|By Laura Figueroa, The Miami
HeraldMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
April 30, 2009--On a 22-acre patch of land where the Sawgrass Expressway meets the Everglades, a 10-story hotel, an office plaza, restaurants and commercial space may eventually tower over the sanctuary, to the ire of environmentalists.
Dubbed Everglades Corporate Park, the project west of the Sawgrass Expressway at Sunrise Boulevard gained a key victory Tuesday night when the Sunrise City Commission approved creating a new zoning category that would allow developers to modify certain landscaping requirements to increase the size of the project.
"It's the developer's legislation," Commissioner Sheila Alu, the sole vote against the zoning change, said in a telephone interview Wednesday. "It's the only piece of property that could be zoned B-7. For the commissioners to say that this has nothing to do with Everglades Corporate Park -- that's a lie."
Though the project's developer has touted green initiatives for the office park, such as using eco-friendly building materials, that isn't enough, said members of the South Florida Audubon Society who spoke against the zoning change and the overall project at the meeting. "You can build green until you're green in the face, but putting a green building in the wrong place does not justify the building," Doug Young, president of the society, told The Miami Herald on Wednesday.
Planned for the corporate park is a 350-room hotel, 634,000 square feet of office space and 30,000 square feet of commercial space. Voting in favor of the new zoning category were Mayor Roger Wishner and Commissioners Donald Rosen, Joseph Scuotto and Lawrence Sofield.
"I grew up here," Scuotto said at the meeting. "I want to preserve the Everglades, I want to preserve the environment, but come on, every city out west has done the same that we have -- built out."
Alu said that without the zoning change the developer would probably have to scale back the project or build higher. Even if the new category had not been approved Tuesday night, the project was still likely to move forward because the land has been zoned for commercial use for more than 20 years.
"It might mean building a little taller or building more narrow, but it wouldn't change the amount of space and rooms for the project," said Dennis Mele, an attorney representing Sawgrass Investors, the Kentucky-based development firm behind the project.
Mele said the property has already been cleared and filled in for development, with construction on the hotel portion of the project potentially starting by the end of this year.
Local activists say they are not done fighting, and will rally fellow environmentalists and groups involved with Everglades restoration.
The project will come before the commission again because developers must still formally apply for the new zoning designation. Alu said that based on Tuesday night's vote, she believes the request will get the green light again.
"We're paying all this money to restore the Everglades, and the city of Sunrise wants to pave back over it," Alu said. "The fight is not going to end here."
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