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ULI Dixie Corridor study highlights obstacles to development, proposes changes



Deerfield Beach – The newest study of the ULI Dixie Highway Corridor, this one by the Urban League Institute, is receiving mixed reviews.

Said former mayor and state representative Gwyn Clarke-Reed, “I thought it did not give the landowners anything we had not heard before. I could tell by the comments people were confused and, most of all, trust is a big factor.”

Clarke-Reed said she saw nothing new in the ULI study and questioned why the city is now calling the corridor the “central city area,” rather than Dixie Highway.

Vice Mayor Ben Preston, who had requested the study by the ULI, a seven-person panel of planning experts, was more optimistic.

“I think the ULI was able to give the community a perspective of what it could be . . . It points everybody in the same direction . . . once there is a vision, there can be a response.”

Preston said his concerns for the Dixie Highway Corridor is that “land that is not functioning basically is a liability . . . it needs to be opened up to opportunity.”

Properties fronting Dixie Highway remain largely undeveloped to the west. East of the highway is the Florida East Coast Railroad.

The study reports that a major problem is the vacant land made up of small parcels with many owners who are not educated in real estate development. The infrastructure is lacking, there are no incentives being offered to developers and community relations are strained.

“Dixie is a working commercial corridor, but not one size fits all,” the panel said.

It suggested streamlining the regulatory process, instituting flex zoning designed for the user, easing up on parking restrictions, establishing better communication with the surrounding community to the extent of hiring a person to act as a liaison with those residents.

Preston laid some of those responsibilities on the property owners, rather than the city.

“I think they should come up with their vision,” he said.  “It should come from the community, rather than the city making the decision.”

Economic Development Director Kris Mory said attendance at the presentation – 100 people attended either in person or virtually – was “very positive.” The attitude, she said, “Was let’s get going.”

Her takeaway, Mory said, was the importance of establishing an advisory board and hiring the city liaison and the need to rezone the corridor.

Incentives for development can be both short term – zoning, density and parking changes – and long term, such as creating a new Community Redevelopment Agency for the area. The ULI study will enable the city to seek public money for redevelopment. “In order to get money, you need a plan. Certainly it helps to have the participation of the ULI,” Mory said.

She said her next step will be incorporating steps that have a price tag into her budget proposal for 2022.

The presentation was made last Thursday at Ovieta McKeithan Recreation Center.

City Manager David Santucci also gave it high marks. He said the study gives the city
“an approach in a different and meaningful way. There was some misunderstanding as to what it was . . . It’s just a study with recommendations for formulating our plans . . . to move forward in an intentional way.”

Among other ULI findings in the 3.5-mile study area from the north city line to Sample Road: the corridor is suitable for small industrial uses, owner occupied businesses, small retail shops and sit down food options, grocery and convenience stores and urgent care centers.

It identified four nodes – the high traffic intersections of Hillsboro Boulevard, Southwest 10 Street, Southwest 48 Street and Sample Road, where densities could be higher.

Among the problems in the area are unemployment, low incomes, low property values and leasing rates, no pedestrian connections, no incentives to kick start development, and numerous FDOT retention ponds which need to be freed up for development. Some of the zoning in the area is “antiquated” such as the B3 designation.

The panel pointed to some funding opportunities the city could pursue: HUD money for planning, federal Action Grants, revolving loans for site acquisition.

The area does have strengths, the panel said: vacant land with development potential, the high visibility corridor, proximity to local public schools and Broward Health North.

In 2019, Economic Development Director Kris Mory presented the commission her department’s overview of the Dixie Corridor. It contained many of the observations made by the ULI, but the new study took those findings “to the next level,” Mory said.

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