Tamarac’s brushstrokes for a vibrant community

I believe that nobody will argue with the statement that all communities aspire to make their cities sustainable, eco-friendly and vibrant to improve everyone’s quality of life. To create a place where residents and visitors can and want to thrive today and in the future. Nonetheless to say, that the local government is bound to work together with their constituents to attain this life shaping aspiration, therefore they must show with every single decision taken at the city hall that their strategic intent for building the future of the city is consistent with the voter’s objectives.

However, it didn’t matter that all residents adjacent to the property canvassed to the commissioners to reject the self-storage building in Rock Island and Commercial Blvd. Gomez, Placko and Fishman voted YES to approve the boosted rezoning and use of the land, allowing a facility that belongs to industrial parks. Thanks to the favorable rezoning, real estate investors get a multiple of the price paid for the property when it was acquired with recreation zoning, and the community loses more open space. A little green that had survived swampy deals. It was naive to believe that they would listen to the people, they had already exposed the city by agreeing to a settlement. A vote against the rezoning would have breached the agreement. Evidently, the commissioners that voted for the settlement were not inclined to vote to favor the constituents.

It was so easy to read what was in the heart of one of them, that after having witnessed a majority of residents oppose the infamous 5-stories self-storage building, would then ask the city’s attorney: “Aren’t we bond by law to see the evidence based on our ordinances and our land use and not on the desire to have something else?”. Oh yes, the city staff pushed through, last October of 2017, an amendment to the zoning code to permit self-storage facilities in mixed use zoning districts. Fourteen months later, the city commission meets and approves (3 “Yea” to 2 “Nay”) the items 11B & 11C of the quasi-judicial hearings:

  • TO2388 – Rock Island Self-Storage – Small Scale Land Use Plan Amendment, and
  • TO2387 – Rock Island Self Storage – Rezoning (“An Ordinance of the City Commission of the City of Tamarac, Florida, amending the Official Zoning Map of the City of Tamarac to reflect the Rezoning of certain real estate property described as Tract H of Sabal Palm by Prestige, from the current Recreation District to Mixed Use Neighborhood zoning classification, for the subject property located at 5602 North Rock Island Road, in order to allocate 3.02 gross Residential to Commercial Flex Acres to facilitate the development of a self-storage facility and provide consistency with the Land Development Code in accordance with the intent of the Comprehensive Plan of the City of Tamarac”)

It was there, where most of us realized that a self-storage facility built centrally to a residential area was in accordance with the intent of the comprehensive plan of the city of Tamarac. Clearly, these were also news for the commissioner of District1 who said at some point during the meeting: “I have sat through strategic planning meetings, I’ve heard the vision of the city, I have studied it, I have gone over it and a storage facility at that corner does not match what we want for the city”. Makes you also realize why the trust between the community and the commission crumbles in pieces with every public decision to amend the current zoning and use of the land, and with every late disclosure of other decisions made in private with the purpose of updating legacy ordinances that otherwise would block the projects already in their pipeline.

But buckle up because there is icing on the cake, the city manager, willingly responding to a question about Tamarac’s plan, gave us the opportunity to listen to his elevator speech apropos the direction given by the commission for the future of the city.

“This was the direction of the commission for the last three years, to push redevelopment throughout this community. That’s what we have done, we have brought you project, after project, after project, we have changed the city’s land development code to provide much greater flexibility to bring unique redevelopment projects to this community, that we could negotiate with developers to provide maximum flexibility to improve this built out community. And in doing so, we have brought you any number of buildings that you have approved, that have all being beyond the heights that we’ve typically seen in this community. We’ve done that consistently, we are doing that now. We are building a hotel down the street, we are building a hotel in the Commerce Park. We have brought you this proposal, jointly, in order to settle this litigation and we will be bringing you more proposals, just like this, and so if this is going from a quasi-judicial issue about land use and zoning to a discussion about the future of the city’s redevelopment, I will tell you that verticality, which is what we are discussing tonight, storage unit or not, we are talking about verticality, verticality is exactly what we are pushing in order to redevelop this community, intentionally, just as other communities are. And so, if it is the city commission’s pleasure that we do not do that, that we limit the height of new commercial to something less than the things that we have been bringing to you consistently for the last two years, the staff needs to know that. Because we are out working with people, with real estate developers all over the tri-county area up and to, and including Orlando, to bring redevelopment to this community, to bring new, shiny, better looking development than what we have here and so many places that we’ve heard so much about. In terms of what are we bringing, what’s the elevator speech, the elevator speech is that we are open for business and if you want to participate in the redevelopment of this community we want to hear your proposals. That is what we have asked people to do, to bring their proposals to us for your consideration.

For the record this is the direction we’ve been given up to this point and this is what we have brought forward, consistent with what the commission has asked for and consistent, I think, with what’s been approved recently throughout the community. And those developments will continue to be forthcoming as there is a great deal of interest in continuing to redevelop this community. We’re seeing it residentially, we’re seeing it commercially. You’ve got several multifamily apartment proposals which will be before the planning and zoning board and before you shortly, it is happening all over the community. So, again, this is what we have been pushing at your direction”.

