Community Policing In Wilton Manors – A Reason Why You Want To Live Here

We’re a small town, only about 12,800 people, give or take a few.  I’m not standing out on the highway with the sign welcoming you here with a sharpie and changing the numbers as people come and go every day.

We’re surrounded by much larger neighbors, Oakland Park to the North, Fort Lauderdale to the South.

I hear stories about one or the other thinking of merging with us or gobbling us up, respectively, from time to time.  Growth is fine, but living in a much larger city can be highly overrated.

We’re diverse.  A mix of different people and cultures here rub shouders, but we all do seem to get along.

That diversity is why I personally think of the place as a Quirky Little Island.  Sometimes the quirks show themselves in some amusing and wonderful ways.

One day we were coming back from a rather excellent meal at an Italian restaurant that specializes in hand prepared ingredients and the kind of food I remember Mom bringing home from South Philly when she went to visit Grandmom.

Coming onto Wilton Drive from the South, we noticed that there was a sign announcing a lane closure.  The first thought was “I hope they get the two lane initiative started – there’s been political gridlock on this too long”.  Then I said it out loud.  Getting unanimous agreement from everyone in the car, some louder than others, saying that it’s overdue that we narrow The Drive to two traffic lanes and increase the parking to support the central business district, we spotted the blockage.

Ok, this was nothing “usual”.  I’m fairly well informed on the goings on here, but this particular street closure was nothing I knew about.  One lane, completely blocked off for the “meat” of Wilton Drive is unusual.  They were overzealous in protecting whoever was supposed to be using the lane, you couldn’t turn into the neighborhood streets “off the Drive” because they blocked even the intersections.

Nobody was using the lane.  It was still early, dinner hour, and it had the air of people yet to come.

Driving the length of the Drive, we found the end of the blockage, near the Rumors Bar and Grill, and scratching our heads, we found our way to the house.

Asking around “online” didn’t help, nobody had heard.

Had it been a festival, the Wilton Manors Development Alliance might have been asked to do an email blast about it, but they got silence as well.

Pulling into our driveway, we went in, full from the meal and the excitement and settled into our easy chairs for a diet of old sitcoms and pre-recorded television on the DVR.  Forgetting about the blockage on the Drive, we rolled out the evening like a warm blanket of domesticity.

Reaching the end of the night, we decided to grab our furry sidekick, Rack the McNab Superdog, and went for our final walk.

We had gotten to the end of our block and looked toward the Drive and there was a police cruiser, sitting in the intersection with lights flashing.  Even a couple blocks away, it was bright enough to dazzle, and the dog didn’t care for it.  He’s fearful and it didn’t surprise me.

Instead of subjecting Rack to the excitement, Kevin went up to the Drive and stuck his oar in the water to see what happened while I walked a block off the Drive on the usual route.  Whatever was going on had the benefit of giving us less traffic, and that is always welcome in a town with few sidewalks.

When Kevin caught up with us, I heard the story.

There was a Pet Costume party that ended at Rumors Bar.  Of All Things, right?  This would have been fun to visit since Rack would have loved the chance to socialize with all the dogs.

That wasn’t the whole of it.  See, this is Wilton Manors, not New York or Los Angeles where you are hearing horror stories of militarized police forces.  We’re lucky enough to have a police chief, Chief O’Connell on the Wilton Manors Police Department who understands that in order to have a truly safe city, the community must be involved.  To involve the community, the officers must engage the community and make contact in a supportive way in order to enhance life here in the city.

I would have expected a grumbly or growly encounter with the Fort Lauderdale PD had they been involved, in fact the story I tell is a bit of a stereotype where once there was a FLPD Cruiser that charged through Wilton Drive in the middle of a street closure and festival lights and sirens blazing.  Everyone cleared out.  We happened to be in the right place to see where they were going.  Dunkin Donuts.  Yes, Fort Lauderdale PD officers saw fit to interrupt a street festival to get donuts. 

In Wilton Manors, the opposite effect happened.  The officers were enjoying the show.  When Kevin asked what was going on, the two female officers immediately told that it was a Pet Parade, and that it was a wonderful thing.  The only thing that they wanted to do was to go see the judging of the costumes, which they couldn’t do from their posts.  The conversation went on about how beautiful the pets were and how creative some of the costumes were, and that it was a wonderful thing that happened here.  They also said you just couldn’t do that sort of thing in some of the other towns around. 

