Galleria Mall redevelopment plan hits another snag in Fort Lauderdale

Renderings of Galleria Mall in Fort Lauderdale
Renderings of Galleria Mall in Fort Lauderdale

A $750 million proposal to redevelop Galleria Mall hit a major roadblock last week when Fort Lauderdale commissioners voted to defer an application from mall owner Keystone-Florida Property Holding Corp. until the commission’s April 4 meeting.

That time extension effectively forces Keystone-Florida to re-apply for the 33.4-acre plat (or division of parcel of land) request, a necessary precursor to the redevelopment proposal that’s been beset by roadblocks since last year.

Galleria was originally built in 1954 as an unenclosed shopping mall called the Sunrise Center, before being demolished and rebuilt in 1980 under what was still then a valid plat. But updates to county requirements mean that the original 1952 plat no longer meets county requirements, so the upscale shopping mall at 2414 East Sunrise Boulevard, anchored by department stores Macy’s, Neiman Marcus and Dillard’s, is required to re-plat the land before new construction can begin.

The request was originally submitted in September of 2014, along with a mixed-use site plan incorporating 1,250 residences into a major mall overhaul and requesting a zoning change to the “Innovative Development” designation introduced into the city code in 2013.

Those applications made it to a planning and zoning board meeting in October, where board members recommended denial of the the site plan and re-zone request, citing traffic concerns. They also questioned the validity of the ID designation, a zoning category that allows for “development incorporating innovative elements that are not otherwise permitted.”

But Keystone-Florida went ahead with the plat application, with language incorporating the 1,250 newly proposed residences, of which 1,047 are “flexible units” above the parcel’s zoned density they are requesting for the site.

Those units had not been allotted by the time of the meeting last week, but according to a letter Keystone-Florida attorney Stephen Tilbrook sent the commission, the re-plat needed city approval before March 26 to adhere to a strict time constraint. “We need to have that plat approved . . . tonight,” Tilbrook told the commission, “so that we can . . . meet the Broward County timeframe.”

With the clock running out on their plat application, Keystone-Florida simply revised the plat request to include the current commercial square footage as well as the additional commercial footage and the 174 units allowed under the site’s current zoning — a possibility that had been discussed at the November planning and zoning meeting — with Tilbrook arguing for a reading of the city code that would allow the commissioners to approve a plat note that looked quite a bit different from the one the board had seen.

But city attorneys expressed concern about the depth of that planning and zoning discussion, telling the commissioners they believed the plat request should go before the board again in its current form before the commissioners considered it.

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“If there’s going to be a modification, it should go back through so everybody has a chance to review it and analyze and understand what [was] meant,” said City Attorney Cynthia Everett.

The commission has the authority to modify the plat approval themselves, and city staffers argued that the modification restricted the site to less intense programming than the request the board had recommended for approval, but a spirited debate ended in gridlock.

Fort Lauderdale commissioner Dean Trantalis wanted assurances that neither the 174 residences nor any of the additional commercial square footage that’s allowed under the current zoning would be built without commission approval.

“They can come to the city with a site plan application and it only needs to go to [the development review committee], and we will never get to see what that looks like,” said Trantalis.

“They’re legally entitled to it now,” said commissioner Romney Rogers. “You’re trying to rewrite our [development regulations] from the dais.”

Commissioner Bruce Roberts, echoing the city attorneys, said he thought the request should have gone back to planning and zoning.

“I’m sure no one’s going to be happy with a deferral,” said mayor Jack Seiler, “but I think it’s a mistake to force this thing through without everybody fully understanding what can and cannot be done with this parcel.”

Until a plat is granted — a process that could take a year or more — the answer is no new development.