For decades, the town's charter provided that four of the six town council members be elected from two oceanfront districts. The remaining two members were chosen from one district, considerably more populous, that encompasses the southern area known as Point Manalapan. "You had 70% of the population with one-third of the vote," says Mayor William E. Benjamin II, a longtime developer of the Point area who defeated the town's former oceanfront mayor in March.
For a long time no one complained, but a new generation of Point residents started to question the fairness of the arrangement, Benjamin explains. By last year, they were fed up and filed a federal lawsuit alleging the arrangement was unconstitutional.
Oceanfront dwellers' main fear, Benjamin says, is that the Point residents, who occupy the southern tip of Hypoluxo Island, will sell out to condominium developers and destroy the town's ambiance of quiet ultra-luxury.
At the height of the dispute, there was talk of secession, with some of the oceanfront residents certain that the town could no longer accommodate the competing desires of the two camps. To Benjamin, such talk was ridiculous: "In a town with 500 total people, you're going to split into two towns?"
Cooler heads ultimately prevailed, and by midsummer the town voted in a referendum to scrap its old voting districts in favor of seven at-large seats, with a requirement that at least two be filled by oceanfront residents and two be filled by Point residents.
By July, the changes had produced a Point mayor (Benjamin) and a Point majority on the council. To appease the oceanfront residents, the newly minted council has passed an ordinance requiring at least five votes to make any changes to zoning density. And in July, the oceanfront candidate who had advocated splitting the city was soundly defeated.
If resentment remains among the oceanfront set, most millionaires on both sides appear ready to move on. There is the matter of a new water treatment facility. And the fire department needs beefing up. "I think most of the people in the town are rather exhausted by the whole thing," Benjamin says. "All the good-thinking people in the town want to put this behind them."
IN THE NEWS
Boca Raton -- The 99 Cent Stuff chain hopes to raise $10 million with an initial public offering next month. Shares will trade on the Nasdaq small cap market under
the symbol STUF.
Code enforcement officers cracking down on business license scofflaws have identified nearly 200 businesses whose unpaid occupational license fees total about $19,000. Among the biggest violators: Two law firms and a financial services company.
Davie -- Pharmaceutical company Andrx Corp. (Nasdaq-ADRX) will take a $60-million charge against earnings to settle claims that it conspired with Aventis Pharmaceutical to delay the market entry of a generic heart drug. The settlements will be paid to a group of drug wholesalers, drugstore chains and consumers.
Fort Lauderdale -- Business software maker Citrix Systems (Nasdaq-CTXS) is cutting 190 jobs to offset a drop in its packaged product sales.
Broward County commissioners will spend $24 million on 20 land parcels in 13 cities as part of a $400-million bond program designed to conserve environmentally sensitive land and upgrade city parks and recreation facilities.
Fire rescue officials have been awarded a $78,750 grant from the Florida Department of Health to buy a device used to analyze suspected hazardous biological or chemical substances.
After years of wrangling over costs and safety concerns, downtown Fort Lauderdale has a rooftop public helicopter pad. The $3.6-million Downtown Helistop, atop a city garage, offers business executives a quick way to get in and out of downtown.
City commissioners are reining in beachfront development with new restrictions on height and density that will apply to new residential construction. The changes will reduce the density and height of projects by 20%.
County Legal Aid Service lawyers are seeking approval for a study to establish a link between the Fort Lauderdale Wingate landfill and the high rate of cancer in people living near it. The study would use trained interviewers to collect information in a door-to-door survey. The results would be compared to those collected from neighborhoods farther away.
Hollywood -- Officials at the newly reopened Diplomat Hotel are challenging a $4-million tax bill on grounds the hotel was not "substantially complete" by Jan. 1.
City commissioners have signed an agreement with developer Daniel Shooster to turn the former Hollywood Fashion Center at U.S. 441 and Hollywood Boulevard into a marketplace shopping center, including a food court, farmers market, hotel and expo center.
Juno Beach -- Town officials are trying to find a solution to "mansionization" -- the construction of enormous new homesin older neighborhoods where existing homes are much smaller. The trend concerns some neighborhood preservationists who believe the new structures dwarf both their lots and neighboring homes.
Jupiter -- Town council members have agreed to make the owner's consent a condition of designating any property as "historic." In addition,in order for a district to be designated "historic," two-thirds of the area's owners will have to approve.
Developer Glenn Goldstein has agreed to allow a city expert to investigate the site overlooking the Loxahatchee River where he plans to build six luxury homes. The site is thought to be part of Fort Jupiter, where soldiers battled the Seminole Indians in 1838. Some longtime residents say children used to regularly find musket balls, arrowheads and military uniform buttons there.
Lake Worth -- City officials are considering a proposal from Miami Beach developer Craig Robins for redevelopment of the beachfront. Robins has offered to pay $500,000 in planning costs in exchange for the right to develop whatever the city decides to build.
Port St. Lucie -- The city council has agreed to pay Atlantic Gulf Communities $1.7 million to settle a lawsuit over improperly collected storm-water fees.
Riviera Beach -- Possible cuts in the federal Superfund program could threaten promised federal funds for cleaning and relocating the city's water supply, Mayor Michael Brown says. Riviera Beach's well fieldlies between two contaminated sites.
COUNTY SEEKS RUNWAY OPTIONS
FORT LAUDERDALE -- Broward County commissioners have asked Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport officials to come up with alternatives to extending the south runway in light of complaints from residents in nearby Dania Beach and Hollywood. The $350-million expansion, which would extend the runway from 5,300 feet to 9,000 feet, drew strong objections from residents concerned about noise. Commissioners told airport officials to continue with the permitting process but said they need time to look at other options.
FIU launches a program to fill a nursing shortage by retraining foreign-educated physicians.
