Major Mall, Office Space and Hotel Planned for Davie, Fla.

Feb. 8--In an arduous meeting that lasted until 3 a.m., Davie gave the initial OK for development of an Aventura-like shopping mall on land that had been set aside for farming or sprawling home lots.

The project will generate millions in taxes, but some fear it will degrade the Western-themed town's charm and bring traffic and other urban headaches.

Town Council members listened to more than six hours of speeches by developers, residents and several outside consultants before voting to give developers the first permission needed to build The Commons, a massive dining, shopping and office mecca along Interstate 75.

The 4-1 vote allows Davie Commons Holdings Corp. -- an alliance of Turnberry Associates and Retail Estate -- to request county and state approval to place a commercial development on the agriculturally zoned land at the northeast corner of Shotgun Road and Arvida Parkway. If approved by those agencies, the change would then return to the town for a final vote in about nine months.

The town's current land use plan calls for no more than one home per acre.

The vote comes as good news to developers, who have waited more than a year for their first appearance before the council.

"We're elated," Jodie Siegel, an attorney for Turnberry, said after the meeting. "It's nice to see the culmination of all your hard work and effort."

In exchange for the town's approval, developers will ask that the agricultural exemption on the 152-acre property be lifted beginning in 2008. The change would require the property owners to pay taxes on the roughly $20.1 million the land would be worth as residential property, Siegel said.

The change would create a windfall for the town. With the current agricultural exemption, owners are taxed on less than $100,000 worth of property, according to the Broward County Property Appraiser.

In addition to that, if the land use change receives final town approval, developers have agreed to pay the town $3.5 million per year to guarantee that Davie receives the amount of revenue the project is estimated to generate.

The Commons would house 1.1 million square feet of high-end retail space, 885,000 square feet of office space and a 300-room hotel.

Developers have compared the project to Boca Town Center and to Aventura Mall, another Turnberry development.

More than 400 residents packed Town Hall to lobby for and against The Commons, with some watching the meeting from a screen outside or on a television in another part of Town Hall. And more than 50 of them addressed the council about the project.

Many spoke in favor of it, saying The Commons would bring much-needed revenue to the town.

And council members cited the financial benefits as one of their reasons for supporting the project.

"This town is not going to remain solvent in perpetuity if we don't do something,"Mayor Tom Truex said.

But others said The Commons would disrupt the quiet, large-lot lifestyle that characterizes western Davie.

Highland Ranch Estates, one high-security subdivision bordering the project, even hired an outside lawyer to lead a one-hour presentation against the proposal.

"What store could be so important that it warrants forever changing the land of western Davie?" West Davie resident Art Waganheim said as part of that presentation. "Do we really need a mall so Nordstrom can sell more shoes to Hialeah and Coral Springs?"

But developers have said that unlike a new subdivision, the project will add little additional traffic to local roads because the only entrance to the project would be from I-75.

Developers are working with the Florida Department of Transportation to add an eastbound interchange at Royal Palm Boulevard that would go directly into the project. They also are working with the town to develop a buffer of either landscaping or a row of single-family homes that would blunt noise and keep the project hidden from neighboring residential developments.

Councilwoman Judy Paul cast the dissenting vote, saying the project goes against the rural historical character of West Davie.

"I have supported open spaces," she said. "And I'm trying to preserve what's left of our rural lifestyle."

The land use change is just the first of many steps The Commons will need to become a reality, but developers have said they want to continue to work with the town to do whatever they can to help move the project along.

"We have a long road ahead," Siegel said. "But we're looking forward to traveling it."

<<Miami Herald, The (KRT) -- 02/09/07>>