Gosh, the mandate by the commission is verticality. I interpreted that they are intentionally bringing redevelopment that will improve the city’s hierarchy compared to others recognized for their urban distinctiveness. Notwithstanding, they fetched the preposterous redevelopment proposition of implanting a hollow monolith between low height residences in the east side of Tamarac. The best element of verticality they could conceive only fits the purpose of piling up unanimated belongings that have no place in people’s garages.

But the city concluded that the proposed Rock Island self-storage facility supports their goal of providing a vibrant community. The commission will be approving the major site plan this coming May 22nd, even though its height, building transparency, parking location, width of pedestrian zone, setback from adjacent residential and width of landscape buffer aren’t in compliance with the regulations of the city’s land development code. In terms of the height, they are allowing for a variance of circa 50% in excess of the limit prescribed by the development code.

As per the interoffice memorandums: 19-05-003M and 19-05-004M of the community development department, its director of community development recommends that the mayor and city commission approve the major site plan and the proposed five variances for the Rock Island self-storage facility at its May 22, 2019 meeting.

“….

  • A variance to allow for the construction of a building 58’4” in height where a maximum of forty (40) feet is allowed.
  • A variance to allow for a side and rear setback of twenty feet (20) where twenty-five (25) is required by Code between commercial and residential land uses.
  • A variance to allow for a landscape buffer of twenty (20) feet in width where fifty (50) feet is required by Code between commercial and residential land uses.
  • A variance to allow for a pedestrian zone fourteen (14) feet in width where nineteen (19) feet is required by Code.
  • A variance from architectural building and site design standards prescribed for developments located in the MU-N (Mixed Use Neighborhood) Zoning District as outlined in the City of Tamarac, Land Development.
    1. At least 30 percent of the ground-floor wall area between two and ten feet above grade shall consist of transparent glazing;
    2. At least 20 percent of each upper-floor wall area shall consist of transparent or nontransparent glazing.
    3. Surface parking shall be located behind buildings. Surface parking is not permitted between the building and the primary street frontage or to the side of the building where it may be viewed from the primary street frontage.

….”

A five-story building, 107,542 square feet of construction that only creates four full time jobs (two employees per shift) and that has the vibrance and the appeal of a gigantic hospice for people’s stuff with a trim of U-Haul trucks parked on the curb.

Building cities is an art. If you dare to adventure into building the urban environment you must embrace the social, cultural, political, spiritual and physical context, because the city must communicate through the symbols of its architectural language the people’s aspirations, values and culture. To simply ignore this, will sentence the city to alienation from its people and organizations, also prompting the aberration of its identity and shape.

You don’t just fill in all the blanks or should I say all the greens. You don’t open the city for business with a plan that isn’t about maximizing value for the shareholders, its tax payers. Furthermore, you ought to be faithful to a higher sense of purpose that is centered on social responsibility and on a strong local economy that interlinks residents, business, other organizations and all levels of government through collaboration.

The elevator speech should have been that there is a resident’s vision for the social and the economic development of the city, instead of a commission’s mandate. That this vision encompasses the unique fabric of the city of Tamarac, with its own distinctive history, culture, human diversity, geography, family values, aspirations and passion for their environment. It should have concluded describing how this inclusive vision creates value collaboratively for all its stakeholders and will improve everyone’s quality of life.

City’s thrive, and urban growth is positive when opportunities are created for its population. The city of Tamarac is instead creating the opportunities for the real estate investors, and both start working together long before the public is informed about the projects. When we get the voice, the proposal is almost in synchrony with the city’s land development code and the residents are only allowed three minutes each, per public hearing, to expose their issues with the project.

With no regard for the ample opposition the land has been rezoned, its use amended, the road straightened for aliens, so they can pave over. The legend of the mega-yielding redevelopment project comes thru. The real estate investors are hitting the rezoning jackpot in Tamarac. This jewel of speculative investment, while very lucrative for the real estate investors, is detrimental for the local population because it takes from scarce collective resources and won’t create an expansive economic virtuous circle.

The Rock Island self-storage is not a good case for verticality in one of the busiest intersections. The negative kind of emotions and discomfort seen in the public hearings wouldn’t have surfaced if Tamarac was committed to be a city of opportunity for all. For the city to be memorable, in the good sense, all projects must affect, in the positive way, the perception of the human beings about their odds to achieve their life goals.

Their excluding redevelopment plans continue unstoppable favoring the creation of inventory of housing over green space, recreation or business. Recreation and commercial sacrificed for high density residential. It looks like they are intentionally transforming our city into a dormitory town.

