As I returned to Wilton Manors this past week from my recent trip up north, there was plenty of local news for me to catch up on.

As I paged through some material left at my doorstep by a fellow city news junkie, one item particularly caught my attention. There amongst the recent edition of the Town Crier, a copy of the Wilton Next Market Analysis Recap presentation, and various other items was a copy of a proposed project to be located at the former church property on NE 26th Street, called Wilton Gardens.  

What makes this proposed project stand out and grab my attention is the size and scope of the project. From what I can gather, Wilton Gardens would consist of 250 apartment units along with a sizeable parking garage structure attached. For many of us that have witnessed a whole slew of proposals for this particular site fail to get final approval from our city commission over the past five or six years, this project would seem to be dead on arrival. This time around however, things might be a bit different.  

Every project in the past was met with a solid block of opposition from the East Neighborhood Association (ENA). One of the last projects led to the chopping block by ENA was an award-winning design of luxury residential condo units, designed by Rene Gonzalez. This project had unanimous approval from the city’s Planning and Zoning Board and was praised by many in the community. P&Z members voiced very strong opinions on the project, stating the positive impact it would have on the surrounding area and on its unique design. Local community leader Michael Rajner echoed many voices in the community, stating, “It’s really time Wilton Manors has a project of this stature, having world-class designed buildings is important for our community.”

Unfortunately ENA was victorious in their battle to stop the project by getting the city commission to request unfeasible reductions in the number of units, from 100 down to 70, along with other roadblocks that eventually caused the developer to scrap the project. Then for the past five years we all had to watch this derelict property sit unused and undeveloped culminating with the recent fire that gutted the boarded-up building.  

ENA might have won those few battles back then, but it now appears they will wind up losing the war…and instead of having a much smaller development of luxury residential condo units with amazing architectural design and detail that embraced the surrounding landscape, are now faced with a much larger development to include rental apartments and parking garage.  

One thing for certain is that this property along with just a few others located around our small two-square-mile city holds the key to the collective future success of our Island City. As we continue to celebrate our city’s 75th birthday, we must make the right choices now to safeguard the next 75 years. Those choices include maximizing the benefit for long-term growth and sustainability by bringing in the right development for these few unique larger parcels throughout our city.  

We cannot go back in time and alter history, to have our city commission approve a lost opportunity. What we can do is support our city staff and our elected officials in making the tough decisions needed to move us along as we celebrate many more birthdays in our city’s future.  

The Island City is not the only one celebrating this month, local Friends of the Wilton Manors Library celebrates their 50th Anniversary this year. The Friends support the many programs that our own municipal library, the Richard C. Sullivan Public Library of Wilton Manors offers our community. Public access computers, large print books, along with educational and cultural programs for adults, children and teens are sustained by the fundraising and support of the local Friends organization. If you have not stopped by the library, then take a moment to stop by and check out this wonderful gem located at 500 NE 26th Street.  

Come Saturday, Leisure Services will host the 29th Annual Island City Canoe Race, which will finish at Richardson Park in time for the big 75th Birthday Bash for the Island City. Cheer on the canoe teams as they make their way around the waterways of the Island City. Residents are welcome to come out and celebrate as the city hosts a birthday BBQ with DJ and presentations of trophies and certificates for the Canoe Race winners.  

Taking part in your community, looking to make a better tomorrow, and celebrating together is what makes life just better here.

Sal Torre has been a columnist for the Wilton Manors Gazette since its inception. Sal has served on the Wilton Drive Task Force, Budget Review Advisory Board, and Charter Review Board, among others. Sal is currently President of the Westside Association of Wilton Manors and Secretary for the Friend of the Wilton Manors Library. He is employed with Broward County in the Human Services Division.