As El Mar Drive renderings are unveiled, town may get $1.7 million in funding

The first draft of renderings of what El Mar Drive could become was presented to the town commission this week and the county may provide close to $2 million to make the improvements.

Neysa Herrera, assistant to the town manager, said the county is considering giving the town $1.76 million in construction money for the project. If approved, this would be in addition to the $240,000 the town is already receiving from the county for the design.

Both amounts are a part of the county’s Transportation Surtax 5-Year Action Plan, which is being presented to the Surtax Oversight Board this Thursday.

The $1.76 million was presented at a workshop hosted by the county earlier this month. Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, and other municipalities participating in the action plan, should find out if the plan is approved on Aug. 25.

Consultants EDSA showcased plans to decrease the street from four to two lanes, improve the landscaping and make it more pedestrian friendly. To accommodate businesses, pullout will be installed in the medians for trucks to drop off deliveries.

“In my viewpoint, the space is far more open than it is now, the landscaping will be much nicer, it will be a nicer place to walk, and in general it looks like a great plan,” Commissioner Elliott Sokolow said.

Even with two less lanes, EDSA said that traffic would not be impacted. Numbers provided by the Florida Department of Transportation show El Mar Drive is used by about 1,200 cars a day, about six percent of the traffic flow at A1A and Commercial Boulevard.

“What the numbers and the day trips show is there’s not that much vehicular use that happens within El Mar Drive. It’s really a pedestrian space,” said Jeff Suiter, principal at EDSA. “We’re trying to find the best possible solution that accommodates everybody.”

To combat speeding, there were also suggestions of installing “tabletop intersections,” or raised intersections that work as gradual speed humps. 

Garbage collection would not be impacted by the redesign.

The consultants also noted that with the 173 parking spaces added over the last six to seven years, parking is available for up to 600 people during special events like the Fourth of July and Christmas.

EDSA  has created a website to update residents and business owners on the project at lbtselmar.com. The company has also conducted two surveys with residents and business owners to get opinions on the redesign of the drive. 

According to the surveys, 71 percent of the more than 600 residents who participated – a large turnout, Suiter said – were in favor of having one driving lane, 84 percent wanted dedicated bicycle lanes, 61 percent primarily used El Mar Drive for walking and running, and 71 percent wanted wider sidewalks.

“We’re actually adding more landscape, we’re adding more pedestrian space,” said Meredith Berry, a senior associate at EDSA. “It’s a matter of reallocating what’s actually there.” 

Even so, some people who turned in public comments were not happy with the plans.

“Leave El Mar Drive alone,” one person wrote.

“Give us more green, not more metal and concrete” another wrote.

Many were concerned that El Mar Drive would be reduced to a parking lot with the plans. [Go to page 7 to read a letter to the editor about El Mar Drive].

“These are the front yards of many of our residents who have lived on that street for decades,” said Mayor Chris Vincent, who emphasized that he wanted to continue hearing from residents and that there was “no deadline” on completing the project.

Other town projects 

The Terra Mar drainage improvement plans will be presented to the town commission in September. If approved, work will begin in November. It will take four to six months to complete.

Renovations to Jarvis Hall are almost done, with flooring and railing installed, the walls and ceiling painted, and fans are now operational.

Friedt Park Courtyard has also undergone improvements. Landscaping and turf has been installed and planting beds will be finished in the next two weeks. The town is working with Florida Power & Light to relocate a pole and wires. Most of the improvements will be done by the end of the month.

Improvements on three bus shelters began by the county on Aug. 11. The bus shelters are at 1541 S. Ocean Blvd. at the Gardens by the Sea South Condos, 4201 N. Ocean Drive by the Chamber of Commerce and 4505 S. Ocean Drive by Jarvis Hall.

A bike repair station has been installed at 4345 El Mar Drive.

Census 2020 response

The Census self-response rate for  residents is at 42 percent, according to a presentation by the assistant to the town manager, Neysa Herrera. This is lower than Broward County’s 59 percent and the state’s 60 percent. The submission deadline to complete the Census survey is Sept. 30, a month earlier than the original Oct. 31 deadline. 

Herrera stressed the importance of residents participating in the Census, saying that it determines “the amount of federal financial assistance that will assist our town to invest in programs that would benefit our community and projects that will definitely increase the quality of life in our community.”

Visit 2020census.gov to complete the Census online.

Originally published in The New Pelican.

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