Nice to be in a quirky place that isn’t “uptight”, right?

I’ve been stopped from time to time by officers in Wilton Manors while out and about.  Even at my first walk of the day, as much as two hours before sunrise, I’ve had conversations with officers about things – always light and pleasant.  Always it was in the spirit of engaging the public, being friendly, and offering some bit of news or trivia about how things are going on here in the town.

I would say that while this place has its detractors, they’re all welcome to stay where they are.  It’s nice to live in a city where much more goes right than goes wrong, and the worst thing that I have heard about was a dog’s costume wardrobe malfunction. 

It’s a bear to keep those costumes clean, isn’t it?

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If You Can’t Parallel Park By Age 30…

If You Can’t Parallel Park by Age 30

I get it, some folks are coming from small towns where they just don’t have the chance to enjoy the pinnacle of driving experience.

No, I’m not referring to NASCAR or Formula 1 racing.
No, not alcohol fueled funny cars at the drag strip.

This is much more basic.

You see, here in South Florida, we have people from all over the world wash on to our shores and try to take root here.  Some come from Northern climes where Salt and Sand means Icy Winter Driving.  Others from a tropical island where the best road they have are pitted with holes and may end at a sheer cliff face with a drop off.

Things are not quite that bad here.  We get our rains, sometimes literally at the flip of a light switch.  For the most part, at some point it will be sunny and warm, with a slight chance of a few rain drops.

Roads are paved smooth in the Urban Areas and those are the only areas that you will be visiting unless you are on a tour on the back of a boat. 

It’s not that tough to get around here, roads run in right angles, all four compass points.

So come and visit.

That must be what the car load of four grey haired grandfatherly looking men must have been thinking.  It will be easy to pilot their large Cadillac Sedan to my little island and find some gentle entertainment at the bar that caters to Older Gentlemen, typically.

They turned off of Wilton Drive onto NE 21st Drive to search for parking. 

Pulling into the neighborhood, they missed the turn for the valet parking and panicked.

Jamming the breaks on, they immediately began to perform a three point turn.

Slowly.

I had seen them come around the corner from about 200 feet away.  Mrs Dog was happily sniffing a Palm Tree, I was chattering to Kevin, and we nudged her forward.

One of us had said to the other those faithful words:  “I think he missed his turn”.

The “scary dark neighborhood” had the confused old grey haired man pull to a stop and he had begun to back traffic up to The Drive. 

He begun to pull toward the parking space on the wrong side of the street so slowly that one of the cars behind him had decided that there was someone who should be riding a bus, a short yellow one, instead of a large pearl colored Cadillac.  That second car weaved around the confused gent, up onto the verge of the road, over the grass, into the parking lot for The Towers, and around the scene.  He sped off into his future and out of our lives.

We were now 100 feet away.

The Cadillac was now perpendicular to the flow of traffic. 

Nearing the car, it was almost as if we could hear the passengers say “Wait for them to pass”.  We went in front of their bumper saying “Sorry, Pal, We’ve got the right of way”.  Dog leading, we got to the side of the building as the Cadillac FINALLY made the three point turn.

I guess he must have thought that it was too much to ask for him to allow the pedestrians to have the right of way.  He pulled ahead of us three, flung the doors open wide enough to block our egress, then apologized as they all got out of the car in a “Chinese Fire Drill”.

He grabbed his door, closed it enough to allow us to squeeze by and we got past this train wreck of a visitor’s comedy as the youngest driver in the car got into the driver’s seat. 

That was when I heard myself say “If you can’t parallel park your own car by age 30, turn in your license”.

All four doors slammed shut in unison, and the new driver begun to clumsily try to park that beast of a vehicle in the last parking space before The Drive.

All in all, a great argument for narrowing Wilton Drive and making it easier for bad drivers to get out of their car and park.

Same Old or Subtle New Wilton Manors

This Morning an article popped up on the BBC news site talking about how the world is covered by acres of dark grey asphalt and that it doesn’t have to be that way.   We all like having our cars to get somewhere, but it is too much of a good thing.

