By Anne Geggis
A developer is appealing to the courts to go around the city commission’s decision against a hotel proposed for the Woodmont community.
Despite the developer adding a screen of plants to make the proposed hotel less conspicuous, the city commission decided last month it should disappear entirely.
But now the developer is asking a court to invalidate that unanimous Dec. 9 city commission decision that rejected the developer’s application to build a four-story, 122-unit extended-stay hotel adjacent to the Woodmont Country Club. Woodmont Hotel LLC is arguing that the commission was improperly swayed by scores of residents who came out to oppose the building that would have been branded Homes2Suite Hilton during a marathon, seven-hour meeting.
“Notably, none of the objections (to building the hotel) were supported by facts; none were supported by empirical evidence, and no expert opinions or testimony was offered,” reads the 81-page document filed Jan. 8 in Broward County appeals court.
Votes against developments are rare, even when scores of residents show up to complain about how it will affect them. City commissions under Florida law have narrow authority to regulate how property can be used. But Vice Mayor Elvin Villalobos said he’s confident the commission did not exceed its authority in making the decision.
The commission bucked city staff’s recommendation that the application should be approved.
“The commission is finally listening to the residents,” said Villalobos, who is newly seated on the commission. “So many voices came out (against the hotel). At the end of the day, we are elected to represent the people.”
However, the suit contends that the city commission is supposed to act as an unbiased judge of whether the developer’s application meets the criteria for approval. The suit bashes every commissioner by name, except for Mayor Michelle Gomez.
City staff agreed that the project’s traffic counts, architectural details, and compatibility with nearby structures and uses met the city’s criteria for allowing the development. The hotel’s appearance had been modified several times to meet city staff’s requests, the suit points out.
Residents, however, said that a draw for a transient population to their neighborhood as this hotel would be represents a health hazard for Woodmont. And that hazard would disqualify the hotel from getting a special exception that would allow it to be built in an area designated for recreation only, residents argued.
Lisa Hayden, who has owned property in Woodmont since 1998, said that she read the suit and thinks the city commission made the right decision.
“They (the developers) have not met the criteria” for approval to build the hotel in that area, she said, characterizing the contentions in the suit as “hurt feelings.”.
The lawsuit is similar to one that quashed the Boca Raton city council’s 5-0 decision against a beach development last September. A three-judge panel found that two of the current city council members should not participate in a rehearing of the development proposal because previous statements showed they had decided before the hearing.
Boca Raton is fighting the ruling, according to The Coastal Star.
Villalobos said the Tamarac wants to attract new investment and redevelopment, but this is not it.
He said he received a text from City Manager Michael Cernech that the city is preparing a rigorous defense of the decision against the hotel.
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- Anne Geggis has been a newspaper reporter for 30 years, most recently at the Sun Sentinel. She graduated from St. Michael’s College in Colchester, Vt., with a double major in journalism and sociology.
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