Low-in­come tower may be headed for de­feat

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Front Page - By Brit­tany Wall­man

A de­vel­op­ment pro­posal that packs more peo­ple into smaller spa­ces than Fort Laud­erdale’s ever seen could send the city into a le­gal tango this year.

The 680-unit AIDS Health­care Foun­da­tion low-in­come tower, pro­posed at 700 SE 4th Ave., across U.S. 1 from the pricey Rio Vista neigh­bor­hood, does not have sup­port from the City Com­mis­sion, ac­cord­ing to pub­lic and pri­vate state­ments of elected of­fi­cials.

Four of the five City Com­mis­sion mem­bers — Mayor Dean Tran­talis and Com­mis­sion­ers Steve Glass­man, Heather Mo­raitis and Ben Sorensen — said the plans would have to change in or­der to get their sup­port. The fifth, Robert McKinzie, pub­licly voiced gen­eral sup­port for the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s prop­erty rights, but could not be reached on his cell­phone or by email or text mes­sage.

The ag­gres­sive, Cal­i­for­nia-based non­profit is well prac­ticed in tak­ing on gov­ern­ment, su­ing the cities of Los An­ge­les and San Diego, for ex­am­ple. But the stand­off also could lead to a change in plans for the low­in­come tower, touted as a place where the for­merly home­less could af­ford to live. Though AHF of­fi­cials pre­vi­ously said they would not con­sider mak­ing changes, a rep­re­sen­ta­tive did not rule that out Thurs­day.

“I guess any­thing’s pos­si­ble,” said AHF South­ern Bureau Chief Mike Ka­hane, when asked if the num­ber of apart­ments might be re­duced. “We’re work­ing with city staff to get their ap­proval and to dis­cuss all the is­sues that are of con­cern to them, and get a sub­mit­tal in that meets with their ap­proval.”

The 345,000 square foot pro­posal puts 680 mi­crounits in a 15-story build­ing be­tween South­east 7th and

8th streets, at Fourth Av­enue, south of the river. Rents would be as low as

$500, with a $100 de­posit. It would be built by the Healthy Hous­ing Foun­da­tion, a sub­sidiary of AIDS Health­care Foun­da­tion, but the apart­ments would not ex­clu­sively be for those liv­ing with HIV/AIDS, ac­cord­ing to the project web­site. Apart­ments would range from 263 square feet — smaller than the typ­i­cal ho­tel room — to 400 square feet.

Fort Laud­erdale Mayor Dean Tran­talis, who won his of­fice af­ter cam­paign­ing against overde­vel­op­ment, also is the city’s first openly gay mayor, and an ally of AIDS Health­care Foun­da­tion. He said he was in­volved

early on, af­ter his oc­ca­sional “plus-1” date and cam­paign con­sul­tant Ja­son King, then work­ing for AHF, in­tro­duced him to CEO Michael We­in­stein.

Over Greek din­ner one evening, We­in­stein re­layed his vi­sion, and Tran­talis, a city com­mis­sioner at the time, en­cour­aged him.

“Any com­mu­nity would wel­come some­one who would want to help with af­ford­able hous­ing and home­less­ness,” Tran­talis said, “but no­body re­ally felt this was go­ing to be the fi­nal out­come.”

His re­ac­tion to the plans, he said, was: “Whoa!” He thought it would “over­whelm the site.”

He said he is “dis­ap­pointed in the fi­nal prod­uct” and the fact that We­in­stein didn’t work with neigh­bors.

The low-in­come midrise would wrap like an L around Villa Tus­cany, a

17-unit, three-story town­house de­vel­op­ment where con­dos sell in ex­cess of

$400,000. Ka­hane said all

17 own­ers were sent cer­ti­fied let­ters, 12 of which were signed for. The own­ers were told in the let­ters that AHF is in­ter­ested in

pay­ing “fair mar­ket value” for their con­dos. The project can move for­ward with­out a pur­chase of the com­plex, Ka­hane said.

In emails to City Hall, res­i­dents have urged com­mis­sion­ers to re­ject the com­plex, emails ob­tained un­der Florida’s pub­lic records laws show.

“I am ter­ri­fied by the prospect of the num­bers of home­less peo­ple that will be drawn to this fa­cil­ity from far and wide,” one mother of four who lives near the site, Katie Fraw­ley, emailed to Com­mis­sioner Mo­raitis. “I am not blind to the plight of the home­less, or drug-ad­dicted, or men­tally ill. But this pro­posal would not help those peo­ple or the sur­round­ing busi­ness own­ers, home­own­ers, res­i­dents, and tourists.”

Just a year ago, the plans were met with em­brace. That changed when AHF failed to gain sup­port from the com­mu­nity, com­mis­sion­ers and com­mu­nity lead­ers said.

