence a new agreement will be required if the project is approved and any entitlements will negotiated at that time. Therefore entitlement interference is not a viable argument against postponement.

Bottom Line: the public hearing on Block 55 should be postponed until after the Zyscovich zoning and design standards are released next month.

Note: The Commission acted on Block 55 without waiting for the new zoning and design standards.

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Downtown Historic Properties Endangered
April 15, 2009, 10:15 PM
Filed under: CRA Districts, Development, Downtown, Young Circle

April 15, 2009

Unless it takes action, our newly elected City Commission is about to be implicated in what was arguably the worst decision made by its predecessor:  taking a family’s property by eminent domain to make way for a huge private development on Young Circle.

Back in 2005, Hollywood’s Downtown CRA began the legal process of seizing the Mach family’s property in downtown Hollywood. The city’s justification:  eliminating slum and blight.  Does the well-maintained Mach building, which dates from the 1930s and houses four small businesses, look like your idea of “slum and blight”?


Why did the CRA want to TAKE the Mach’s property?  Because developer Chip Abele wanted to build a big condo tower named Young Circle Commons on the site of the historic Great Southern Hotel and he needed more space for his project.  No problem:  the CRA Board (aka the Hollywood City Commission) should seize the adjoining Mach property and give it to Mr. Abele.  That’s what the former City Commission agreed to do by a vote of 5-2. Does the new City Commission support this action? We strongly hope not, but we will see….

The Mach family challenged the city’s action in court and won, but under its former leadership, the city promptly appealed the trial court’s decision. On March 26, 2008, a three judge panel of the Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the city.  Read the appeals court opinion here.   The Mach family is seeking to have the case re-heard before the full Fourth District Court of Appeals, and is willing to take the case to the Florida Supreme Court.

Young Circle Developer:  Chip Abele

While Mr. Abele continues to allow the historic Great Southern Hotel to deteriorate as the court case drags on, he is back before city staff with a second tower he wants to build on the other side of Young Circle;  the so-called 25-story Hollywood Circle tower – a project he appears to be rushing through the city staff approval process in preparation for appearances before the city’s Planning and Zoning and Development Review Boards and ultimately the City Commission..

Historic Preservation

While the legal case drags on, Mr. Abele has shown no respect for Hollywood’s old, historic hotel, one of the most endangered historical sites in the State of Florida, according to the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation.  He has allowed it to deteriorate continuously.  The irony here is that Mr. Abele’s Young Circle Commons was designed to “save” a portion of the hotel’s facade, and historic preservation became a purported justification for seizing the Mach property.  In fact the only reason for taking the Mach’s property is that Mr. Abele’s proposed project is too big for his site.  Instead of its rightful place at the entryway to Hollywood’s historic downtown, the Great Southern Hotel has become a monument to Mr. Abele’s over-reaching and neglect.

Now, the spotlight is on the new City Commission.  Will it put a stop to the Mach family’s nightmare?  Or will it continue on the same discredited course as the old Commission?  Commissioners Blattner, O’Sheehan, Asseff, and Sherwood were not on the City Commission when this eminent domain action was approved and Commissioner Furr, who was, voted against it.  So we have five out of seven elected officials who did not vote to give the Mach property to Chip Abele for his condo tower.  But they, too, will become tainted by this mess unless they find a way to STOP it.

The great majority of Hollywood residents do not want their government seizing private property to subsidize a private developer’s condo tower.  Indeed, because of the statewide outcry against this type of government action, it is no longer lawful in the State of Florida.  The only reason the Hollywood case continues is because our city began the process of taking the Mach property before the State Legislature outlawed the use of eminent domain for economic redevelopment.  But now that the Legislature has ruled, the city’s continued efforts to take this property are contrary to public policy.

What We Can Do

Hollywood residents should call or e-mail our elected officials and demand that they stop eminent domain against the Mach family once and for all.  The phone number to the City Commission office is:  954-921-3321.  Click here for e-mail. Be sure to include your signature (name and address).