  • Bailey Square rezoning and land use change from commercial to multi-family residential, to develop 120 garden apartment units. Quasi-Judicial hearing in the agenda of the May 22nd, 2019 regular commission meeting.
  • Eden West apartments rezoning and land use change from commercial to multi-family residential to develop a four-story apartment complex with 212 apartment units. Quasi-Judicial hearing in the agenda of the May 22nd, 2019 regular commission meeting.
  • The Woodlands rezoning and land use change from recreation to residential, to develop 423 residential units of two types, single family detached houses and two-family homes. In the agenda of the next planning and zoning meeting of June 5th, 2019.

The stepping stone and the building blocks of any city are its communities. To build a vibrant city, people has to be connected beyond the infrastructure services in a network of relationships, places linked by open green space, wellness, health, common interests, culture, education, retail, entrepreneurship, religion, philanthropy, the list of opportunities for inner development could grow richer and inspiring as the will of the communities to reach for their dreams and aspirations.

The larger the network the better the resilience of the communities to face change and to weather it. The same problems will naturally influence the connection between communities in neighboring cities increasing the resilience and the vibrance of intersecting areas of opportunity.

The Woodlands and some Lauderhill communities are facing dramatic change from the same threat. So, they are connecting spontaneously to join forces. Residents of Lauderhill attended the Tamarac’s planning and zoning board meeting to oppose The Woodlands’ rezoning and land use change discussed last May 1st, 2019 in the Tamarac’s chambers. The commission of Lauderhill will be passing a resolution to oppose a critical component of the real estate investor’s proposal for the redevelopment of the two golf courses in The Woodlands, meanwhile 13th Floor Homes requested to Lauderhill a truce of nine months to work on the issues.

“RESOLUTION NO. 19R-04-64

A RESOLUTION OF THE CITY OF LAUDERHILL OBJECTING TO AND OPPOSING THE USE ON N.W. 44TH STREET AND N.W. 64TH AVENUE FOR INGRESS AND EGRESS TO THE RESIDENTIAL DEVELOPMENT PROPOSED BY THE DEVELOPER 13TH FLOOR WOODLANDS HB GP IN THE CITY OF TAMARAC; PROVIDING FOR AN EFFECTIVE DATE (REQUESTED BY MAYOR KEN THURSTON)”

Residents of The Woodlands are already establishing the connections to attend Lauderhill’s meetings and oppose the project in these chambers as a flanking maneuver.

We are starting to build up the muscle of intercommunity relationships. The instant in which most of us start behaving as a network of communities and start claiming our role in shaping the destiny of our cities, then the full power of sense of community will be unleashed. Adjacent communities can have mutualistic and competitive effects on each other, but with sense of community we see life as a cooperative field and not as a competitive one. Aristotle’s phrase: “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts” is an early reference to the modern concept of synergy, we need to have the balanced courage of embracing that, in our network of communities, the contributions of many will always exceed those of one or few individuals.

Together we can influence our local governments to privilege the people and the individual experience. In livable cities, nature, arts, culture and playing in open spaces, coexist in harmony with thriving business, shopping and social entertainment. A livability-centric mindset produces places that, inspire people to connect, help them achieve prosperity and encourage a healthy lifestyle.

With sense of community we won’t end up living in the city we didn’t want for our life. A city of commuters and a commuting nightmare. Commuting for work, for education, for healthcare, for entertainment, to play golf that is accessible, to worship, to start a business, to empower others, to experience peacefulness, to find mixed-use spaces of preservation of history, culture and art in connection with nature. Oh, by the way, commuting can make us sick, make us gain weight, make us feel miserable and deprives us of energy. And while you are on your way, feeling woebegone, you will have to experience a bizarre expression of verticality in the corner of Rock Island and Commercial Boulevard.

Sadly, they won’t use the amplification of the vertical dimension as a mark of man’s spiritual aspirations, instead it will stand there as a sinister monument to man’s issues with tidiness.

Let’s not kid ourselves, the city did not get it wrong. They behave as a real estate corporation and are playing the game “Monopoly” at an advantage. They invested in a golf course and it won’t hurt if the others are redeveloped. They will build the Tamarac Village, in their own land, adding 401 apartments for rental and 44 thousand square feet of commercial space, so they are happy to rezone commercial to residential around the rest of the city. In the case of the Rock Island and Commercial Boulevard rezoning jackpot, they have worked really hard. Starting with the creation of the new MUN (mixed-use neighborhood) district that allows a self-storage facility within a residential area. Then, they found an alibi to approve in private a settlement to sell the land to a self-storage developer and to ignore the voices of the majority that opposed the proposal with vehemence. In the next regular city commission meeting of May 22nd, 2019, the agenda of the quasi-judicial hearings includes the request for the approval of five violations to the regulations of the city’s land development code. Ordinances that exist to protect the unique character of the community, the city’s natural beauty, its historical and environmental resources, the safety and the rights of the people, between other purposes. If the variances are granted, most especially the circa 50% in height, then **JACKPOT**.

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