When Tricia Fowley's great-uncle moved to Surfside almost 70 years ago, he built three homes for his family on the corner of Harding Avenue and 93rd Street. Two of them were eventually knocked down to build a parking lot; Fowley grew up in and eventually inherited the third house — a two-bedroom, two-bath with a brick façade only one block from the beach.
The location is so great, Fowley says, she's had multiple offers from developers hoping to buy her out in recent years.
"People have wanted to put in parking lots and retail and mixed use, and we are constantly — my neighbor and I — defending our homes," she says. "There are a lot of people in the community who say we bought here because it’s a small-town feel."
Now Fowley and some of her neighbors are fighting another proposed development right next to her home. Earlier this year, the town received a proposal from private developers to build a $33.5 million complex including a town hall, a police department, a 431-space parking garage, a gym, office space, and more than 10,000 square feet of retail stores and restaurants. Commissioners will vote tonight on whether to begin negotiations for the public-private partnership.
"The town would pay nothing and get a police station, a town hall, and a parking garage," attorney Alex Tachmes, who represents the developers, told the South Florida Business Journal .
But to some longtime residents such as Fowley, the plan makes little sense because Surfside's current town hall was completely renovated in 2001. As for the new retail spots, Fowley notes several storefronts in Surfside are sitting vacant.
"It's not a development that Surfside needs," Fowley says. "To put more retail units in this grandiose development we don't think we need, instead of improving the business district, is wrong."
Eliana Salzhauer, a TV producer who has lived in Surfside since 2005, likens the town's commissioners to "bored housewives redecorating the living room."
"You don't need to go fix what's not broken," she says. "I’m not like one of these old-timers trying to get a time machine and live in the past. We’re not saying no development. We’re saying we’ve had enough."
Salzhauer also raises concerns about leasing the town's land to a private developer for 99 years, as the proposal states.
"This is corporate interests just robbing citizens," she says. "They’re not philanthropists; they’re developers. They’re here to make a profit."
Adding to the controversy is the fact that it's still unclear if the proposed development will be placed on a public referendum.
"I think it should automatically, but I can’t tell based on the wording of the resolution," Commissioner Michael Karukin says. "That’ll be my biggest concern, to make sure that it goes to a referendum."
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Despite the uproar from residents, Karukin says there is "nothing nefarious" about the way the proposal came to light. Commission minutes show the project was introduced and publicly noticed beginning in February, and Karukin says it's been discussed at several commission meetings this year.
"I do share some of the concerns about the size, scale, and scope of the project itself, and the rationale for its submission in the first place is not necessarily something I agree with," he says. "Regardless of my feelings about it, it was done on the up-and-up."
Karukin says residents will have a chance to give input about the development at tonight's meeting and well into the future.
"If this were to pass [Wednesday], this would be the first of many, many, many workshops and sessions," he says. "This is just the beginning of negotiations. This is not the final approval of anything."