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2/17/04 - Palm Beach Daily Business Review
Broward's redevelopment capital program
will blaze a trail in Florida, but which city will join in taking initial steps?
by Terry Sheridan
Armed with a new funding plan, Broward County is about to become a redevelopment
partner with several of its cities. For planning and development professionals,
the initiative poses a critical test of whether county and municipal officials can
mend their fractured relations over urban policy.
City officials in Fort Lauderdale and Hollywood believe their proposed projects
may be the first to help define the outcome.
In Fort Lauderdale, the city's community redevelopment agency has asked the county
to expand its district by about 200 acres.
In Hollywood, city officials are embarking on a project to redevelop the U.S. 441/State
Road 7 corridor that they hope will qualify for county funding.
But leaders in both cities fear they will be ostracized because their CRAs differ
from how the county wants the agencies to operate. They aren't alone. Of Broward's
29 municipalities, 12 have at least one CRA; three have agencies under consideration.
CRAs are public entities that raise money for redevelopment projects through bonds
and property taxes. The taxes collected in a CRA district are frozen in the year
the district is created. After that, the agency may keep up to 95 percent of new
taxes generated by development and property value increases. The funds must be reinvested
in the district through a process known as tax-increment financing.
County Administrator Roger Desjarlais has long made clear that he disapproves of
existing agencies because they use tax-increment financing that retain funds that
otherwise would go to the county.
The county's new funding program pointedly intends to end such financing. Approved
last week, the redevelopment capital program - the first in Florida - allows the
county and cities to team up on financing. The county will invest an initial $10.3
million from its general fund and expects to provide $100 million or more within
a year or two through unspecified investment vehicles.
One criterion for county funding in CRA districts requires cities to depart from
traditional tax-increment financing and adopt the county's plan, which includes
interlocal agreements that lay out how the cities may use the money.
But some city officials say they are receiving contradictory information about the
county's intentions under its new program. Fort Lauderdale City Commissioner Dean
Trantalis said he wants to believe what Desjarlais and County Mayor Ilene Lieberman
told him during last week's County Commission meeting. But he has his doubts.
"They indicated that this [new program] was not intended to supplant but to
augment, and that as long as we abide by the rules for CRAs as originally created,
the two programs should not interfere with one another," he said.
But that differs from what county staff said about the CRA's chances of expanding
its district, he said.
The extension would encompass Fort Lauderdale's South Middle River area from Sunrise
Boulevard to 13th Street, and from Ninth Avenue to the Florida East Coast Railway
"We've been told by county staff that they don't intend to grant the extension
and that they didn't even think the area proves slum and blight [a required criteria
for redevelopment districts]," said CRA director Kim Jackson. "If you
drive that area, the slum and blight couldn't be more apparent."
If the county has had a change of heart, "it happened at that moment [in the
meeting] because up to that moment those weren't the signals we were getting from
the staff," Trantalis said. "I'm wondering if members of the commission
are being fully apprised of the intentions of the program."
Desjarlais said late last week that he hadn't yet seen the expansion plan, and that
it would go through the normal process.
"If you left it up to me personally, I wouldn't approve it," he added.
"But I won't do anything to artificially interfere with it."
Hollywood officials, on the other hand, fear that their huge U.S. 441/State Road
7 plan will be jeopardized in the county's eyes because the city has two community
redevelopment agencies, though neither encompasses the corridor.
City Manager Cameron Benson said that the city's extensive master planning of its
main corridors makes it a prime candidate for county funding.
"We're ready, we're planned - all the things that the county has used as criteria
to infuse funding in certain areas are here," he said. "So if the county
is truly interested in doing it ... they need look no further."
The city's U.S. 441/State Road 7 corridor plan, in fact, includes what planners
call "pulse nodes." The name suggests precisely what the planning concept
intends: High-intensity development at key intersections, likely tied to mass transit
links. Multifamily housing and parks would lie along the corridor in between those
The plan would dramatically remake the highway's nonstop row of strip shopping centers
and other commercial buildings that run in a nondescript blur from one intersection
to the next.
A six-month development moratorium for the corridor, effective last month, will
give the city time to canvass specific proposals for the highway.
"[U.S.] 441 is the catalyst project for the county's new plan," said Jacqueline
Gonzalez, Hollywood's economic development director. "We want to be their pilot
program and increase the county's and city's wealth."
The city's goal, in fact, is to identify development for the U.S. 441 corridor that
is "so significant the county has no choice" but to be a partner, said
Neil Fritz, commercial corridor redevelopment director.
The concern, though, is that the county has a bias against cities with traditional
redevelopment agencies, Benson said.
Late last week, Desjarlais indicated that Benson's concerns may be well founded.
"Based on good public policy, I would think we'd want to partner with cities
that need it the most rather than those that have captured significant tax-increment
dollars," Desjarlais said. "We have made it no secret that this investment
program has always been intended to replace tax-increment financing."
Besides, several projects are in the pipeline ahead of Hollywood, he said. Though
Desjarlais didn't give specifics, he said Lauderdale Lakes, Oakland Park, Lauderhill
and an unincorporated area in Central Broward are on the front burners.
In Lauderdale Lakes, redevelopment administrator J. Gary Rogers said he was unaware
of any plan that's a frontrunner for the county's participation. The city's 3-year-old,
551-acre CRA, primarily along U.S. 441 and Oakland Park Boulevard, was among the
latest to be created under the traditional guidelines.
The cities that appear to be embracing the county's program, in fact, are merely
going along with it to ensure they can set up a redevelopment agency, Rogers said.
"The message from the county is, 'If you want to get your CRA, support this
thing,' " he said. But he added that the county's criteria for projects aren't
Beyond differences over funding CRA districts, the county and cities seem to disagree
over their respective roles in redevelopment. Part of what fuels this disagreement
is the fact that Broward is one of only two counties in the state whose charter
gives control of land use to the county.
City officials who participate on a redevelopment panel of VisionBroward, an ad
hoc group of public and private sector leaders who discuss general economic issues,
have sent a "leave us alone" message to the county.
Created last year by a consortium of economic development groups, VisionBroward's
600-plus members are exploring quality-of-life issues that affect the county's future.
"We're saying to leave the local issues as local, and let the county help us
with countywide land-use standards to help with schools, transportation - issues
that the county needs to take a leadership role in," Rogers said.
Garbage incineration, the airport and seaport, parks, the library system and countywide
transit needs should be the county's focus, said Fort Lauderdale City Commissioner
Carlton Moore, whose district includes the city's CRA.
"For a government entity that I thought basically did a poor job in developing
what was theirs to develop to tell Fort Lauderdale or any other municipality how
to do their development is just unnecessary," he said.
But County Mayor Lieberman and Desjarlais disagree with the message from VisionBroward's
redevelopment group. Lieberman said the group is out of step with the rest of the
VisionBroward groups, whose members better represent a wider range of opinions.
"Five years ago, we started inviting city managers and elected officials to
discussions about redevelopment, and people refused to show up," Desjarlais
said. "Now that our board has passed a resolution that gives us one more tool
for redevelopment, people are uncomfortable."