Civil War on Las Olas - Part 2
Back in the 1980s, when Bob Cox was Fort Lauderdale’s mayor, the city made a decision to protect some of its older neighborhoods by closing off some streets and taking other measures to reduce busy traffic on what had once been quiet lanes on the edge of downtown. The first neighborhood to get such treatment was Colee Hammock, the community located in an oak forest just east of what was then the redeveloping center city.
Colee Hammock is named after one of the city’s pioneer families, who had the misfortune of being massacred by Indians back around 1840. It developed as a residential neighborhood before the Las Olas Isles appeared on its eastern side, and the beach began to change character from small hotels to high-rise hotels and condos. Colee Hammock was caught in the middle, and its streets became raceways as traffic coming off the beach on Las Olas crossed to Broward Boulevard. Most cars were going west to the new suburbs, but a lot headed through Victoria Park to the newly developed Sunrise Boulevard, including the Galleria Mall.
Then, under Bob Cox, the city acted. We made a mistake years ago, Cox said at the time. Now all we are doing is correcting that mistake.
The effect on Colee Hammock was immediate. It had been an older community, with some houses looking their age, but young families and single people began buying and fixing up homes that go back 70 years and more. Some of the vernacular (architect’s word) houses were razed and replaced by much larger and modern homes. Some, such as the one pictured above, are spectacular examples of old southern design. Moreover, the idea of protecting neighborhoods by shutting off streets spread throughout the city.
Last week we reported on the Civil War on Las Olas, which is an effort by Colee Hammock homeowners to stop a church expansion that they think would reverse all the good work done over the last 25 years. Dan Christensen’s Broward Bulldog blog could be described as the Bull Run of this war – the shot that started the first big battle of the campaign to stop First Presbyterian Church from getting a Planned Unit Development (PUD) to permit two large buildings on and just off Las Olas.
The homeowners' argument is that the PUD subverts existing zoning, which would not permit this scale development. The Sun Sentinel picked up the story and the blogosphere saw round after round of messages, almost all against the church plan. The church denies it, but the plan looks like a school, or something that could easily turn into one. Classrooms, a gym, cafeteria, administrative offices. And a five-story parking garage fronting Las Olas in a block of mostly one-story buildings. The Planning and Zoning Board hearing is April 21, and its members, along with the city commission, are being bombarded by messages as the potential impact of this PUD becomes known on the Las Olas Isles and the beach. The residents say it opens the gates to a flood of large-scale development along east Las Olas and sets a precedent that could affect neighborhoods, such as Rio Vista, which are close to downtown.
The church has piously pointed to its mission to serve. Equally piously, and somewhat cynically, the neighbors say a church serving God would not destroy a neighborhood. Back to the Civil War – the real one. Abraham Lincoln mused that both the North and the South prayed to the same God and invoked his blessing upon their noble causes. Yet, Lincoln noted, God could not be on both sides at once.
The neighbors against God’s good church aren’t taking any chances. They are wearing dark green T-shirts saying Colee Hammock 1916, have spattered the neighborhood with signs opposing the PUD, and are enlisting the support of other neighborhood associations which might face similar threats in the future. Perhaps most important, they have raised $18,000 of In God We Trust greenbacks as a start for a possible legal fight if they lose at the city level.
Devoutly, however, they hope the government of the people, by the people, for the people has not perished from the earth.