Bob Swindell, pres­i­dent of the Greater Fort Laud­erdale Al­liance, which was listed in an AHF email as a sup­porter, said he was

“deeply dis­ap­pointed in the lack of re­cep­tiv­ity shown by AHF in build­ing a strong base of lo­cal sup­port.”

Com­mis­sioner Sorensen, who has been out­spo­ken about help­ing home­less peo­ple, an­nounced that the project lost his sup­port be­cause AHF wouldn’t com­pro­mise on the size of the apart­ments, the num­ber of units, and wouldn’t con­sider build­ing it else­where.

In the ap­pli­ca­tion, lawyer-lob­by­ist Stephanie Toothaker said the lo­ca­tion was crit­i­cal to the project’s suc­cess. Most renters won’t have cars and will rely on county buses, she said, and the tower “will not con­tain a ser­vice com­po­nent” so it needs to be close to the hospi­tal, gro­cery store, li­brary and court­house.

“Neigh­bors are over­whelm­ingly op­posed to this project — as am I,” Sorensen an­nounced in a Dec. 13 email to con­stituents. This week, he said his po­si­tion has not changed.

Com­mis­sioner Glass­man said this week that the low­in­come apart­ment com­plex would have to meet the down­town guide­lines and de­vel­op­ment rules, and he is “look­ing for a re­duc­tion

in the num­ber of units.”

Mo­raitis said the or­ga­ni­za­tion should con­sider what would “work well for the com­mu­nity and the neigh­bors” and “not just say how many units can I get on the land.”

She said she wants to see fewer apart­ments, and larger ones, and it “needs a lot more in­put from the com­mu­nity.”

Un­der the rules ap­plied to the “Fort Laud­erdale Hous­ing Cam­pus Project,” city de­vel­op­ment staff have the power to ap­prove it, with no pub­lic hear­ing at the plan­ning and zon­ing board or City Com­mis­sion.

Af­ter a staff-level ap­proval, how­ever, a mem­ber of the City Com­mis­sion could “call it up” to a pub­lic hear­ing, if there is ev­i­dence that city staff mis­ap­plied the rules.

That’s what hap­pened with the last con­tro­ver­sial down­town tower, the Alexan Tar­pon River, also pro­posed across U.S. 1 from Rio Vista, at 501 SE 6th Ave. The City Com­mis­sion then re­jected the 21-story, 181-unit tower, and the de­vel­oper filed a law­suit in Sep­tem­ber.

The AHF ap­pli­ca­tion al­ready has met with some re­sis­tance from city staff. It “does not meet cer­tain Down­town Mas­ter Plan in­tents and guide­lines,” city staff said in re­sponses to the ap­pli­ca­tion. For ex­am­ple, the floor­plate, or foot­print of the tower, is larger than al­lowed. The build­ing is too mono­lithic and mas­sive, and needs a re­design, city staff also said.

Ka­hane said he ex­pects to win staff ap­proval, and doesn’t ex­pect the City Com­mis­sion to call it up for a hear­ing.

“We an­tic­i­pate build­ing this de­vel­op­ment,” he said Thurs­day. “I think the mayor and the City Com­mis­sion in gen­eral want to do the right thing with re­gard to this is­sue.”

We­in­stein, dubbed the “CEO of HIV” by the New York Times, is a con­fronta­tional ac­tivist who or­dered crit­ics to stop in­ter­rupt­ing him at his re­cent Fort Laud­erdale press con­fer­ence. He ex­pressed in­credulity that the project would face such back­lash, when there are high-rise con­struc­tion cranes all over and the com­mu­nity has said it wanted to re­solve home­less­ness.

“This is sup­posed to be, I’m told, when I watched the elec­tion tour­na­ments, the most lib­eral com­mu­nity in Amer­ica,” he said at the De­cem­ber press con­fer­ence. He said his char­ity is mak­ing a $71 mil­lion com­mit­ment, and “it would be nice if there were more peo­ple who ac­knowl­edge that gen­eros­ity.”

In an at­tempt to counter vo­cal op­po­si­tion, AHF hired a sur­vey com­pany to poll Fort Laud­erdale res­i­dents about the af­ford­able hous­ing com­plex, and said 59 per­cent sup­ported it. The non­profit also placed a full-page ad in the Sun Sen­tinel urg­ing read­ers to “Love Thy Neigh­bor (that means all of them).” Next is a can­dle­light vigil sched­uled for Mon­day night at City Hall. Sup­port­ers will be bused from an AHF of­fice, and given T-shirts.

“The vo­cal mi­nor­ity that is cur­rently speak­ing out against this does not re­flect what the city wants or needs,” Ka­hane said.

COUR­TESY

AIDS Health­care Foun­da­tion pro­poses 680 units in 15 sto­ries for low-in­come or for­merly home­less peo­ple in Fort Laud­erdale.

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