New Bahia Mar would be an inviting village, but still too dense for local critics

Article Courtesy of The Sun Sentinel
By Paul Owers

Published April 7, 2017


The aging Bahia Mar resort and marina would be transformed into a self-contained village with a waterfront promenade, casual shops and restaurants, a grocery store, green spaces and shade.

Architect Kobi Karp envisions patrons coming for coffee or a spin class, bringing a picnic and parking underground. Building designs would help block the sun, making it bearable — comfortable, even — to sit outside in extreme heat.

“It’s tropical old Florida with a contemporary, natural and nautical feel,” Karp said. “It gives us the ability to create a destination that is uniquely Fort Lauderdale.”

Still, some residents who spoke out against two previous plans for the site say the latest proposal doesn’t go far enough to preserve public land. They insist the project’s 250-room hotel and 651 residential units would overwhelm failing roads and create traffic gridlock on the barrier island.

“We have a horrific traffic problem already on 17th Street in season, and it’s only going to get worse,” said Joanne Robinson, president of the Harbour Inlet Association.

A group led by developer Jimmy Tate submitted Karp’s vision to city officials on Wednesday. The plans still must go before Fort Lauderdale’s Development Review Committee, the Planning & Zoning Board and the City Commission.

The city owns the 39-acre Bahia Mar property, but Tate has a long-term lease to build at the site and subleases its hotel and marina operations.

The two previous proposals from Tate last year faced sharp criticism as the public debate turned bitter.

The developer hired Karp for the redesign, and the architect said none of the seven residential buildings would be taller than 11 stories.

Karp is the architect for the Four Seasons hotel and private residences project to the north opposite Fort Lauderdale Beach. His resume contains a long list of hotels and resorts in Florida, the Caribbean, Latin America and the Middle East.
The developer hasn’t decided whether the residential units would be condominiums or apartments, Karp said, adding that the project would be built in four phases over several years.

Tate hopes the lower building heights appease critics who opposed his original plan of two 39-story condo towers. Commissioners rejected that in February 2016.

Revised plans had the condo towers at 29 stories, and commissioners initially approved those before Tate pulled the proposal last summer amid public opposition and his inability to reach a deal with the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show and its operator, Show Management.
The boat show lease at Bahia Mar runs through 2020. Tate and boat show officials are expected to keep working on a longer-term lease. Tate did not return phone calls for comment.

Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler said parts of the new plan have merit, but he’d like to see more open space. Also, he said the city must be confident that the plans can accommodate the boat show long-term, from economical and functional standpoints.

Karp said the plans indeed provide a permanent home for the boat show, with perimeter roads designed to handle the needs of the marina, as well as show vendors and visitors.

“We’ll work through the process,” Seiler said. “I don’t think these will be the final plans, but they probably will be much more acceptable to a broader cross-section of the community.”

But Robinson and other residents who live in neighborhoods near Bahia Mar say they remain concerned about the project and its impact on roads, traffic, infrastructure and emergency response times.

“Density impacts all of those,” said Mary Fertig, who led opposition to Tate’s previous plans. “It’s a question of what’s too much for the fragile environment of the barrier island to sustain.”

Another resident, Anne Hilmer, said she feels strongly that Bahia Mar is in disrepair and needs a major upgrade. But she wants to see more of a public use for the property.

“651 units – that’s not public use,” Hilmer said. “The developer has lowered the buildings, but he has increased coverage of the land.”

Seiler pointed out that the density per acre in these latest plans is less than what was proposed at the site several years ago by a different developer.

The mayor said there always will be some people who don’t want any development and insisted he respects their point of view.

But Seiler said it’s important to make sure Bahia Mar is responsibly developed so that it can provide a sorely needed revenue source in Fort Lauderdale.

“That, to me, is a win for the city.”