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2/19/03 - Daily Business Review
Future of much-maligned Broward stretch of U.S. 441 at stake
as county administrator pushes for focused effort
By: Terry Sheridan
In a plan already drawing sharp criticism from some municipal officials, Broward
County intends to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in a massive redevelopment
of the seedy U.S. 441 corridor.
The effort, not yet approved by county commissioners, promises initially to create
controversy and turf wars about redevelopment efforts already underway along the
highway's 29 miles in the county.
County Administrator Roger Desjarlais, who wants the county to take the lead in
redeveloping the corridor, said he will ask the County Commission next month to
approve the creation of a 60-employee Department of Urban Planning and Redevelopment
to oversee the effort.
Department staff, which will report to Desjarlais, will serve double-duty in other
departments, including planning, code enforcement and economic development.
"The genesis of this is really the realization that redevelopment will determine
the quality of life 15 or 20 years from now," Desjarlais said.
He said he wants the county to overhaul its comprehensive plan to include new land
uses and population densities, infrastructure investments and a property value analysis.
A primary goal is how to better cluster larger groups of people, who in turn will
require and make better use of public transportation.
During the last 20 years, rising property values and new construction have fueled
much of the county's tax base growth, he said. But new construction will slow
as the county reaches build-out in about 2010. Continued tax base growth will rely
on redevelopment, and the properties most in need are within the U.S. 441 corridor,
According to the county's plan, the corridor includes the length of U.S. 441
from Palm Beach to Miami-Dade counties, and stretches from I-95 westward to near
The 30-square-mile area includes about 3.5 square miles of unincorporated land.
Much of it is populated with decrepit homes and commercial buildings long in need
of refurbishing ù "a hodgepodge of stupidity," as North Lauderdale
Vice Mayor Gary Frankel described it.
Under the still-sketchy plan, much of that would be replaced with mixed-use development
fed in part by public transportation such as express bus service. The county plan's
financing for those efforts would come from several investment strategies, Desjarlais
said, but he declined to discuss specifics.
"After a lot of conversation and watching redevelopment efforts throughout
Broward, there is a clear history of redevelopment that we aren't convinced
is as successful as it should be," he said, "and I am up to my eyebrows
with new store facades and brick street pavers and all that bullshit that calls
"This is an option for cities to partner with the county but it isn't
just about dollars," said Broward County vice mayor Ilene Lieberman, whose
district includes the U.S. 441 area. "It is about services we can provide
and relocate, and our relationship with federal and state sources. But that means
we have a voice, too. You don't just take the money and run."
Increased mixed-use along the highway, perhaps even building residences atop vacant
malls or warehouses, would encourage people to live and work in the same area, she
Other county commissioners could not be reached for comment.
Though in its infancy, the county's effort has brought mixed reactions from
local communities and development insiders.
That's largely because the highway stretches through 14 cities that agreed
to jointly remake the corridor into downtown Broward. The effort, known as the State
Road 7/U.S. 441 Collaborative, began in 1999.
And many cities in the corridor have or are proposing community redevelopment agencies,
or CRAs, public groups that raise redevelopment funds through bonds and property
taxes. The agencies get to use the bulk of taxes generated by development and property
value increases on improvements.
'The spine of the county'
Desjarlais' longstanding opposition to the agencies and their property tax
financing is widely known.
In Hollywood, City Commissioner Fran Russo figured the county's plan is rooted
in control and job preservation.
"The county is losing its unincorporated areas to cities, as cities incorporate
them," said Russo, who is also a member of the State Road 7/U.S. 441 Collaborative.
"I don't know whose idea it was to have unincorporated areas incorporated
by 2012, I think it is, but they [county officials] manufactured their own demise."
Lauderhill City Commissioner Leanna "Lee" Mirsky, who chairs the U.S.
441 group, takes a tougher stance.
"My city is gung-ho on rehabbing the corridor and we've bought properties
along 441 to control how it looks," Mirsky said. "The other cities are
starting to step up to the plate. And we don't want the county telling us
what to do."
The collaborative, intended to remake U.S. 441 into an economic and transportation
corridor, was formed in part because of a lack of planning along the road.
If the county had made its move along the highway at the beginning of its decline
decades ago, the resulting seediness and hodgepodge of buildings and uses could
have been avoided, Mirsky said.
"When everyone did a mass exodus to cheap land in the west, they forgot about
what was important," she said. "It [U.S. 441] should be the financial
zone of the county and the spine of the county. We have to reclaim it. The county
and Roger are late."
Margate Vice Mayor Joseph Varsallone sides with Mirsky. He said the county "should
be working with us and not creating a new entity to overshadow us. There's
been something going on in this county for some time, and it's that the county
is trying to take control of the cities."
On the other hand, Tamarac Vice Mayor Edward Portner and North Lauderdale's
Frankel welcome the county's effort ù and its muscle.
Portner said the county's bigger voice and bigger pocketbook could ensure
that every city is involved in the highway project.
"There's a lot of things that have to be done, like transportation,
road reservations for bus lanes ù there was talk of light rail that I'll
probably never see," Frankel said. "If Roger wants to move in on the
thing, let's see what the organization says. I'm not a party to a fight,
but to working together."
Plantation, which created a CRA in 2000 for the redevelopment of U.S. 441, expects
to spend $20 million over 30 years for the improvements.
With funding from grants and a special taxing district, the city has spent about
$2.5 million since 2000 on work that has included street widening and refurbishing
sanitary sewers, said city redevelopment specialist Rachel Bach, who also is a member
of the collaborative.
Later this month, the city will begin soliciting proposals from developers to participate
in the city's new Catalytic Investment Strategy, a $2.1 million bond fund
targeting land assembly and mixed-use redevelopment, said Marcia Berkley, city planning
So the county's new plan, as Bach gently put it, might work better for cities
that haven't accomplished as much along U.S. 441.
"We're not going to say we won't take assistance," she added,
"but we have a pretty clear plan and we're moving forward in the right
For his part, Desjarlais is fully aware the county's redevelopment plan could
"The challenge," he said, "is in being a positive influence in
a way that gets a buy-in from the cities to invest with us, or us with them. We
want to partner with those who want and need it, and for those who don't need
it, all the better."
For now, he and the cities apparently have a common goal for U.S. 441 ù smarter
clusters of density, increased mass transit and higher property values.
Still, Desjarlais is impatient for results. "Let's just stick a damn
shovel in the ground," he said.
What he fails to understand is just how lengthy a process redevelopment is, said
Lisa Maxwell, redevelopment director of Lennar Corp.
"It's premature to say that the cities' and CRAs' plans
have not reaped a great deal of visible redevelopment," she said. "Frankly,
we're at the stage where that is now starting to happen."
Lennar, in fact, expects to begin construction late this year on a townhouse project
on five acres near U.S. 441 and Sunrise Boulevard in Plantation. The 68 units will
be priced from $160,000.
"I think the entire corridor has incredible promise," she said.
Initially, the county's plan is shaping up as the next range war of the millennium,
"In the end, though, it won't happen that way," she added. "The
cities will rightfully protect what they've worked so hard to put in place.
And the county will have to respect that the cities have worked so hard. à
I think that however the county decides in its infinite wisdom that they want to
assist, their assistance would be welcome."
Developer Charles Ladd of Barron Real Estate, who co-owns a shopping center on U.S.
441 in Margate, put it this way: "Politics, sausage and redevelopment ù
you don't want to watch any of it being made. You have a bunch of cities and
a county and this corridor, and it won't be easy. But it has to happen."