Condo on public land needs OK from National Park Service – Sun Sentinel

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HOLLYWOOD — It’s a swanky 30-story beachfront condo that’s sparked a furor on Facebook and beyond — and it hasn’t even been built yet.
If critics have their way, it won’t. One spark of news has bolstered their hopes of blocking the project: Any changes to Harry Berry Park need approval from the National Park Service because the land was purchased with federal money.
But developer Eric Fordin, Related Group’s senior vice president, doesn’t see that as a deal breaker. He shrugged off the news, saying it’s just part of the approval process.
“We are confident that the proposed changes will meet the requirements,” Fordin told the South Florida Sun Sentinel.
The proposed high-rise has tempers flaring on both sides. Critics are blasting the notion of leasing public land to a private developer for 99 years. But fans say the deal will make the city millions.
Hollywood commissioners have yet to approve the controversial project, but a vote could be coming as soon as December, a city spokeswoman says.
The Related Group came to the city last year with a pitch to build a high-rise condo on taxpayer-owned land at 1301 S. Ocean Drive. In return for a 99-year lease, the Miami-based developer would replace the park and community center next door.
Hollywood would be in line to collect millions over the next century: up to $20 million from condo sales, $5 million in an upfront rent payment, $2 million a year in property taxes and at least $400,000 in yearly rent.
But activists say all the money in the world isn’t worth losing a piece of paradise.
They’ve gone to great lengths to spread the word, keeping the topic alive on Facebook, holding public protests and showing up at the city’s yearly Halloween block party in boxy condo costumes — a move that sparked headlines when organizer Cat Uden got a call from a cop a few days before the event warning her not to wear the getup.
Then on Saturday night, a thief in a truck pilfered “No Condo” signs from the front yards of homes just north of City Hall.
Over the past few months, tempers have erupted at City Hall meetings as critics plead their case. The conversation flamed up again Wednesday night when the commission hosted a town-hall style meeting at downtown’s ArtsPark.
Five people, including the wife of Mayor Josh Levy, spoke in favor of the project.
But more than two dozen residents blasted their complaints, accusing the city of ignoring its own height limits and selling out for the almighty dollar. They also vented about the tower casting yet another unwelcome shadow on the beach.
Commissioner Kevin Biederman snapped back, arguing that several residents in his district on the west side of the Hollywood actually want the high-rise tower.
“As commissioners we are there to evaluate all the information, not make knee-jerk reactions based on misinformation,” he said, his voice rising. “For instance … the condo’s not going on the public beach. It’s going on A1A. I have a fiduciary responsibility [to decide] what’s best for all the residents of Hollywood.”
The Related Group’s Fordin, a longtime Hollywood resident, was not at the contentious ArtsPark meeting but says he heard all about it.
“People want to say the city is corrupt, but the city is trying to survive and thrive and come up with a creative deal,” he said. “The opposition group seems to be hellbent on making sure our city never improves.”
The National Park Service program has routinely allowed land to be converted to other uses, according to a 2012 report by InvestigateWest. Not all requests are granted, but Fordin holds out hope the feds will sign off on his plan.
If the project wins approval, Fordin says it will take two years to build.
To move forward, the project needs at least five “yes” votes from Hollywood’s seven-member commission.
Uden says she has a plan if Hollywood ends up giving the project a green light. She intends to collect enough signatures to force the city to hold a referendum election to let residents make the final call.
“If they don’t do the right thing, then we will — and we will save the land,” she said. “We will get enough signatures to put it to a vote and override their decision.”
Susannah Bryan can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @Susannah_Bryan