For more information about this eminent domain case from the Mach family perspective — how it has affected their lives, their health, their time and energy, and their view of Hollywood city government — please e-mail David Mach directly for a copy of his article on the subject.   Since his family has experienced all this trouble from the city, David, who lives in Emerald Hills, has become an effective civic activist as well as an expert on the extent to which developers finance the election of city officials.

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Young Circle & Downtown Zoning
February 18, 2009, 6:40 PM
Filed under: CRA Districts, Development, Downtown, Young Circle

February 18, 2009

Zoning vs  “Developer Entitlements”

Question: Why is Block 55 on the City Commission agenda now, just a month or so before Zyscovich Architects, the consultants hired by the city last June, can complete the Master Plan and Zoning Code for Young Circle and parts of downtown?

Have we forgotten the words of Commissioner Blattner last summer when our elected officials voted unanimously to spend $200,000 for the plan and code? “If we don’t establish our vision based what Zyscovich presents to us in the next six months to a year, whatever it takes, all we’re going to get [are] projects that don’t meet our vision.”

Now – after numerous meetings with the public and stakeholders – March 10 is the anticipated date on which Zyscovich’s recommended zoning changes and design standards will be issued. “We are that close!” said Terry Cantrell, President of the Hollywood Lakes civic association, one of the stakeholder groups that is actively pushing to have the hearing on Block 55 postponed. Only after the zoning changes and design standards are available, will our elected officials have the tools they need to assure that new Young Circle development truly meets the city’s vision for the ArtsPark and downtown.

Commissioner Asseff has repeatedly expressed her concern that city commission action not interfere with developer entitlements. In this case, postponement would have no bearing on entitlements, because the developer’s proposal for this project does not comply with the city’s development agreement. Hence a new agreement will be required if the project is approved and any entitlements will negotiated at that time. Therefore entitlement interference is not a viable argument against postponement.

Bottom Line: the public hearing on Block 55 should be postponed until after the Zyscovich zoning and design standards are released next month.

Note: as of now, the public hearing on Block 55 is scheduled for 5:30 PM, Wednesday, Feb. 18, 2009.

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Young Circle Development
December 1, 2008, 12:41 PM
Filed under: City Commission, Development, Young Circle

December 1, 2008

On its Dec. 3 agenda, the city commission has an opportunity to put a new face on development around Young Circle. Instead of allowing more “piecemeal development,” we can have a city vision for Young Circle and zoning regulations to implement it.

The proposed moratorium on certain downtown development is the way to do it . A temporary hiatus would allow the Zyscovich 2009 Master Plan and zoning regulations to be finalized before any more development is approved. The city has already commissioned this work and committed to paying Zyscovich $200,500 for it. Accordingly, it only makes sense to require new Young Circle development to follow the new zoning once approved.

The belief that no moratorium is needed because nothing will be built during this recession is naive at best. What developers are after is locking in city incentives and towering density on their sites, before new zoning sets limits. Once the city has approved one of these massive projects, the developer can leave the site vacant for years, claiming “unavoidable delays” that the city has a history of forgiving.

The proposed moratorium would stop the city from issuing variances and zoning changes as well as building permits and other development orders in a specified section of the downtown CRA until a date to be set by the city commission. Given that every building around Young Circle is receiving many millions of tax dollars as subsidy, the city has every right to ensure that these projects enhance the city’s vision for the ArtsPark. As of now, the city has no vision and piecemeal development prevails. The Zyscovich plan is intended to correct this problem and give a clear focus.

Four Young Circle towers illustrate the concept of “piecemeal development.” A more descriptive term would be “developer-driven hodgepodge.” Radius is finished but many of its units are unsold, Young Circle Commons and ArtsPark Village are approved, but not yet built. Hollywood Circle seeks approval this month. Radius is 14 stories, Young Circle Commons 19 stories, ArtsPark Village 22, and Hollywood Circle 25 stories.

One developer is pushing hard to have his project approved before any new regulations come into play. The developer is Chip Abele. The project is Hollywood Circle that would include over 400 units of upscale housing, a new Publix grocery, office space, and a garage structure for almost 1,000 vehicles facing the Hollywood Lakes residential neighborhood.

