By: Saraana Jamraj
Tamarac found itself at the center of embattled disagreements between the city of Hollywood and Broward County over a parcel of land the county hopes will be the site of a new emergency communications tower.
While Tamarac is relatively new to this equation, this problem has been ongoing for years — ever since the county’s 911 system became overloaded during the Hollywood-Fort Lauderdale airport shooting of 2017 and the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting in 2018.
Broward County realized they needed to improve their system, which meant building more communications towers to optimize their emergency and first responder services. They made plans to build two towers in the city of Hollywood: on both the western and eastern parts of the city. The location of the west Hollywood tower was agreed upon with no incident, and plans were made to build. The second, or east Hollywood tower, however, has been a source of conflict.
The disagreement came with the location of the second antenna. Several areas were scouted. However, two became the main options: an antenna atop the Circ hotel, and a tower in West Lake Park.
Broward County wants the tower to be built in West Lake Park; however, Hollywood officials and residents mostly prefer having the antenna sit atop the Circ.
Each of their experts disagreed on which was the best location, so the two parties agreed to enter an interlocal agreement, upon which a neutral, third party would review both sites. The third party found that both were viable options, but chose West Lake Park as the better location between the two.
You’re telling me that no other city has participated in the land swap that you’re asking us to do tonight?” – Tamarac Commissioner Julie Fishman.
Hollywood officials maintained if the Circ was a viable location, it should be given preference. They said it does not pose the same environmental risks and violation of land preservation that building it in West Lake Park does.
They also said that this would give Hallandale and southeast Hollywood better coverage. More importantly, the Circ is less prone to flooding and not at sea level, unlike the land at West Lake Park, a mangrove sanctuary.
Even without Hollywood’s objections, Broward County faced several obstacles. Their county charter prohibits them from building the tower in West Lake Park- since regional parks may only be used for park purposes. This has led the county to seek a way around this restriction.
To move past the obstacles in the charter and conflict with Hollywood, the county sought to find a municipality that would be part of a complicated land swap.
This is where Tamarac comes in.
The county found that Tamarac was easy to work with when building a tower behind their city hall, and chose them to be the municipality that would be part of this deal.
Under this deal, Tamarac would obtain ownership of a parcel of land in Davie’s Long Key Nature Preserve, currently owned by a private entity. This would be immediately swapped for the land in West Lake Park, currently owned by the county.
Once they swap that land, Broward County would own the land in Davie, and Tamarac would own the land in West Lake Park. Tamarac, without the restrictions against building towers on parkland the county has, would allow the county to build the tower in West Lake Park. In return, Tamarac would be paid $62,000 a year for allowing the county to use their land.
This was announced last week and came as a shock to everyone in Hollywood, who only learned about it through a Sun-Sentinel article. Scrambling to stop it from happening, several Hollywood officials and residents attended the city commission meeting in Tamarac on September 11, to speak against the deal.
A repeated concern among speakers was that the deal posed a threat to an environmentally unique area. Land swaps are supposed to be with “like” lands. However, the portion of West Lake Park to be swapped is a coastal upland, the only one in all of South Florida.
“It’s an upland, it’s not comparable,” said Hollywood Vice Mayor Traci Callari.
Lisa Singone, secretary on the board of directors of West Lake Village, spoke at the meeting as well. She explained that as far back as 1974, environmentalists have been trying to protect the land from any development. Legislation has been drafted, purchases have been negotiated, and policies have been enacted, all to preserve the land.
A 1986 report by the Broward County Parks and Recreation Division called the West Lake acquisition and preservation “the single most important environmental effort ever made in Broward County and ranks among the most important ever made in South Florida.”
For those in Broward County government like as Assistant County Administrator Alphonso Jefferson Jr., and Assistant County Attorney Annika Ashton, there was a sense of urgency. They primarily focused on how long the process has already been delayed, how much money and time have been spent, and how necessary this tower is.
“Every time I get a text, I’m afraid that something’s going to say, ‘Hey, the radio system is not working’ because it’s been time — well past time, for it to be replaced and we’re just asking for your partnership, your assistance, in getting us over the top,” said Alphonso.
Local tragedies including the MSD shooting were repeatedly invoked, with parties on both sides hoping to avoid the chaos that ensued when the emergency server was overloaded.
Hollywood officials insisted they were very much in favor of the upgraded emergency system, and understood the sense of urgency as well, but disagreed on the location.
Vice Mayor Callari stressed this. She explained, in tears, that her husband is a police officer for the city of Hollywood, and that she understood the issue of having an incompetent emergency system for first responders. She was anxious for the antenna to go up as well, just not in West Lake Park.
She urged Tamarac’s city commission to put themselves in Hollywood’s shoes, and imagine another city coming in and making the decision for them, without having all the information.
“Sometimes, you’ve got to stand up and do what’s right from your gut,” said Vice Mayor Callari.
For three hours, commissioners heard from parties on both sides and discussed the matter at length.
Tamarac Commissioner Julie Fishman seemed especially hesitant to be a part of the land swap. She asked several questions and expressed discomfort about getting involved.
One question she mainly wanted to be answered was to see an example of when or where this had been done before. After asking several times, she got her answer: No other city in Broward County has ever been part of a deal like this, at least not one Broward officials could name.
“You’re telling me that no other city has participated in the land swap that you’re asking us to do tonight?” Asked Commissioner Fishman.
“That is correct,” Ashton answered.
Hollywood resident Alex Brown spoke at the meeting and emphasized that he and everyone else supported the antenna being built, just not in West Lake Park.
He predicted that even if Tamarac were to agree, they would immediately be tied up in litigation that could last for years. He added that everyone in Hollywood feels betrayed.
“They’ve been lied to by the county,” said Brown.
It’s a sentiment that was echoed by many who attended the September 11 meeting.
“The lack of transparency, the lack of ethics, and the lack of partnership are very disheartening to me,” said Vice Mayor Callari.
Ultimately, the Tamarac commission saw it best to at least delay the decision. After over three hours of discussion, Commissioner Mike Gelin motioned to table it for 30 days, and Commissioner Marlon Bolton seconded it. They voted 4-1 to delay, with Commissioner Fishman and Vice Mayor Debra Placko agreeing, and Mayor Michelle Gomez voting to move ahead.
Commissioner Fishman stated that while she knows the tower is necessary, she does not believe that it’s Tamarac’s emergency or that Tamarac has any business in the tower system at this point. The fact that it would be unprecedented is a large part of her concern.
“I do not want to see Tamarac get dragged into court as a part of this,” she said.
In the next 30 days, Hollywood officials hope their city and Broward County can come to an agreement, or that the county can seek other cities. In that case, by the time the 30 days is up, it will no longer be an issue for Tamarac to debate.
“We’re hoping that we can work this out with the county and end up with an antenna where it belongs, on top of the Circ. I’m optimistic,” Hollywood Commissioner Caryl Shuham said.
Hollywood officials were thankful that Tamarac delayed the vote.
Commissioner Shuham said, “We were extremely grateful to the Tamarac commission. We understand their desire, the county’s desire, and our desire to get this [antenna] up and running. We’re in such an unusual position that we need time to sort this out. We greatly appreciate being given that time.”
- Saraana Selene Jamraj is a writer, activist, and a student pursuing her master's degree in mass communications at Florida International University.
She's currently the communications manager at The Salt Box in Parkland and has lived in Coral Springs since 2004.