In previous emails and blog posts, I've written that the owners of the Westin Diplomat Resort & Spa -which also includes the Diplomat Country Club- the Plumbers & Pipe Fitters Union, as well as their management company, Starwood, and their high-paid team of lawyers,
lobbyists and consultants would engage in all sorts of lies and misrepresentation, if need be, in order to get their way, and they have.
Now you will see for yourself that this deception also extends to their supporters and apologists in Southeast Broward as well, and I have that proof.
This matters because the vote on the Diplomat LACwill take place before the Broward County Commission this afternoon at 2 p.m., in an effort to break the 4-4 tie in March.
Since I've so often contemplated here why the South Florida news media seems to be going out of their way NOT to cover this story in a way that equates to its actual importance to the greater community's Quality-of-Life, when they'd absolutely be falling over themselves if it was happening in Coral Gables, Cutler Bay or in Weston, I can't help but wonder if perhaps the bit of news I'm sharing today will change equation a bit and make at least some of them a little curious how things
got to this point.
But then again, maybe not.
In previous emails to some people in the community, as well as in blog posts here, I've noted with a fair degree of concern the fact that some local residents with claims of ties to the Hallandale Beach or Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, have claimed they were SO concerned about the economic health of HB, but most of whom you and I have NEVER seen before, not even at Hallandale Beach or Hollywood City Commission or CRA meetings, which I regularly attend.
Even more than reporters.
Frankly, everything else being equal, I don't really mind the people supporting the Diplomat so much as their rather transparent attempts to buffalo us in this process in such a very condescending way, while acting like they were the ones looking at "the big picture."
Yes, "the big picture" that you might otherwise not recognize as your family's daily existence hereabouts and their future.
But the reality is rather different, isn't it?
Actually, we are the ones looking at that "big picture" scenario, while they were the local opportunists and butt-kissers looking at self-enrichment, which is one of the reason that I found it so easy to take some verbal shots at some of them during my public comments before the Broward County Commission, specifically referring to them as "water carriers" for HB City Hall and the Diplomat.
That's what they were, whether wearing Ann Taylor pantsuits or not.
It was their smug attempts to seem intellectually elevated that I found grating, especially since you know these same people would never tolerate multiple 25-30 story condo towers next to their own home in a single-family residential area.
Speaking of public misrepresentation, consider the curious case of Hollywood attorney Gregory Dell, quoted in the otherwise excellent Daily Business Review article of March 27th, which appeared two days after the 4-4 tie vote. I've highlighted his comments in red.
Daily Business Review
Planning & Zoning
Clock ticks for massive development as vote looms
March 25, 2010
The owners of The Diplomat Golf Resort & Spa are pushing to obtain approval for an ambitious redevelopment of a Hallandale Beach golf course as a critical deadline approaches.
Running the gauntlet of land use and zoning hurdles is never easy, but winning approval of such a huge project could get tougher after November. That’s when Floridians will vote on a constitutional amendment that would allow them to veto any changes to a municipality’s comprehensive land-use plan.
The Plumbers & Pipefitters National Pension Fund, which owns the Hallandale Beach resort, wants to build up to 950 residential units, a 500-room hotel, a 48-slip marina and about 3,000 square feet of commercial space and upgrade the golf course.
Diplomat officials proposed changing the land use from commercial and recreational use to a designation called “local activity center,” which would allow a mix of residential, hotel, commercial and recreation uses.
Some in the development community expect Amendment 4, also known as Florida Hometown Democracy, to pass. That would make it much more difficult to change land use and zoning, experts said.
That’s why the Broward County Commission’s failure on Tuesday, by a 4-to-4 vote, to send the development plan to the state’s Department of Community Affairs for review — a necessary step before the final approval — is a big setback for the pension fund.
The commission’s vote raises doubt about whether the 96-acre project can get the needed approvals by the time voters go to the polls in November.
In addition to the land-use issues, the pension fund also needs to find financing for the $500 million project and faces increasing competition from condo projects already in the pipeline.
“They’re trying to rush this stuff through in advance of Amendment 4,” said Jack McCabe, a Deerfield Beach-based housing analyst.
The consensus among builders is that if Amendment 4 passes, “it’ll put tremendous constraints on large-scale building projects like this,” he said. Builders all over Florida are pushing for approvals now, McCabe said.
Specter of Change
The specter of the change to the state constitution wasn’t raised at the commission meeting. Instead, it was skepticism on the part of Commissioners Lois Wexler and Sue Gunzburger that dominated the discussion.
Wexler questioned developers’ claims the project would add only 180 peak-hour car trips to nearby roads, which are already over capacity.