In mid-November, the city’s Development Review Board granted this project a waiver of the city’s 25 foot landscape requirement. Next, the city’s Planning and Zoning Board is being asked to change the project’s zoning to PD which would eliminate any zoning restriction on height and density. As currently designed, Hollywood Circle’s height is 266 feet, just about double the height of the Radius condos.

The moratorium should take effect before the PD zoning request is heard. If this zoning change is allowed, piecemeal development will have won the last round.

Another advantage of the moratorium would be the opportunity to renegotiate the development agreement that was finalized back in 2004. The developer’s plans actually violate requirements specified in that agreement. Instead of seeking design and zoning changes for a project that deviates substantially from what the development agreement calls for, the developer should be required to renegotiate the agreement first. The moratorium would allow time for that process.

Those who say Chip Abele’s project was already in the pipeline and he “has been waiting a long time,” overlook the fact that Mr. Abele has failed for four years to bring this project to fruition. When the city approved his project back in 2004, there was no recession like we have today. For whatever reason, he chose not to move forward.

The City Commission should take control of Young Circle projects and stop settling for mediocre “piecemeal development” around the ArtsPark. A temporary moratorium is our last chance to get it right. Commissioners need to step up to the plate now before it is too late. Let them know your thoughts before the Dec. 3 city commission meeting.

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ArtsPark Village: Due Diligence
September 1, 2008, 6:12 PM
Filed under: City Commission, City Staff, CRA Districts, Development, Young Circle

September 1, 2008

When four commissioners sealed the deal in July with developer WSG for the downtown mega-development ArtsPark Village, no one mentioned publicly that the developer was in default on its Miami Beach project, Canyon Ranches. And this default was with the same lender WSG claimed was to finance ArtsPark Village at Young Circle. Instead, the deal’s supporters repeatedly touted WSG as a successful, well-funded developer with a solid track record.

Now we learn from the Daily Business Review that back in 2006, WSG defaulted on loans from Lehman Brothers for its Miami Beach project. We learn too that Lehman sold those loans to an investment group that specializes in buying bad debt and other distressed assets.

Investment Bank Crisis: Lehman Brothers is facing its own major crisis as a result of its involvement in the subprime mortgage and related debacle. News reports indicate Lehman is actively seeking a multi-billion-dollar cash infusion from Korea, China, and Middle Eastern sovereign funds in order to avoid the fate of Bear Stearns.

In Hollywood, WSG pressed for rezoning and huge financial incentives from the city commission with the oft-repeated justification that WSG would lose its Lehman financing commitment for ArtsPark Village unless the city approved the project NOW.

Failure to repay loans when due is not WSG’s only problem. The Daily Business Review tells of unpaid lien holders also — contractors claiming over $16 million from WSG for materials and work on the Miami Beach project.

The news report of WSG’s “meltdown” in Miami Beach leaves many unanswered questions. If our elected officials knew WSG had problems in Miami Beach, did they probe the depths of those problems before approving the Hollywood project? Why was none of this made public during the public hearings on the project? And what convinced the four Commissioners who supported the project (Asseff, Blattner, Furr, and Sherwood) that WSG’s loan defaults and unpaid lien disputes in Miami Beach had no bearing on Hollywood’s ArtsPark Village?

If, on the other hand, our elected officials did not know of these problems when they voted to approve and subsidize WSG, why were they kept in the dark? Where was the due diligence Hollywood citizens have a right to expect from city government?

Does the City Commission have grounds for revisiting the ArtsPark Village project? Let’s hope they take a close look in order to protect Hollywood’s interests.

Finally, there is another reason approval of this project was unwise. Recently, the City Commission voted unanimously to spend $200,500 to hire a planning and design consultant to create a vision and zoning regulations for development around the ArtsPark. Given the developer-driven hodgepodge that is beginning to rise around the circle, this seemed like a good idea.

