About a mile south of the revelry of the Margaritaville resort is a four-acre parcel of public waterfront land that contains a public park, a community center, and a scenic beachscape where weary souls can soothe themselves with the sounds of lapping waves.
Nearly a century after the sleepy coastal city was formally incorporated, those who now call Hollywood home fear the tropical charm of the second-most-populous city in Broward County is at imminent risk as the Related Group seeks to build a sleek, 30-story condo tower on Ocean Drive, between Azalea and Bougainvillea terraces, irrevocably altering the aforementioned four-acre slice of public paradise.
A group of impassioned residents and local stakeholders are imploring commissioners to reject the Related Group's proposal, which would have the city lease a portion of the parcel to the developer in exchange for 12.5 percent of initial condo sales.
They say the fact that city officials are even considering the plan is a blatant disregard of a 47-year-old deed to maintain the land in question solely for public use.
Back in the 1970s, developers essentially handed over the four-acre parcel in exchange for a green light to construct a condo, called the Summit, on adjacent land. According to the Hollywood Historical Society, the condo developers handed over the plot to the city in exchange for $10.
City officials at the time assured residents that the land would be utilized as public space. It is now home to the Hollywood Beach Culture and Community Center and Harry Berry Park. The Sun Sentinelreports that the land is now appraised at $35 million.
During a city commission meeting on September 14, Hollywood Historical Society president Clive Taylor chastised the board, invoking the vow he says local officials made in 1974.
"A promise was made 47 years ago to the residents of our city by our city leaders with this land," Taylor said. "A promise that this land would remain open to the public in order to allow a variance of higher density for the summit condominium right next to this property."
The language in the deed that Taylor refers to also says — rather broadly, hence therein lies the contention — that the city may also use the land for "other public and municipal purposes," the document reads.
A growing contingent of residents say the prospect of further beachside, luxury development chokes the last vestiges of their idyllic city. They've held demonstrations, designed T-shirts and protest signs that proclaim "NO TOWER ON OUR LAND," and circulated an online petition that has garnered nearly 3,000 signatures.
Commissioner Caryl Shuham, whose District 1 includes the proposed condo site, says she doesn't support the plan in its current form. She says the Related Group will submit a comprehensive development agreement for further consideration sometime in the next few weeks.
Further, a city spokesperson, Joann Hussey, also tells New Times that the development agreement will be before the commission sometime in the fall.
The Miami-based developer first submitted its proposal for the towering 190-unit building in March 2020. According to the developer's proposal, financing the project is expected to cost around $270 million. The group's executive vice president, Eric Fordin, tells New Times the building would be located a minimum of 515 feet from the sand.
Fordin offers a more nuanced take on the 1974 deed. He points out that the city would remain the sole owner of the land itself, and that an enhanced park and expanded community center plus a restaurant are part of the proposed development. The developers would get a 99-year lease on the portion of land containing the condo tower, after which ownership of the building would revert to the city.
Critics of the condo tower argue that you can't undo development. “Once you give up a piece of property, you’re never going to get it back,” Hollywood resident and kayaker Geoffrey Pearson told the Sun Sentinel earlier this month. “If it’s developed, it’s going to be developed forever.”
In an interview with New Times, Fordin pushed back on that idea and insists that the city would not be entertaining his group's proposal in the first place if it was reneging on the promise in the 1974 deed.
"The bottom line is that we're having our public outreach meetings and talking to constituents, seeing what they want incorporated into the public-benefit package," he says. "Anything that is currently there today, we're improving for the public benefit."
The deal currently on the table would allow the city to net 12.5 percent of gross revenue generated from the condos, Fordin adds.
The promise of more taxpayer money doesn't fly with Taylor, the historical society president.
"You’re losing credibility when you say you need this for taxes," he said at the September 14 meeting, "and we don’t see any improvement whatsoever in the appearance of our city and our taxes don’t go down."
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Michael Majchrowicz is a former staff writer at Miami New Times. He studied journalism at Indiana University and has reported for PolitiFact, The New York Times, Washington Post, the Post and Courier, and Tampa Bay Times.