By Dan Christensen, BrowardBulldog.org
Fort Lauderdale’s summer of neighborhood discontent continues – this time in Coral Ridge where Cardinal Gibbons High School is pressing ahead with plans to light up its football field over the objections of neighbors.
The neighbors oppose lights on poles that reach as high as 95 feet on an athletic field at the Catholic high school.
City rules had limited churches and church schools to structures of 35 feet; however, city commissioners changed the rules in April to allow taller structures as long as they were compatible to the surrounding neighborhood.
Nervous residents say city staff support the taller lights and have not given enough consideration to whether they are compatible to the community. They also say zoning officials refuse to enforce neighborhood compatibility requirements such as noise limits and setbacks.
If the city allows the taller lights at Cardinal Gibbons in northeast Fort Lauderdale, then zoning standards are threatened throughout the city, according to activists in Coral Ridge and elsewhere.
“This case is not about any specific church or school; it is about every church and church school in Fort Lauderdale,” Coral Ridge Preservation Association director Robert Prager wrote in a recent open letter to city residents. “All residents should be concerned about the outcome of this case. City staff should not have the power to pick and choose what sections of the code to enforce or not enforce.”
Prager’s message of neighborhood control resonates outside city hall, particularly in neighborhoods pushing for a citywide moratorium on the use of Planned Unit Developments they see as encouraging detrimental development. You can read about the PUD fight here.
“This will affect every single neighborhood,” said Alysa Plummer, vice president of the Sailboat Bend Civic Association, west of downtown. “This and the whole issue of the PUD – it’s all part and parcel of the desire of homeowners to be in control of their neighborhoods, and not be controlled by a city employee.”
Prager had planned to appeal city zoning boss Greg Brewton’s position on enforcement to the city’s Board of Adjustment tonight. But Prager withdrew it suddenly on Monday after city staff objected. They argued that without a specific decision to appeal, Prager did not have the proper legal standing to file it.
Prager, who said the appeal has cost him “hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars,” will get his hearing later this summer at another venue – the city’s planning and zoning board. Last Thursday, the Catholic Archdiocese of Miami and Cardinal Gibbons filed a fresh application with the city for a permit review under the modified ordinance passed in April.
Prager said he will argue that city zoning officials must apply specific neighborhood compatibility requirements before signing off on any such permit. If they are followed, he said, the massive light towers will have to be moved to comply with setbacks, and a survey would have to be made to determine the impact of night games on local noise levels. Prager said private surveys he paid for found noise would rise above legal limits.
Brewton and other zoning officials declined to be interviewed about their position on the enforcement of neighborhood compatibility rules.
But a city spokeswoman denied Brewton has instructed zoning personnel not to enforce them.
“They are saying he is telling (city staff) not to enforce. That is not true,” said Petula C. Burks.
Prager and others in Coral Ridge have been at odds with city officials since Cardinal Gibbons was allowed to install four light poles on its football field in 2007. Two poles are 65 feet high and two are 95 feet high. Neighbors feared light spillover and noise generated by night football games.
“It’s going to be unbearable,” said Prager, whose home borders the high school’s athletic field.
The lights have yet to be turned on. Shortly after the poles went up, the city determined they did not comply with local zoning requirements which limited such structures to a maximum of 35 feet.
The high school sought a variance and lost. The Board of Adjustment, which decides appeals of decisions about the city’s Unified Land Development Regulations (ULDR), denied its appeal in September 2008.
In April, city commissioners passed an amendment to the regulations allowing churches and church schools to erect structures taller than 35 feet. To protect nearby property owners, they also included specific neighborhood compatibility requirements regarding noise and setbacks and the like.
Coral Ridge association president Edward Deeb is among area residents who want to make sure that the review covers specific neighborhood compatibility requirements.
“Selective enforcement weakens our system of codes and zoning regulations,” said Deeb. “We are making a stand to make sure it doesn’t happen in our neighborhood, or any neighborhood in Fort Lauderdale.”