But then, little more than a month later, a bare majority of our elected officials voted to approve ArtsPark Village, paying no heed to the recommendation of the consultant they had just hired for the Young Circle vision and zoning. He told them that approval of this project would have a negative impact on plans for future Young Circle development. An economic consultant then told them that their stated desire for “luxury market-rate rental housing”at ArtsPark Village was not guaranteed in the WSG agreements. Indeed, they were told, low-income housing tax credits may well have to be used to finance the project. We can’t help but ask the question whether a majority of the City Commission is wasting our money by first hiring a consultant to develop a Young Circle vision and then directly undermining the work of the consultant by approving ArtsPark Village.

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ArtsPark Village: Final Approval
July 21, 2008, 10:08 PM
Filed under: CRA Districts, Development, Young Circle

July 21, 2008

Albert Einstein once said “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Our elected officials all agree that we need to have more people living, working, and playing downtown for Hollywood to thrive.  They have been handing out increasingly large incentives toward this end for more years than we’d like to remember. Yet, Downtown Hollywood has more vacant stores than ever, and many others are barely holding on.

In the last five years, the City Commission has signed agreements with developers for at least six big downtown towers, all with substantial public tax dollar subsidies:

Golfview
Hollywood Station
Radius
SoHo Lofts
Townhouse site
Young Circle Commons

Only two have been built — Radius and Hollywood Station — but neither has brought significant numbers of people downtown.  And the other four?  They haven’t even broken ground.  When these projects were approved, recession was not an issue.

Additionally, the Commissioners were not really satisfied with the design and other features of the Radius and Hollywood Station, yet they approved them anyway in the rush to “bring people to Downtown Hollywood.”

Today, we are looking at yet another project — WSG’s ArtsPark Village — to “bring people to Downtown Hollywood.”  And our commissioners are saying the project must be approved now even though not one commissioner has expressed enthusiasm for it.  Some don’t like the design (e.g., blue glass and metal), others regret the large subsidies, or the extreme density of the site.  Why must it be approved?  Because we can’t wait any longer “to bring people to Downtown Hollywood.”

Despite the dismal record of unbuilt projects, the City Commission — acting as the CRA Board — is poised to approve and subsidize WSG’s 22-story condo tower, office building, garage and charter school project in exactly the same manner and for exactly the same reason as the prior Commission approved the six projects specified above.  In approving WSG, our elected officials will be dishing out more of the same, only worse.

Are We Expecting Different Results From The Same Old Thing?

This time around we have public admission that this project is “challenged.” No one knows whether it can be built at all, despite city subsidies that are exponentially greater than those promised other downtown developers.

Why are we doing the same old thing that has failed over and over again. Hollywood’s downtown redevelopment needs a new vision that the public can embrace and support.  We do not want to keep repeating what is not working.

Money, Money, Money!

Our elected officials are expected to approve sweetened subsidies for WSG by forgiving repayment of a CRA $3.5 million loan.  This $3.5 million is on top of the city’s promise to pay the developer 90% of all the new tax revenue the project generates every year through 2025 (assuming it can be built).  This means that an estimated $25 million in future tax revenues will be diverted to private pockets.

Hollywood’s budget is in crisis mode, though you would never know it from the CRA’s huge public outlay planned for WSG, not to mention the $15 million the Beach CRA recently approved to cover the cost of relocating a new fire station on A1A.

While the CRAs spend with abandon, the rest of the city is faced with a $14 million budget shortfall. Commissioners are considering which services to cut, how much to raise user fees, whether to lay off all the sanitation workers, and whether to raise our taxes. They recently voted to set up a medical clinic in city hall at a cost of $1.6 million with the goal of reducing the city’s health care costs. The city’s liability (unfunded) for health and pension costs has skyrocketed. For health, the city is liable for about $300 million today, an amount that will grow as employees and retirees age. For pensions, the liability is another $300 million more or less.

The city’s master plans for water and sewer call for hundreds of millions of dollars to maintain, update and expand the city’s obsolete — and in places, failing — water and sewer systems. Then there is the state mandate to stop sending our sewage into the ocean which means we will be facing huge capital outlays in coming years. How many injection wells must be dug to handle the approximately 43 million gallons of wastewater we now pump daily into the ocean? Will we build a new plant to treat wastewater to potable standards?

What Do You Think?

