‘They’re ugly:’ Critics not liking rocky medians along A1A in Fort Lauderdale

FORT LAUDERDALE — You might have noticed a strange new addition to the A1A streetscape along Fort Lauderdale beach: River rocks in the median.

Paula Yukna spotted the rocks during her daily morning walks, but figured they were there to keep plastic ground lining in place and would be gone as soon as lush new landscaping arrived. She figured wrong.

The rocks — placed without input from the commission or the locals — are there to stay. And more are on the way.

So far, they’re getting a mixed reaction on social media.

“Yuck,” one critic said in response to a question posed on social media asking what folks think of the new rock medians along Fort Lauderdale’s world famous beachfront.

One poster referred to the rocks as “caveman ammo.”

“Idiots!” wrote another. “Those are missiles during a hurricane or tornado!”

The post generated nearly 500 comments in a matter of days on the Facebook group Lauderdale By The Sea Happenings.

The stones aren’t cheap. As of today, Fort Lauderdale taxpayers have paid $82,000 for the rocks — enough to fill two medians, one south of Sunrise Boulevard and another near Las Olas.

The plan is to place the rocks in every other median from Sunrise Boulevard south to Fort Lauderdale Beach Park’s restroom area.

Parks and Recreation Director Carl Williams shared that detail with the commission Tuesday after getting an inquiry about the rocks from Vice Mayor Steve Glassman, who fielded a call from a South Florida Sun Sentinel reporter the day before.

The rock medians should help save the city money over the long term, Williams told the commission.

A bicyclist rides past a rock median along A1A in Fort Lauderdale on Monday. The city plans to replace landscaping on some medians with rocks. (John McCall/South Florida Sun Sentinel)
A bicyclist rides past a rock median along A1A in Fort Lauderdale on Monday. The city plans to replace landscaping on some medians with rocks. (John McCall/South Florida Sun Sentinel)

‘Too stark for me’

Every year, storms send sand and sometimes floodwater into the landscaped medians. The damaged shrubbery then has to be replaced in what becomes a cyclical expense, city officials say.

Glassman, the district commissioner for the beach, told the Sun Sentinel he’s been getting complaints about the rocks since they showed up more than a month ago. He too gives the rocks a thumbs down.

“It’s a little too stark for me,” he said. “I like the landscaping.”

The rocks, known as Tennessee River Flats, hail from Tennessee and weigh at least 6 pounds apiece.

Some social media critics wondered whether the rocks might wind up in the road and become a hazard for cars. Others worried the rocks would be used as weapons by drunks who’d had one too many or drivers in a fit of road rage.

“Not a good idea — drunk people, rocks, cars passing by. What could go wrong?” one poster wrote. “Those are called ankle breakers,” another said. “They are all over Las Vegas.”

One was amused by all the hullabaloo: “I can’t believe rocks are causing this many people to be up in arms lol.”

The rocks did get a thumbs up from a few folks: “Less maintenance — saves water.” “Love it.” “Looks great. Interesting design.”

Fort Lauderdale has no plans to place rocks in medians that sit north of Sunrise Boulevard, said Mark Almy, Fort Lauderale’s parks superintendent.

“We are evaluating the medians that have received the most damage from climatic events,” Almy said. “We suspect one-third to one-half of the A1A medians south of Sunrise Boulevard will receive some level of hardening.”

Cars drive past a landscaped median on A1A in Fort Lauderdale on Monday. Some, including Vice Mayor Steve Glassman, say they prefer shrubs to rocks when it comes to median landscaping. (John McCall/South Florida Sun Sentinel)
Cars drive past a landscaped median on A1A in Fort Lauderdale on Monday. Some, including Vice Mayor Steve Glassman, say they prefer shrubs to rocks when it comes to median landscaping. (John McCall/South Florida Sun Sentinel)

Final cost? Unknown

How much does the city plan to spend on the rocks? Almy couldn’t say.

“Since this is a pilot, and not all median locations are yet identified, the total cost is not yet determined,” he said.

The main goal is to protect the beachfront medians from annual floods and saltwater intrusion, Almy said.

“Each time the street is flooded, it brings in saltwater and blown sand,” he said. “Such an event kills the plants, which requires entire or partial replacement.”

Using rocks in spots where the flooding is the worst will eliminate the cost of plant replacement, irrigation and fertilizers, Almy said.

“In addition to regular operational savings of water, trimming, fertilization and herbicide application, the main savings will be found in reducing the need to replace landscaping after major weather events,” he added. “Were we to replace the plants in the median in front of Bonnet House alone, this would cost between $75,000 to $100,000 each time the plants are damaged by a climatic event.”

‘They just showed up one day’

Mayor Dean Trantalis says he didn’t know about the rocks until he noticed them while driving along A1A a couple weeks ago.

“I think they’re attractive,” he told the Sun Sentinel. “They’re interesting. I’ve never seen rocks like that before.”

Commissioner John Herbst, whose district sits to the north, said he wasn’t given a heads up from staff about the rock project along A1A, but wouldn’t expect to get one.

“It’s an operational detail,” he said. “I wouldn’t expect the city manager or his staff to tell me about landscaping projects.”

Instead, Herbst got a heads up about the rocks from a guy who lives in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea.

“He thought it was a bad idea,” Herbst said.

Some are puzzled as to why the city didn’t check with local residents first.

That includes Bill Brown, president of the Central Beach Alliance neighborhood association.

“They just showed up one day,” Brown said. “Some like it. Some don’t. Is it the best look? Perhaps not. But as far as cost efficiency, it might be the best solution with climate change and all the storms we’re seeing. But it would have been nice if the city would have met with the community to let us know their plan.”

Yukna was stunned to learn the city had spent $82,000 on rocks for two medians.

“If every taxpayer is not in an uproar, then shame on them,” she said. “They’re ugly. I’d rather have shrubbery, not a pile of rocks. I do not want a pile of rocks on Fort Lauderdale beach. And that’s what we’ve got.”

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

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