Saturday, May 13, 2017

Growing tall puts quality of life at risk (Sun Sentinel editorial)

Growing tall threatens our quality of life | Editorial
Taller skylines pushing its way into smaller cities
Already, towers are springing up from Dania Beach to North Palm Beach as cities that have run out of land look for ways to grow.
Sun Sentinel Editorial Board
Growing tall puts quality of life at risk

It's almost like a race to the top, to see which South Florida city can build the biggest and tallest buildings.

But before suburban communities go sky-high, shouldn't we better understand the impacts this growth will have on roads, water and other public services?

True, strip shopping centers have too long defined Florida's landscape, making it hard to know where one city begins and another one ends. So you can understand the urge to develop a real downtown, a city center, something that offers a real sense of place.

But the trend for onwards and upwards also runs counter to why people left the urban core, and carries consequences worthy of further examination before this race to the top goes much further.

As the Sun Sentinel's Anne Geggis reports, because several cities have basically run out of land for development, they are building vertically.

Coconut Creek is letting the Seminole Tribe of Florida build a 24-story hotel. Right now, the city's tallest building is six stories.

Boynton Beach is planning to allow buildings of up to 15 stories in its traditionally low-rise downtown.

Pompano Beach is looking to add eight-story buildings on streets that have never had buildings more than two stories high.

Coral Springs is developing a downtown where buildings could reach 10 stories or more.

Deerfield Beach has broken ground on a hotel on the Intracoastal Waterway that is four stories higher than the area's zoning normally allows.

There is more.

A developer wanted to wrap the Galleria Mall in Fort Lauderdale with three towers that exceeded 20 stories, and four shorter towers. The project has been in discussion for three years. This week Fort Lauderdale commissioners thankfully said the developer hadn't done enough to reduce heights and density.

Last year, we had the possibility of two 39-story condo towers at Bahia Mar and a public uproar followed. The latest plan — for seven buildings of 10 to 12 stories on the city-owned waterfront land — is still getting blowback for being too dense.

And how can we forget the American Dream Miami, the amusement park-shopping village that could become the nation's biggest mall, and is predicted to attract more annual visitors than Walt Disney World? This project, which has received preliminary approval from the Miami-Dade County commission, is slated to be built less than two miles south of the Broward County line.

With all of this going on, it is fair to ask what the quality of life in South Florida will be 10 to 20 years from now.

Has there been enough thought given to our already-awful traffic situation? What about water? What about the strain on schools and other essential services? Will there be any green space left? Is there any thought to what brought people to South Florida in the first place?

And what about all the empty condos and office space in South Florida? Do we really need more?

Hallandale Beach vice mayor Keith London said he has regrets the over-development of his city, which is home to the county's tallest structure, the 52-story Beach Club, Phase II.

"It's not just the height . . it's the density and the intensity," London told the Sun Sentinel Editorial Board. "I want to come up with solutions to put residents on an equal playing field."

London said residents might be more willing to accept development if "we provide them some amenities. Do something for the public. A neighborhood park. A fire station. Give them a public place to go. We have to make communities livable."

South Florida boasts examples of lovely suburban downtowns — a place for residents to go, a place that differentiates one community from the other. Just look at Mizner Park in Boca Raton, or the Promenade in Coconut Creek. No high-rises, but places that offer shopping, restaurants and others amenities that attract residents and visitors.

Residents are making their voices heard on overdevelopment, and that's a good sign. We hope their voices get louder before it's too late to retain our quality of life.

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