Do you think now is the best time to approve this WSG project that will cause us to lose $3.5 million today and some $25 million in future tax revenue?  And by the way, we have spoken with every elected official but one.  None of them really likes the project yet most feel compelled to approve it now because we need “to bring people to Downtown Hollywood” without further delay.

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ArtsPark Village: July 2008
July 2, 2008, 6:08 PM
Filed under: City Commission, City Staff, CRA Districts, Development, Young Circle

July 2, 2008

Back in April, the City Commission initially approved a zoning change that would allow the huge WSG 25-story residential monolith next to the Home Tower on the SE side of Young Circle (4-3 vote). But the deal has yet to come forward for final approval.  Commissioners Asseff, Furr, Blattner, and Sherwood voted for the project. However, the city’s professional planning staff, the adjoining Home Tower residents, and many members of the public did not support it, nor did the Mayor and Commissioners O’Sheehan and Russo.

Final approval of the WSG project has now been scheduled for 5:30 PM on Tuesday, July 15.  In the interim, city officials are continuing to try to restructure what is widely believed to be a very bad deal for the city. It should be noted, however, that the project does have some supporters in addition to the four commissioners, primarily the Downtown CRA Director and parents of the charter school children.

Background

Because Commissioner O’Sheehan and many members of the public raised so many questions at the initial public hearing, the CRA Director asked Architect/Planner Bernard Zyscovich to review the WSG project.  Zyscovich subsequently made a presentation to the City Commission in which he was very clear that from an architectural/planning perspective, the project was far too massive for the available land and it detracted from the beauty of ArtsPark.

What WSG Wants to Build

WSG’s Project, as initially approved by a majority of the City Commission (4-3 vote) consists of a 25-story residential tower, an office building and a charter school, along with two garages.  All of this development would surround the Home Tower, and remove existing Home Tower parking without supplying comparable new parking for Home Tower tenants.

Since the prior City Commission had already signed off on a development agreement with WSG, Zyscovich’s ability to recommend significant changes was constrained.  He said that after much negotiation, the charter school had agreed to retain its existing space in the Home Tower, a key concession that would allow for a smaller new school building on the site.  This reduction along with removal of the proposed office building to another site would make it possible to lower the height of the residential tower and change its shape to lessen the project’s massive wall-like character on U.S. 1 and Van Buren Street.   He added that the WSG project modified in these ways still left a crowded project that should not be viewed as a model for future Young Circle development.  He said that WSG even with these changes was at the “high end of his tolerance scale.”

Parties Not In Agreement

The charter school reportedly has accepted these changes.  But to the best of our knowledge, the developer has not, on the ground that changing the project as Zyscovich has recommended, makes it financially not feasible.

The question of financial feasibility is mind-boggling.  New incentives are on the table now:  (1) the CRA would remove the requirement that WSG repay a $3.5 million loan the CRA made to WSG’s predecessor (Gary Posner’s HART development that was unable to perform), and (2) the CRA would provide another site for a WSG office building.  These sweeteners would be in addition to the CRA’s pledge to provide WSG with 90% of the increased tax revenue from the project until 2025.

Major Questions

IF  such a highly incentivized project in a prime Young Circle location cannot be built in a way that meets even minimal standards of good planning and good architecture, should it be built at all?

HOW can we ratchet up Hollywood’s planning and business decision-making so that redevelopment becomes a source of pride instead of one more occasion to cringe at the huge public give-aways for new downtown buildings that fail architecturally, or repel the viewer, or never get built at all?

Bottom Line Issues

The WSG Project should be set back from U.S. 1 to provide a view corridor to Young Circle instead of a fortress-like wall.

The WSG Project should be surrounded by wide sidewalks.  We should avoid the dark, narrow pedestrian right-of-way the Radius presents on Polk Street — a public sidewalk that is peppered with encroachments that should be located on Radius property (trees, standpipes, electrical boxes, ramps of varying sizes and shapes, etc.).

The wall-like parking garage along Van Buren Street must be changed to provide a pleasant pedestrian-friendly streetscape.

Adequate, comparable parking must be provided for the Home Tower since the WSG development would remove its existing parking.

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