Hollywood commission OKs school next to senior citizen community

A kindergarten through eighth grade charter school will be able to open its doors in Hillcrest — a predominantly senior community — come fall.

Hollywood City Commission gave its approval – with a 5-2 vote late Wednesday — based on several conditions:

• Hillcrest and Hollywood residents would be given preference to attend the school, and

• The school would provide a sanctioned traffic control detail on Hillcrest Drive and agree to build an additional off-site parking lot once the school enrollment hits 800 students.

Despite a last-ditch effort by Hillcrest residents to persuade the Hollywood commission to turn down a proposal to build the school that is expected to eventually house 850 students, the commission said the school will only add to the city.

“The developer has the right to build,” Mayor Peter Bober said after the meeting, adding that a school is less offensive than some uses the developer could have chosen without getting approval. “What we did tonight is put the most stringent restrictions in order to minimize the impact.”

Late into the night — after many of the more than 100 people who came to speak went home — the Hollywood Commission heard arguments from both sides of the issue.

Hillcrest residents said the area is not appropriate for the school and students. But parents and teachers said the location is perfect for a changing community.

“Please, I want to ask you to help us,” said Florida Intercultural Academy third-grader Melanie Romero. “We have a wonderful school, but we still need a better building.”

Gus Tullo, a Hillcrest resident, pleaded with commission to say no to the school.

“We are not anti-school,” Tullo said. “It’s just that it’s in the wrong place.”

After the vote, John Lecluse, whose apartment in building 16 is the closest to the future school, said he was devastated by the commission’s decision.

“What am I going to do?” he asked. “No one wants to live right next to a school.”

Well-known zoning and land use attorney Tucker Gibbs, who represented Lecluse, had argued that the location is not suitable for a school and the roads are not wide enough to accommodate more traffic. He also said that the available parking is not enough for the cars that would likely be brought to the area.

Molly Hughes, president of Hughes Hughes Inc., a transportation engineering and planning firm based in Fort Lauderdale, said her firm did “not have confidence in the traffic projections.”

But the developers for the project argued that they have worked with city staff and have come up with a plan that will reduce the impact to the area.

“It looks like it’s going to be a traffic issue, but it really isn’t,” said Alan Koslow, the attorney representing the developer.

In the first year, the school will hold 600 students, but enrollment is projected to grow.

School buses will not be stored on premises and there is also a parking plan in place for special events. There will also be staggered drop-off and pick-up times.

Herb Tobin, the son of Ben Tobin, the original owner of the land where the Hillcrest condos and the empty building where the school will be housed said “it was a difficult process,” but he believes the end result will please everyone,

“We took your concerns and comments very seriously,” Tobin said. “We have worked hard to answer each question you posed.”

But Hillcrest residents say at the end of the day, they are the ones who will have to live with the noise and traffic that the school will bring.

“I bought my apartment because of the peace and quiet,” said Lecluse. “This school is going to take that away.”