POMPANO BEACH: Heading in the Right Direction? (Pompano! Magazine Commentary)
By Jeff Levine, Pompano Beach News Columnist
Into the 1980’s Pompano Beach was the third largest city in Broward County and growing fast. Prior decades brought dozens of high rise condos to A1A and new housing developments in Harbor Village, the Highlands and elsewhere.
The next twenty years saw minimal new development and even the opposite. The iconic Howard Johnson hotel was torn down, the Fisherman’s Wharf oceanfront restaurant blew away, and stores up and down the city’s main streets closed down and were boarded up.
About ten years ago, the RMA company was hired to run the city’s Community Redevelopment Agencies. In relatively short time, the beach area was rejuvenated, shops on Atlantic Blvd. got major makeovers, an arts district was created in the battered old downtown area and new stores and restaurants opened in long closed locations.
The changes, mainly funded by public dollars, were applauded by most residents, who generally supported the plans. Except, many really didn’t understand the whole plan. It was easy to fancy a prettier beach or the opening of The Foundry, in place of a closed fish shop.
But…The largely cosmetic make-over was done to attract private investment money to fuel a much bigger redevelopment of the city. That plan has been very successful, perhaps more so than the city even expected.
We’re now seeing dozens of new mixed-use and residential projects, representing thousands of new housing units recently completed, currently underway or soon to break ground. Those plans seem to be making some residents nervous.
For the most part, complaints have largely come from those closest to the specific ventures. In the past couple of months residents living near the current McNab House property (where over 300 new units will be built), Hidden Harbour (also 300+ units) and the “Twin Tower” project on A1A have been very vocal opponents. However, if you ask residents elsewhere in the city about those plans, you will get mostly positive feedback.
As more projects get closer to reality, it is likely that more neighbors will voice objections. Change can be scary. It can be inconvenient. It is also necessary. A city that was once filled with blight, stagnation and pessimism is now a place on the rise.
The question isn’t whether or not we should build. We either grow or we decline. Keeping things as they are isn’t reality. So, the question becomes: How do we best manage that growth?
I would offer three important suggestions to help with the process:
1- Make sure current residents feel they are part of the growth. Nobody wants to think the city’s rise will lead to their downfall. Among other things, this means making sure residents in the Northwest CRA area don’t worry they will be priced out of and forced to move away from their homes.
It also means improving communication with all residents. The city has had and needs to continue to have many forums explaining plans while in their early phases, allowing folks the opportunity to be heard. Lately, there have been several projects that seemed to pop up without much advance warning. That leads to fear and gossip. Get that message out as many ways as possible- e-mail blasts, social media, videos- any and every way for residents to be informed and involved.
2- Don’t overdo the high rise buildings. Based on current zoning rules and some loose plans that have surfaced, the majority of the south side of East Atlantic Blvd. from US1 to the ocean could consist of big buildings. We are a long way from this actually happening and hopefully the city will take a good hard look at potential plans including future proposals for the Atlantic Square shopping center and the area around the Ray-Van building. There are other areas of the city where this could happen as well.
Open space and visible blue skies need to be an important part of the mix. We are a beach town. It shouldn’t feel like a big city or worse, Hallandale.
3- TRAFFIC! TRAFFIC! TRAFFIC! With new development, comes more cars and congestion. We are already seeing an increase in drive times along Federal Highway, Atlantic Blvd. and other roadways. We’ve got to begin addressing this now and not wait until the new condos and apartments have been built. There is no easy fix. So, we need to look at every option. Public transportation is great, but we haven’t seen any examples of it reducing traffic in Broward County. Mass transit might be in the mix, but can only be a small piece of the solution. We need to move the cars faster. More highly synchronized timing of traffic lights. Better turn lanes (or no turns at certain intersections). I’m not an expert but let’s implement some traffic flow improvements as quickly as possible.
And, last but not least, I urge the city to re-consider reducing the Atlantic Blvd.-Dixie Highway corridor from three lanes to two. Maybe I am thick headed but I just can’t see this becoming anything but a traffic nightmare.
The key to the future of Pompano Beach is balancing the new development while properly addressing the issues increased development brings. We seem to have a mayor and several city commission members who understand this. Working on the three items above will go a long way to helping Pompano Beach successfully navigate the big changes that are coming.
Jeff Levine is the Editor-at-Large for Pompano! Magazine. He writes a monthly column in the magazine. The opinions expressed in this post represent his and his alone.
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