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Fort Lauderdale Commissioners Reject Proposed 20 Story
 Luxury Hotel to Replace an Old Howard Johnsons
By Brittany Wallman, South Florida Sun-SentinelMcClatchy-Tribune Business News

Mar. 21, 2007 - FORT LAUDERDALE -- A 20-story luxury hotel proposed to replace an old Spring Break favorite, the Howard Johnson's Oceanfront, was rejected Tuesday night by city commissioners.

The proposed Orion hotel resort on State Road A1A, between Belmar and Vistamar streets, had the support of some beach residents and even the Central Beach Alliance, a neighborhood group known for fighting big developments.

But the would-be hotel had a daunting neighbor, one of Broward County's most treasured historical acreages: the expansive, secluded Bonnet House Museum and Gardens.

In prior years, Bonnet House officials helped defeat another proposed hotel neighbor, and they argued again successfully this time that a tall hotel like the Orion would disrupt the experience for visitors to the 1920 house.

Commissioners voted 4-0 to reject the Orion. Commissioner Carlton Moore was absent.

Commissioner Christine Teel said the hotel might have been approved, "If I could put it in a special machine and shrink it down so it would be compatible with the Bonnet House."

Transacta Prive Developers Ltd. wanted to tear down the nine-story Howard Johnson and replace it with a 340-room hotel that exceeded the city's regulations in its size and length.

Transacta's land is not directly adjacent to Bonnet House, and attorney Don Hall, who represented the developer, argued that the sight of a hotel more than 600 feet away should not affect its approval The property lines are more than 200 feet from each other, but the actual structures would be much farther apart, he said.

But advocates of the Bonnet House, owned by the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation, said the blue, white and silver Orion would be a distraction to visitors of the tranquil grounds, where monkeys swing from trees and swans float across the pond.

Orion also had failed when it came before the Planning and Zoning Board, 2-7.

When the matter came before the city's Historic Preservation Board, historical expert Merrilyn Rathbun of the Fort Lauderdale Historical Society told that board that the Bonnet House grounds and focal points were carefully planned, and the Orion would become the "unintended focal point."

Brittany Wallman can be reached at bwallman@sun-sentinel.com or 954-356-4541.

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Copyright (c) 2007, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

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