FORT LAUDERDALE — It almost sounds like a Hollywood script: an unexpected star goes from honky-tonk to upscale, from shabby to chic, from affordable to expensive.
We’re talking about Hendricks Isle, the longest finger island of Fort Lauderdale’s famous Las Olas Islands, just east of downtown. If you haven’t ventured to this rising island in a moment, your head might spin seeing all the whimsical new buildings that have sprung up over the past decade.
Boutique condos and million-plus townhouses quickly replaced the cheap one-story family apartments built in the 1940s and 1950s. But critics say Hendricks is taking on a crowded, almost claustrophobic, as developers lean into every square inch they can, all to maximize profits in a booming market.
The street has a strict height limit of 55 feet which has so far been adhered to. But in many cases, developers are asking for — and getting — what city officials call “side yard modifications” that allow them to build much closer to the property line.
Side yard setbacks are based on building height. But the Fort Lauderdale code allows developers to request extreme reductions in recoil, down to zero.
Debby Eisinger, president of the Hendricks Isle/Isle of Venice Neighborhood Association, says the neighborhood welcomes new growth and development, but would rather not see a wall of five-story condos lining Hendricks.
“We’re not New York,” Eisinger said. “We are in South Florida. We live on a stream. When you walk around the block you want to be able to see the water. We don’t want a fortress [blocking the view].”
Concerned owners found a sympathetic ear in commissioner Steve Glassman.
“There’s a fear it’s starting to look like a wall of buildings,” Glassman said of the ongoing transformation on Hendricks Isle. “There just isn’t enough space between the buildings. We create a street of walls. We need air and light and a view of the water. You cannot have a wall running the length of the island. It’s too overwhelming.
Glassman, who represents the neighborhood, recently put the brakes on Lumiere, a five-story mid-rise building with seven condos slated to rise at 500 Hendricks Isle.
The developer purchased the property for $2.4 million in August 2020 and wants to increase the setback on each side of the building from 27.5 feet to 12.5 feet. He plans to demolish a shabby two-story structure built in 1948 to make way for Lumière.
Neighbors say they welcome the incoming project, but fear it will be too big for the 100ft lot and not leave enough breathing space for buildings to the north and south.
Ellyn Bogdanoff, an attorney representing residents who live in a nearby condo, says her clients fiercely oppose Lumiere’s request for a side yard setback.
“They’re asking for a 30-foot modification,” she said. “It’s huge. It’s a 100 foot pitch. For me, a modification is when you need a little wiggle room here and there. That’s not what it’s about. It’s about buying a 100-foot lot and trying to get as much concrete on it as you can.
Andrew Schein, attorney for the developer of Lumiere, argues that the design is compatible with the neighborhood. Several developers on Hendricks Isle have made similar requests over the years without any issues, he noted.
The Fort Lauderdale Planning and Zoning Board approved Project Lumiere in April, with setbacks and all.
He would have been well on his way to innovating without Glassman.
In mid-May, Glassman delayed the process by asking the commission to be given the opportunity to vote on the project.
The vote is set for June 21.
“Where do you draw the line? Glassman asked. “The side setback required is 27.5 feet and they were asking for 12.5 feet [on each side]. These side yard modifications have been consistently granted over the years. It was a model. They don’t usually come to the committee for a vote. That’s why I called this one.
The building boom transforming Hendricks Isle has really taken off over the past decade – and it’s not over yet.
“There are still a few older apartment buildings left and those are the ones developers are picking up one by one,” says Bobbi Ocean, a Fort Lauderdale real estate agent who lives downtown. “It was always a bit messy on Hendricks Island, like the good old days of Fort Lauderdale honky-tonks. It’s now a boutique street, almost like it’s reborn. It really is a rebirth. »
One reason for the rise: Hendricks and neighboring Venice Island, where a similar building boom is underway, are the only two streets in the mansion-lined neighborhood of Las Olas Isles that allow apartments and condos .
Most of the buildings on Hendricks Island seem clustered together without too much space between them, even the older ones. But these older buildings are only one story, or in some cases two, and were built before the 1997 code went into effect, requiring more space between buildings.
Those who live on Hendricks say the smaller buildings aren’t nearly as overwhelming as seeing condo after tight condo.
A tiered wedding cake design would help make new buildings under construction, including Lumière, less bulky, critics say. But Lumiere doesn’t call for a tiered design, which would reduce unit size as well as developer profits.
A walk around the neighborhood revealed that only one of the tallest buildings on Hendricks Island had a tiered wedding cake design.
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The mix of older and newer buildings is fairly even at this point, with 24 newcomers sitting next to 30 older properties awaiting redevelopment.
But the new buildings will soon outnumber the old ones.
A few are under construction. One property has a ‘For Sale’ sign out front. And a few buildings have been sold and have signs indicating what’s coming: Two more five-story condos.
A lot at Hendricks Point sits empty, waiting for crews to begin work on the ViewPointe Hendricks project.
It’s time for the mayor and commission to decide what kind of look they want for Hendricks Isle and its sister street to the east, Venice Island, Glassman says.
“It’s expensive townhouses and condos on these two islands,” Glassman said. “We are no longer dealing with mum and dad. The aesthetics of these islands have changed dramatically over the past decade, but there is still a lot of development to be done. For me, it’s really about looking to the future of these islands.
Susannah Bryan can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @Susannah_Bryan