‘These things are loud:’ Fire alarm testing at Pier Sixty-Six rattles Fort Lauderdale neighborhood

FORT LAUDERDALE — The piercing sound of fire alarms being tested at the Pier Sixty-Six construction site can go off at any moment, rattling the nerves of nearby homeowners and people who happen to be passing by.

Residents who live near the landmark development undergoing a $1 billion renovation say they are within earshot of random alarm testing that takes place any time, day or night — even on Sundays, from 6:30 a.m. all the way to 10 p.m. And they’re not too happy about it.

“These things are loud,” said Michelle Hartford, a resident of Harbor Beach, an upscale Fort Lauderdale neighborhood that sits just north of the Pier Sixty-Six project site at Southeast 17th Street near the Intracoastal.

The alarms, with decibel ratings ranging from 97 to 112, are as loud as an ambulance siren.

“Sometimes it goes on for a couple hours,” Hartford told the South Florida Sun Sentinel. “It will stop and start again. It’s very annoying. And they want to do this for the rest of the year?”

That’s right.

The alarm testing is expected to continue through the end of the year.

But there’s a silver lining.

The developer has offered to stop testing on Sundays and during the early morning hours, said Stephanie Toothaker, attorney for Orlando-based Tavistock Development Company. The developer also plans to limit the testing to three days a week and finish up by 8 p.m., Toothaker said.

Commissioners are expected to approve the new hours on Tuesday night during their regular meeting.

Tavistock had permission from the city since 2021 to work and conduct testing after hours, but the special permit expired. The developer now needs the commission to extend the permit through Dec. 31.

Construction is ongoing at the Pier Sixty-Six resort in Fort Lauderdale on April 30. The work began in 2021 and is expected to wrap up in December. (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel)
Construction is ongoing at the Pier Sixty-Six resort in Fort Lauderdale. The work began in 2021 and is expected to wrap up in December. (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel)

‘Drove me nuts’

A handful of critics objected to the extension, sparking debate during a commission meeting last week.

Hartford was one of those critics.

“I don’t think any of you guys would like that kind of noise going on,” she told the commission. “I’ve been putting up with it since 2020 when they had a shovel out there digging from 7 to 7, which nearly drove me nuts. And that was only six days a week.”

Isobel Sturgeon, whose Harbor Beach home sits across the canal from Pier Sixty-Six, pleaded with the commission not to grant the extension allowing the alarms to be tested beyond 7 p.m.

“I have fire alarms going off at all hours, almost every day,” she said. “Where do I go to sleep? To eat? To read? To enjoy the quiet of my home?”

The alarm testing is done after the 900 or so construction crews leave for the day, Toothaker told the commission.

“Those testings cannot happen while the construction is happening,” she said. “They have to happen after construction has exited the site. So they always usually happen after hours.”

The project’s fire alarm system is not yet operational, said Chris Gandolfo, senior vice president of development at Tavistock.

“What we’re trying to do is debug the system to find out what the operational flaws are,” he told commissioners. “To do that, you have to have a serene environment so we can then figure out where the bugs are in the system. The testing takes longer than two hours because of the size and scale of the project.”

Mayor Dean Trantalis said he has sympathy for the neighbors.

“So it’s happening every day for two hours,” he said. “And it’s done either early in the morning or late at night. That’s kind of crazy.”

Pier Sixty-Six, a Fort Lauderdale landmark shown on April 30, 2024, is still under construction three years after breaking ground. (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel)
Pier Sixty-Six Resort is shown on Tuesday, April 30, 2024. (Amy Beth Bennett / South Florida Sun Sentinel)

‘Going off all day’

Commissioner Warren Sturman, whose district includes the neighborhood, hosted a town hall meeting this week to get input from neighbors.

Sturgeon, one of more than 50 residents to attend Sturman’s neighborhood meeting, said she’s been keeping a diary of when the alarms go off.

Feb. 29 was one of the worst days, when the alarms went off five times in a matter of a few hours, according to Sturgeon’s notes.

“It’s very disturbing to have alarms going off all day throughout the day,” she said. “I’d like to know why they can’t give us notice.”

Sturgeon also complained that no one picks up when she calls the developer’s complaint line.

“There should be someone manning the complaint line,” she said. “I’m right next door to them. You don’t know what I’ve been living with for five years.”

Symbol of frustration?

Complaints about alarm testing at Fort Lauderdale’s many construction sites are actually quite rare, Vice Mayor Steve Glassman told the Sun Sentinel.

Plenty of tall towers have gone up around Fort Lauderdale, but none have generated complaints about life-safety alarm testing like Pier Sixty-Six, Glassman said.

He has a theory on why.

“When people are upset about a construction project, I think they look for ways to poke at it,” Glassman said. “It’s not really about the alarm testing. The alarm testing is a symbol of their frustration.”

Hartford, who says she can hear the alarms from her balcony, can testify to being frustrated.

There’s really no way to drown out the noise, she said.

“Houses on our side are on the river,” she said. “The water amplifies the noise. It’s just a complete annoyance. It’s like you have someone next door hammering. And we’ve been putting up with it for three years now.”

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

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