Gunzburger asked how the developer planned to comply with Hallandale Beach’s affordable-housing provisions, which require a developer to either set aside 15 percent of a project for affordable housing or that it pay into the city’s affordable-housing fund. Diplomat officials agreed to pay into the fund.
Gunzburger wondered how a city with nearly 3,000 condo units already approved but not yet built could absorb even more inventory.
“I don’t see the need for another 950 units,” she said.
Diplomat officials argued that the residential portion of the project is critical to make it work financially. A hotel alone won’t work, they said. Wexler also asked if the property was for sale.
Debbie Orshefsky, a Greenberg Traurig lawyer representing the developer, answered: “It’s not for sale at the present time.”
She then added: “The property is not actively being marketed.”
Earlier, Orshefsky said the entitlements would position the property for when the market rebounds.
She acknowledged that the owner currently doesn’t have financing or investors in place to pay for construction and said the pension fund would most likely need to partner with an experienced builder.
Joining Commissioners Wexler, Gunzburger and Kristin Jacobs in voting against sending the proposed land-use changes to the state was Mayor Ken Keechl.
Commissioners John Rodstrom, Stacy Ritter, Diana Wasserman-Rubin and Albert C. Jones voted in favor. Commissioner Ilene Lieberman was out of town.
The developer, union officials and their supporters that filled the commission chamber were stunned by the vote.
“It’s a procedural nightmare,” Orshefsky said after the vote. “I don’t know what it means. But it’s a procedural nightmare.”
The county commission will hold another public hearing on the project in April. Both the city and county have to vote to send the proposal to Tallahassee for review by the DCA. Another public hearing and a final vote of approval by the city and county commissions are required after the DCA’s input. It’s a process that often takes months.
Opponents and proponents are sure to gear up for yet another battle. It has been going on for years.
In 1997, the Plumbers & Pipefitters National Pension Fund bought the resort and spa on Diplomat Parkway, east of Northeast 14th Avenue, north of Hallandale Beach Boulevard and south of Atlantic Shores Boulevard.
It also owns the oceanfront Westin Diplomat hotel several miles away on A1A in Hollywood.
In 2000, the fund refurbished the golf course, added a new club house, tennis center, spa and a 60-room boutique hotel. The cost was about $45 million.
But like many golf courses across South Florida, the one at the resort saw its fortunes decline.
Golf Course Costs Increasing
It was originally envisioned to be a high-end resort and golf club sustained by locals and guests from the Westin Diplomat. But that hasn’t happened.
And while the golf course loses customers, its operating costs have continued to increase, officials said.
To preserve the golf course, planning started about four years ago to create a golf course community and destination, Orshefsky said before the meeting.
The first proposal was for 1,600 residential units and a 350-room hotel, Orshefsky said. By the time Diplomat officials submitted their first application in early 2007, they proposed building 1,400 residential units and the hotel, she said.
After months of back and forth with Hallandale Beach officials and residents, Diplomat officials withdrew their application. They refiled with the city in September 2009 after lowering the density and rethinking the design, Orshefsky said.
The wrangling with Hallandale Beach and Hollywood residents and Hallandale Beach city officials continued.
The original proposal was too much, Hallandale Beach Mayor Joy Cooper said.
“It didn’t fit our city,” she said.
But after a year and half of back and forth and many changes, city and Diplomat officials developed a plan they could agree on. The Hallandale Beach City Commission voted 3-2 in December to approve the plan.
Cooper and commissioners Dotty Ross and Anthony Sanders supported the measure with Commissioner Keith London and Vice Mayor Bill Julian opposed.
This “will continue to make that a viable, sustainable golf community,” the mayor said.
‘DEVELOPMENT RUN AMOK’
No one is completely happy, including Terry Cantrell, president of Hollywood Lakes Section Civic Association. The association worries mostly about traffic heading north through neighborhood streets.
“Hallandale Beach represents development run amok,” he said.
City officials there “never take into account” the amount of traffic its residents have to deal with, he said. He called the traffic studies the developer conducted “grossly inadequate.”
Luis Paredes, president of the United Condominium Associations of Hallandale Beach, said his group’s main worries are the added traffic and the compatibility of the high-rise project in a low-rise neighborhood.
In e-mail blasts he sent out, he raised issues such as the number of empty condo units currently in Hallandale Beach and the possible sale of the property. He also questioned why the developers were fast-tracking the project.
David Schwartz, a third-generation South Florida hotelier and principal of The Management Consortium, a hotel consultant group, doubts the project will ever get built.
“I can’t see the pipefitters taking on that risky venture,” he said.
Schwartz said he also doesn’t think there will be any buyer for the property in this economy.
Still, the supporters of the project say it’s important for the city’s future success.