Job prospects were slim for Dr. Edwin Vides when he arrived in Miami from his native Colombia in 1995. Like other states, Florida doesn't recognize medical degrees from foreign countries. Vides eventually found work as a hospital case manager, helping patients sort through paperwork and bureaucratic tangles. "There wasn't much else I could do," says Vides. "I had all that training but couldn't put it to use."
He can now. Vides, 30, is one of 40 students who recently enrolled in a program for foreign-trained physicians at the Florida International University School of Nursing. After completing the new five-semester program at the end of next year, Vides will receive an accelerated bachelor of nursing degree, allowing him to sit for the state-licensing exam for registered nurses. It is believed to be the first program of its kind in the nation.
"There are an awful lot of physicians here in south Florida who are unable to practice," says Divina Grossman, dean of FIU's School of Nursing. "We think we've found a way to help them while also placing more nurses into the workforce."
Physicians who receive their medical degree and training outside the U.S. must pass a rigorous licensing exam before practicing medicine here and in many cases must fulfill residency requirements in a U.S. teaching hospital -- a process that may take years and may require relocating.
Meanwhile, the shortage of nurses in the U.S. is reaching crisis proportions ["Healing Hands," November 2001, FloridaTrend.com]. According to the Florida Hospital Association, the state needs to add 50,000 nurses over the next four years to keep up with demand.
The FIU program attracted 500 applicants for its inaugural class of 40 students. Four Miami-Dade hospitals contributed $150,000 each to help fund the program. Students who receive financial assistance must work for at least one year at one of the four hospitals.
Some skeptics worry that physicians may have difficulty adjusting to the nurse's role. That concern hasn't escaped Grossman. "They have to learn to think like a nurse -- not like a doctor, and that's often the most difficult challenge," says Grossman. She says applicants also were screened to weed out anyone she believed was using the degree as a "stepping stone."
Grossman hopes to secure federal funding and private sector donations to operate through 2005. By then, she believes, the program's success will speak for itself. "Right now we can't afford not to give them the opportunity to pursue a career."
IN THE NEWS
Coral Gables -- Bascom Palmer Eye Institute -- the University of Miami/Jackson Memorial Medical Center's department of ophthalmology -- has been ranked No. 2 among all eye clinics nationwide in the U.S. News & World Report annual hospital rankings. Baltimore's Johns Hopkins took honors.
Medley -- Outdoor furniture maker Pompeii Furniture has consolidated its operations in a new 150,000-sq.-ft. facility. The move is expected to create 60 jobs.
Miami -- Consumer electronics distributor Precision Trading Corp. will expand its Miami headquarters and warehouse facility, creating 150 jobs. The move is expected to help the 13-year-old company increase its Latin American presence.
Venezuela's Sereca Security Corp. has opened an office in Miami, creating 400 jobs. Sereca is a full-service security firm offering employee background verification, uniformed protection and systems integration.
Aviation services provider Kellstrom Industries(OTC-KELLQ.PK) has completed its U.S. Bankruptcy Court-approved sale to an investment group led by Inverness Aviation of Greenwich, Conn.
Miami Beach -- LNR Property Corp. (NYSE-LNR), the property management and real estate investment firm spun off from home builder Lennar Corp. (NYSE-LEN), will move its headquarters from west Miami-Dade to Miami Beach. The relocation is being hailed as a coup by Miami Beach officials eager to diversify an economy dependent largely on tourism and the music and entertainment industries.
Celebrity hotelier Ian Schrager, whose 208-room Delano hotel has set the standard for chic, luxury accommodations in South Beach, has acquired a minority stake in its upstart rival, the 331-room Shore Club. The deal also calls for Schrager to manage the $150-million property.
Miami-Dade -- Signaling a commitment to overhauling the state's largest school district, the Miami-Dade School Board has extended the contract of Superintendent Merrett Stierheim through at least June 2004. Stierheim replaced embattled Roger Cuevas last October. Cuevas' tenure included a series of miscues and allegations of mismanagement.
East Kendall is the latest Miami-Dade community to consider incorporating. An eight-member citizens advisory panel has been appointed to study the feasibility of city-hood. The panel's findings are expected by mid-2003.
Interval International, a travel company that helps timeshare owners swap their holdings and use rights with owners of other properties around the globe, will be acquired by Barry Diller's USA Interactive in a deal worth $578 million. Kendall-based Interval has been seen as an attractive target because of the surging consumer interest in timeshare properties
in recent years.
A Miami-Dade jury has acquitted state Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla of criminal charges stemming from allegations that he filed false campaign reports following his 1999 election. Diaz de la Portilla still faces more than $300,000 in fines imposed by the Florida Elections Commission. Meanwhile, former Miami Police Chief and City Manager Donald Warshaw has been released from a federal prison in Alabama after serving eight months for stealing almost $70,000 from a police charity.
County commissioners voted to join Broward and Palm Beach counties in creating a more powerful transit agency -- the South Florida Regional Transit Authority -- that would oversee bus and rail service in the three counties.
COUNTY REJECTS STRONG-MAYOR PLAN
MIAMI-DADE -- Miami-Dade commissioners rejected a proposal by county Mayor Alex Penelas that would have let voters decide whether to create a strong mayor form of government. The commission's action preserves a countywide vote in September on 11 charter amendments, many of which would increase the powers of the commission.
Penelas argued that the executive mayor system is ineffective because much of the county's decision-making is in the hands of the county manager. Some observers viewed the measure as an attempt by Penelas to redefine the mayor's post before 2004, when he will be term-limited out of office.
In another move, the County Commission approved a November referendum on a half-penny sales tax to fund $17 billion in infrastructure improvements. Voters defeated a similar plan in 1999.