The fate of a prime piece of oceanfront land hangs in the balance, as Broward County commissioners weigh whether it should be developed into a commercial complex.
Pompano Beach leaders envision the transformation of a 5.4 acre pier parking lot from an asphalt slab to a bustling restaurant-retail complex with a hotel. The lot is owned by the city.
Broward County commissioners are scheduled to vote Tuesday to set a public hearing to amend the land use designation on the property at State Road A1A, between Northeast Second and Third streets. Without the county's approval to change from recreation and open space to commercial usage, the project cannot move forward.
With a favorable final county vote on Jan. 28, the development plans would head to Pompano Beach City Hall for public hearings on developer agreements and site plan approvals.
It's a parcel steeped in controversy, where a past development proposal so incited the citizenry that 84 percent of voters agreed to embed protections for it in the Pompano Beach city charter. That 2008 change protects the pier parking lot and a nearby oceanside lot from being leased for anything that doesn't "provide a benefit to the public at large.''
Though some have questioned whether a hotel meets that criterion, City Attorney Gordon Linn opined that a hotel would be open to "the public at large'' just like a restaurant or ice cream shop would be.
"Some have objected, saying that a hotel would not be used by the citizens of the city,'' Linn wrote in the July memo. "However, such is an incorrect assumption as many residents due to financial restraints use their finances for a "staycation," may be in need of a hotel when their home is not habitable, such as a broken air conditioner, or would just like to stay on the beach for a couple of days.''
Pompano Beach Commissioner Charlotte Burrie said she disagrees with the hotel element, but does support adding restaurants.
"I represent a district that's not on the beach and most of the people up there want access to the beach. They don't want to see a hotel,'' Burrie said.
Broward commissioners will evaluate the proposal based on whether it complies with planning laws and "is in the best interests of the health, safety, and welfare of the residents of Broward County.'' The Broward County Planning Council, made up of elected and non-elected officials from all over the county, recommended it be approved.
The passion of the 2000s, when activists like attorney Ross Shulmister fought plans to build condos on the land, has not materialized this time. Shulmister said he and others are busy making a living in a tough economy, and may be unaware of the proposal.
"If they knew about it, they would be opposed to it,'' he said.
The city has worked for years to redevelop the land, and Pompano Beach redevelopment consultant Kim Briesemeister and Pompano Commissioner Rex Hardin said they believe the public is in favor of its rebirth as a tourism draw.
The city a year ago selected developers Tim Hernandez and Rick Caster from a competitive process and proposes a 50-year contract in which the city receives rental payments. Also, the city would pay to build a parking garage to serve the complex, hotel and beachgoers.
Hardin said the previous agreement in 2002 with developer Michael Swerdlow went too far. Swerdlow would have bought the pier lot and built two massive, high-rise condos on it. Together with another city beachside parcel, his development would have added a new International Swimming Hall of Fame training and competition facility
"They didn't want to convert it to condos,'' Hardin said. "That was overwhelmingly clear. The people have spoken.''
What's proposed this time is in line with what the public wants, he said, though there is debate about inclusion of the hotel.
"There's still a big question mark there,'' he said, "and it's a mighty big question mark.''
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