“With all due respect, the time has come for Hallandale to shed its reputation as a senior citizen community,” said Gregory Dell, a local resident and lawyer not connected to the project. “In an economy that is suffering, Hallandale needs to seize an opportunity and look to the future growth and reputation of our city. “I fear that if this project is not approved and the Diplomat golf course is forced to shut down, our property values will further decline and our city will have another vacant lot with no development.”
McCabe questioned the Diplomat’s contention that the project is needed to maintain the golf course’s viability.
The project would cost hundreds of millions of dollars, he estimated. And with Amendment 4 looming, getting the rights to build such a large project would dramatically increase the property’s value, he said.
“They really just want to get the entitlement to flip it to someone else,” McCabe said.
So, is Gregory Dell really "a local resident and lawyer not connected to the project" or something else entirely?
Well, it's true that he used to live in Hallandale Beach and now lives in Hollywood.
I can't quibble with that, since I have a friend who lives on the street that Dell formerly lived on in Hallandale Beach.
But the part about him not having a dog in the fight is not true.
I have the proof.
This very same Gregory Dell is still listed on golf merchandise manufacturer Haas-Jordan's website as a distributor, using both his (former) home address on Hibiscus Drive in HB, and listing a contact phone number that upon further examination, you discover is actually the very same number used by his attorney wife Kelly's business, also located on Hollywood Blvd., right near Hollywood City Hall.
Well, actually, she's in the same exact building -2404 Hollywood Blvd.
Gregory Dell wasn't just some dis-interested Hollywood attorney who was speaking his mind on some aspect of local public policy.
He is, apparently, someone with at least the appearance of a financial rooting-interest in the Westin Diplomat & Resort, the Union and Starwood getting their way with regard to their high-priced condo towers next to the golf course.
Simple math: Golf merchandise + golf course = $$$
That doesn't make him a bad guy, per se, just someone who seems to be playing fast and loose with the truth when it serves his own economic interests.
You know, just like what everyone complains is the case with Wall Street and Capitol Hill and Tallahassee?
Dell has the appearance of an economic conflict that should've been publicly disclosed to the DBR reporter so that we'd all know that when we read the story.
Just be honest about it, and then we'd weigh his words accordingly.
(For instance, does Dell still have that golf equipment distributorship? Just wondering!)
Mention THAT conflict to the reporter right away instead of leaving it up to yours truly to dig that bit of information up.
Not that it was so hard - I was able to figure this all out in less than 20 minutes after seeing the story.
See for yourself below:
When you perform a Google search for the phone number
listed, what do you suppose you get?
Fax: 954-920-9811. Main Office Address: 2404 Hollywood Blvd, Hollywood, Fl 33020
gotticket.com/firm_profile.htm - Cached
Well, now you have a much better idea of what we're up against, as we continue play the role of David in that familiar story about the underdog.
We're up against people not content to just use their influence in the community to get their personal opinion out, but also, so it seems, willing to use it to better their own economic circumstances, even if that means being less than truthful when speaking in public.
And as if all that wasn't enough to cause you to question Dell's degree of objectivity when speaking on this issue, there's also the rather curious letter that he conveniently forget to mention to the reporter of the story.
And it's not just any letter, but rather his own letter of Feb. 9th, addressed to the Broward County Planning Council, the body that heard the issue before it went to the entire County Commission.
A letter that he had already written six weeks before that County Commission meeting.
Sort of curious that an attorney would forget to mention that germane letter or his own past experience as a golf equipment distributor to the Daily Business Review reporter in a story about a golf course and real estate, don't you think?
I guess Gregory Dell is just a very forgetful guy, huh?
Well, I guess at this point, you won't be too surprised to hear that in his letter, at the top, Dell completely neglects the legitimate concerns of HB & Hollywood citizens: the ruinous effect these multiple 25-30 story condo towers would have on the current neighborhood.
Nope, our pal Gregory Dell just skips right past that.
Instead, he says the following, and you'll understand, I think, if I suspect that he said this in a rather superior and condescending way, since that's exactly how it sounds:
The benefits of this project far exceed any potential negatives such as potential traffic concerns, Traffic is a fact of life and if it takes each of us an extra 3-5 minutes to get somewhere, this is not a reason to deny the project...
But if it's not such a big thing, why did Comm. Diana Wasserman-Rubin tell Hallandale Beach residents who live in the neighborhood, who spoke to her in her West Park office the day before the vote, that the current traffic is already so bad that she "avoids thearea if at all possible."
How is it that you imagine having thousands more residents in that area will not directly affect the ability of people to evacuate when the sites in question are ALL mandatory hurricane evacuation areas?
Well, in a few hours, we'll see what narrative of this area carries the day: citizen's Quality-of-Life or incompatible over-development by big money interests.