Unanimous. That was the vote by Wilton Manors’ Planning and Zoning (P&Z) board when considering requests for redevelopment at Shoppes of Wilton Manors, aka Alibi Plaza. During a special meeting on Aug. 16, the board took eight votes on proposed redevelopment of the site and each time voted ‘yes’ to move forward.
The project, called Wilma, will replace the back building, where Pride Factory currently resides, with a parking lot. The lot in front of the building will be turned into a mixed-use facility with shopping on the ground level and apartments above.
Tension around the proposal has been high. Supporters say the city needs to grow to increase tax revenue and update the look of a street lined with buildings that are increasingly dated. Opponents worry adding a midrise building that will dwarf the neighborhood will be the beginning of a ‘canyon’ that will block the area’s natural beauty.
During the meeting, opponents also spoke out about the increased population density and traffic in the adjoining neighborhood. People also spoke about the disruption to life on Wilton Drive during construction.
Mark Hunter, owner of Hunters Nightclub on the property, spoke and lamented the loss of his view from his home as well as noise during construction. However, that’s not a deal killer for him. “I am still in total support of this project. I hear some people saying this project will change our city. From my wide perspective as a resident and business owner, our city has already started to change.”
People worry that part of the change will be a loss of LGBTQ culture in a city known as the gayest place on planet Earth. Dennis Mele, an attorney for the developer, said they are committed to keeping the neighborhood’s character and will do outreach to LGBTQ. “Absolutely. That’s a lot of what we have on The Drive now and those are great people for us to do business with.”
Developers made their case, laying out designs of open greenspaces and touting ease of mobility in and around the site. P&Z members asked questions about every little detail, from parking space size to tree placement to awnings. Ingress and egress from the garage took up a significant amount of discussion during the nearly four-hour long meeting.
In the end, P&Z voted to approve the plat and site proposals.
They also voted to approve six variance requests that will affect the remaining building. Like many structures on Wilton Drive, it is extremely dated. Among plans, developers want to freshen up the look by having the exterior match the new building.
The variances were granted for practical purposes. Recent updates to the city code would require things like shrubs or fencing where trash containers currently sit, as well as shade trees behind the building. The board agreed to waive those requirements, essentially maintaining the status quo in areas rarely used by the public.
After years of starts and stops on redevelopment of the plaza, this is the furthest any proposal has made it. However it’s far from the final step. Next, city commissioners will consider the recommendations and likely have questions of their own, and there will be more opportunities for the community to weigh in. During the meeting, one person noted that a groundbreaking was likely two years away, assuming everything stays on track.