More chairs had to be added to accommodate those who attended the Planning and Zoning Board hearing Monday night.
The majority who spoke were against the proposed residential development at the former Center for Spiritual Living site at Northeast 26 Street and Northeast 15 Avenue.
The developers, UDC, said they want a maximum of 100 condo units and change the land-use from its current commercial designation to medium high residential – 25 units per acre. The property is estimated at approximately 4.9 acres. The number of units could be lowered but developers say they won’t go higher than 100.
Plans include condo units, villas, gardens, a public park on the south side of the property, community rooms and pools. It will also be LEED certified and developers said they declined to add any commercial space to keep the traffic impact to the neighborhood at a minimum. They also promised no units would be used for vacation rentals. Three access points will exist – two exit only and one entrance/exit.
“The developers are trying to create a high end product,” said project architect Rene Gonzalez.
Gonzalez, who grew up in Fort Lauderdale and Wilton Manors, said the project has special meaning to him. “This project is a project I’m treating with special care.”
Planning and Zoning members unanimously approved the project. Planning and Zoning member Constance Ruppender called it a beautiful project. “It looks good. It looks way different than it did before.” Chair Nick Berry said the project could have a positive impact on the shopping plaza where Old Florida Seafood House was located.
Dennis Mele, of Greenspoon Marder, the law firm representing the developers, said the density is lower than that of most other residential developments, such as Wilton Station and Belle Isle. He also said that the traffic impact could have been much higher if commercial were built. Roberta Moore, Community Development Services director, said staff had reviewed and approved the traffic study. But residents took issue, saying it wasn’t a fair comparison because the church property has been virtually vacant for years and brought in very few vehicles.
Now, it will be up to the city commission to approve or reject the project. In 2013, commissioners voted to approve a different version of the project by the same developers – a 72-unit apartment complex. But commissioners said they only approved the project to allow developers the opportunity to make some changes and come back before the commission. Before a second and final vote was held, the Center for Spiritual Living, the former landowners, sued UDC and the project was delayed. The lawsuit was eventually settled.
But although no one criticized the aesthetics of the project, and at least one person against it gave compliments on multiple aspects, residents had plenty to say about much of the rest. Wearing red shirts, those against the proposal said it was too dense and would hurt the quality of life and the character of their quiet neighborhood by increasing traffic. They suggested 40 units would be more appropriate. “We don’t want to be Miami . . . with the glut of condos,” Elsie Chan said.
“Years ago we would take any development because we were so desperate. We don’t have to do that anymore,” said John Fiore, former mayor and vice president of the East Neighborhood Association [ENA]. “This is the most significant piece of development land in Wilton Manors,” said ENA President Martin Nixon.
Karl Lentzer, president of the Wilton Manors Business Association, said the project could attract new people to the city and add money to the city budget through property taxes and other revenue streams.
“It’s really time Wilton Manors has a project of this stature.” Resident Michael Rajner echoed Lentzer, saying the project was beautiful and different. “Having world class buildings is important.”