Mar. 2, 2015

Land swap could provide beach parking closer to Sunrise Boulevard

By Larry Barszewski
Sun Sentinel

FORT LAUDERDALE — A city land swap could help divert beach traffic from Las Olas Boulevard to Sunrise Boulevard by creating more public parking further north on the beach.

The owner of a vacant State Road A1A parcel on the north side of Vistamar Street next to the historic Bonnet House has offered to exchange the 1.6-acre property for the city-owned Sebastian Street parking lot about 11 blocks to the south.

The sale would be contingent on developers receiving approval for a large project on the Sebastian Street site. The developer, Barefoot Contessa LLC, has promised to retain at least the same number of public parking spaces as currently exist at the Sebastian Street location as part of any project.

The northern site, known as the Natchez property, has had difficulty being developed commercially because of its proximity to the Bonnet House. In 2003, commissioners rejected a proposed 22-story condominium on the site.

"We're not going to allow a building to overwhelm the Bonnet House," Mayor Jack Seiler said.

City officials have been pursuing a possible land swap because of the difficulty they've faced expanding parking at the Sebastian Street site. There are two privately owned properties needed to construct a parking garage there and the owners have been uninterested in selling, officials said.

Seiler said the city could probably use bonds that would be paid back using parking fees to pay for a three- or four-story garage on the Natchez property. He's also interested in seeing streetfront businesses along A1A as part of a garage complex.

Commissioner Dean Trantalis thinks the developer should provide more public parking on Sebastian Street than the current 79 spaces. And he said he's not going to embrace the idea until he knows what would be built on Sebastian Street.

"We don't know what the developer plans to do with the property," Trantalis said. "We have to make sure it fits in with neighborhood compatibility."

The developer's proposal is meant to start "initial negotiations and discussions," attorney Stephanie Toothaker said in a February letter to commissioners.

Under the developer's proposed agreement, Barefoot Contessa would have a year to try to obtain any necessary zoning and site plan approvals for the Sebastian Street property before any swap would occur.

Residents near Las Olas Boulevard have been concerned about current plans to build a parking garage on the north side of the Las Olas bridge and another one as part of the new aquatic center a few blocks south of Las Olas. They fear the projects will lead to more beach traffic coming down Las Olas.

Parking on the Natchez property, being closer to Sunrise, would help divert some of that traffic to Sunrise. It would also provide parking for the nearby North Beach Village, which is planning to develop restaurants and other businesses to go along with its rehabilitated, 1950s-era motels.


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