Fort Lauderdale says yes to 240-foot-high condo tower. That’s double the beach neighborhood’s height cap.

A developer buys two old buildings, knocks them down and builds a luxury high-rise where those two old buildings once stood. Some neighborhoods accept the change, calling it progress. Others fight it.

Judging from a recent public meeting, the quiet neighborhood that lies to the south of Bahia Mar, home to the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show, seems to be accepting what some might call an inevitable fate.

A developer plans to build a 240-foot-high condo tower with 36 units on Harbor Drive, between the Intracoastal and the beach. Two buildings, both built in the late 1950s, will be knocked down to make way for the posh new tower, says Stephanie Toothaker, attorney for Ocean Harbor Properties.

“If you’re familiar with the buildings that are there today, they’re in very, very poor shape,” Toothaker said of the two buildings currently on the site. “This is a huge improvement over what’s there today.”

Fort Lauderdale’s Planning and Zoning Board approved the plan in a 6-3 vote on Dec. 20.

The height limit is 120 feet under the current zoning, but developers can go higher if they get the required approval, as happened in this case.

The project will not be reviewed by commissioners unless they agree to call it up for a vote. Normally that task falls to the district commissioner, who then must persuade a majority of the commission to agree to bring the matter to a vote.

Warren Sturman, the district commissioner who represents the neighborhood, could not be reached for comment.

The developer has already acquired the two buildings that will soon be leveled to make way for the new tower. The two-story building at 3019 Harbor Drive was built in 1956. The three-story building at 3013 Harbor Drive was built in 1958. Together, they take up less than an acre.

Two residents from the neighborhood did speak in protest at the planning board meeting. Both said they knew something was bound to get built, but they were hoping for something not so tall and not so big.

According to city staff, the project is compatible with the surrounding neighborhood and designed to be harmonious with the adjacent buildings.

This building on Harbor Drive in Fort Lauderdale is one of two that will be knocked down to make way for a posh new high-rise. (Mike Stocker/South Florida Sun Sentinel)
This building on Harbor Drive in Fort Lauderdale is one of two that will be knocked down to make way for a posh new high-rise. (Mike Stocker/South Florida Sun Sentinel)

‘Nothing compatible about this’

Cindy Long, who lives at the Villa Madrid co-op next door, told the planning board that most buildings in the neighborhood are no higher than two stories, with the exception of the 22-story Harbourage Place and another six-story building nearby.

“There is nothing compatible about this,” Long said. “We will be overshadowed by this. We do want to have something developed here, but we do want it to be compatible with the neighborhood. We want you. We just want you smaller.”

Rodney Fenstermacher, who owns a condo at Bahia Vista at 3037 Harbor Drive, told the board he’s worried this new tower will be the first of many more to come.

“If you open up the door, it’s going to be a big tower jungle on Harbor Drive,” he said. “I’m not sure how (staff) can say it’s compatible with the neighborhood. We’re still Old Florida. (The neighbors) are going to walk out the door to a 240-foot wall 20 feet away.”

Marilyn Mammano, a member of the planning board, argued the tower is too tall for the neighborhood, more than twice the height allowed under the code.

“I don’t think it is compatible,” she said. “I really don’t.”

Toothaker had a response.

“I want to make the point that neighborhood compatibility is not defined by what’s there today,” she said. “Neighborhood compatibility is defined by what the zoning potentially permits. You don’t look at a building that was built in the ’50s or ’60s and say, ‘Well it’s only two stories so even though our land use planning and our zoning permits this height, we have to look at what was built in the ’50s.’”

A rendering of the Bahia Mar development that's been approved in Fort Lauderdale, just north of the proposed Ocean Harbor tower. The Bahia Mar project calls for four condo towers and a five-star hotel.
A rendering of the Bahia Mar development that’s been approved in Fort Lauderdale, just north of the proposed Ocean Harbor tower. The Bahia Mar project calls for four condo towers and a five-star hotel.

‘Just a question of time’

Villa Madrid, the property next door, has been on and off the market, Toothaker said.

“When we started the project, my client had 15 units under contract because everyone realizes that that property is going to get redeveloped too,” she said. “It’s just a question of time. That’s just the reality of what we’ve seen in Fort Lauderdale.”

Brad Cohen, the board’s vice chair, made a motion to approve the project.

“I always like input from the community,” Cohen said before the vote. “Today we only had two people show up. Not to mention no one else in that neighborhood showed up to say they were against the building.”

Cohen says he has voted against plenty of buildings in the past.

But in this case, he ended up voting yes.

“Looking down the street is the Harbourage,” he said, referring to the nearby tower that was approved in 1995. “Everyone says, ‘Well we made a mistake with the Harbourage. I don’t know if we made a mistake with the Harbourage. I wasn’t here for the Harbourage. (But) when you look at what’s proposed next door to this, it looks very similar to this building.”

New beach scene

Three years ago, the commission gave its blessing to a plan to build a new 10-story Bahia Cabana Hotel at 3001 Harbor Drive. The project has yet to break ground.

To the north, plans to redevelop the taxpayer-owned property at Bahia Mar have already won commission approval.

Developer Jimmy Tate has promised to turn the aging property at 801 Seabreeze Blvd. into a world-class destination.

The $1 billion project calls for a 256-room hotel and four condo towers with a total of 350 units. The hotel will rise 300 feet and the condo towers will stand 270 feet high.

Tate told the South Florida Sun Sentinel the new tower planned to the south is just part of the new beach scene.

“At the end of the day, you have buildings on the barrier island that are that height or much higher,” he said. “Point of Americas and the Ritz are much higher than that. As long as the design is complementary to the area, all we’re doing is creating a beautiful skyline. Some of the buildings there now are a little archaic. There’s nothing wrong with adding a luxury building as long as it’s done responsibly.”

Susannah Bryan can be reached at sbryan@sunsentinel.com. Follow me on X @Susannah_Bryan

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