As the town discusses the future of El Mar Drive, there is a growing contingency of people with a firm opinion: “Save the Median.”
Since the beginning of this year, the city has been looking at proposals from a local design firm to upgrade the historic road. However, locals who walk, run or bike the drive daily don’t want it to lose its charm.
“It’s original from the 1920s for the most part, very little has ever been changed,” said Cristie Furth, who owns and lives at the Blue Seas Courtyard with her husband. “But we didn’t want a lot of change – just fix what needed fixing.”
Furth has been leading the charge to preserve El Mar; in particular, its grassy median. Locals had originally proposed that the city fix the sidewalks, swales and add more lighting.
In the latest proposal at the end of September, Fort Lauderdale landscape firm EDSA showed decreasing the median from 22 feet to 9 feet to accommodate larger sidewalks and clear zones [the space needed for a vehicle to safely reverse]. And It would decrease the street from four to two lanes. It also shows three different plans for pull-offs where trucks will park for deliveries.
According to the proposal, these changes meet the Florida Department of Transportation’s requirements.
EDSA has created lbtselmar.com for residents to see updates, copies of presentations and renderings. The city is being charged $37,500 for these design services.
Those against the proposed plans have zeroed in on saving the median, notable for its manicured bushes and palm trees.
“They decided to make the beautiful, green median, which has been there since the 1920s, into mini truck parking lots,” Furth said of the plan. “Nobody came to the stakeholders, nobody came to the neighborhood. We were told, ‘This is a plan, a one-lane plan.’”
EDSA conducted two surveys with those in the neighborhood. According to the surveys, 71 percent of the more than 600 residents who participated – a large turnout, Jeff Suiter, principal at EDSA, said at a meeting in August – 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.
“It’s not what we asked for,” Furth said.
To make her point, she made a shirt to wear while walking on the drive that reads, “Save the Median.” Then a friend she met walking, Sally Musser, noticed the shirt and had an idea. As the account manager at a specialties company, she used her experience to design and print 25 shirts in bright green for people who are in support of saving the median.
A resident of neighboring Sea Ranch Lakes, Musser said she and her husband walk the drive daily.
“It’s printed on the front and back so people could literally see us coming and going,” Musser said of the shirts. “The more we walked and talked to people, the more people wanted shirts. I think now we’re up to 100 or 150.”
They also collected phone numbers and email addresses from those who take a shirt to keep them posted on the project’s progress. During the last commission meeting on Oct. 13, Furth questioned the methodology for people filling out the surveys and said most of the questions were very general.
“When I wear my green shirt and talk to El Mar users and neighbors, I tell them what I just told you,” she said in her video presentation. “They listen and invariably shake their heads and say ‘Why don’t they just leave it alone? It’s beautiful. It works great. We love it. Just fix the sidewalks.’” Nineteen other people wrote in public comments with the same message: save the median.
A few wrote in favor of some of the proposals, including one resident who said the sidewalks desperately need to be fixed to avoid injuries.
Musser is also asking for more information on how many trucks utilize El Mar Drive to justify the pull outs as well as asking for a fourth plan to the three already proposed – one that saves the median.
Said Musser, “We don’t want to make a change and spend all this money and get rid of all this green.”
Originally published in The New Pelican