Shopping centers and malls have to pave a parking area large enough to allow everyone who wants a space to find a spot on the busiest day of the year.  I can remember driving in large and long search patterns in my car at the King of Prussia plaza looking for a place to park before someone else grabs it and wasting a lot of gas in the process.  Imagine this parking lot on Black Friday in November…

[googlemaps https://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&source=s_q&hl=en&geocode=&q=King+Of+Prussia+Plaza,+King+of+Prussia,+PA&aq=2&oq=king+of+prussia+p&sll=37.0625,-95.677068&sspn=36.452734,57.919922&t=h&ie=UTF8&hq=&hnear=King+of+Prussia+Plaza,+King+of+Prussia,+Montgomery,+Pennsylvania+19406&z=14&ll=40.089257,-75.392536&output=embed” width=”425″>
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I’ve also driven past many a shopping center and decided not to bother because it was too full.  We’re having that problem here on any given Thursday night.

Wilton Manors seems to be addressing that particular wrinkle in stages.   It really is a small city, and you simply can’t expect things to happen overnight.  Some decisions are still in play, and that is the time to effect change.  Incremental change is the best way to do things when there are many people involved, you simply can’t demolish an entire business district and start with a rebuild, it is way too complex. You can not expect a city to simply say to its residents that it’s time you all reach deep into your pockets, we want to build a parking lot and it’s going to cost 4 Million.  It’s a quick fix that means you’re unemployed next election.  Business owners who failed to do due diligence when they set up shop in an area can’t expect that sort of thing to happen.

Set zoning laws, and hope they work, but change them when a better idea comes along.

The article on Auntie BBC had brought up an interesting thought.  Someone somewhere had a wild idea on how to make things a subtle bit better when you aren’t using that parking lot.  Plant as many trees as possible to shade the asphalt.   Asphalt acts like a rechargeable battery for heat.  It’s darker than the environment typically, although exceptions exist.  It receives sun for the day when something isn’t parked over top of it, and warms.  That heat gets radiated outwards and makes the world hotter, as well as your house if you live next to it.   While that is great in a Northern climate, those car parks everywhere are helping to contribute to Global Warming.  If you doubt me, go walk across a parking lot on a sunny August afternoon in Florida and prove me right.

Is it August yet?  Would you like to walk across this lot in 95 degree Florida sunshine and heat?

Simple solution, those trees join a coat of paint or a color added to the asphalt to allow the sun to be reflected back into the skies instead of storing the heat.  Every degree counts.

It is the same principle of having a lighter colored roof in a warm climate, or a dark one in a snowy one.  Passive solar heating or cooling where needed.  Passive is much less of an impact on the environment than having to run a furnace or air conditioning to make things comfortable.

Another wild idea was to create a shade over the parking area created by a roof of solar panels.  Sell the electricity back to the power company and contribute to the environment. Large enough roof and you have a lot of power, lower the cost of installation by government grants.

If you want to be Green, sometimes you have to think big and take little steps that may not seem important at first.

Sure, it’s a wild idea, and they all take money, but when you’re stepping back and looking at your existing city and your existing zoning laws, that’s the time to take a good hard look at all of them.  After all, there are some very tight and claustrophobia inducing sidewalks around this city and many others.  Before a new building gets built, lets make sure it benefits those who are here and have to live with it, and that includes something as mundane as a parking lot.

If a Journey of a Thousand Miles begins with a single step, each little step helps you achieve your goal.

Wilton Drive Gets New Businesses

One of the most common complaints about Wilton Drive is that there aren’t enough parking spaces.   The problem isn’t that there aren’t enough spaces, there are not enough free spaces or enough spaces at peak hours.

What happened is that businesses which operate outside of “Bar Time” get a free ride with parking.  If you’re on The Drive, you have the entire parking lot at Hagen plus the metered spots on the entirety of Wilton Drive, plus the spaces at the Shoppes and even at Publix if you want to park there.

For the most part, if I remember right, parking is free.  If you are here outside of metered hours, it’s fairly cheap by big city standards.  $.50 an hour vs the $1.25 an hour I had to pay in Downtown Fort Lauderdale at a meter last Thursday.

Parking should not be a problem for a business that services the off peak people – daytime users of Wilton Drive.  Ever.   (to paraphrase Mythbusters)

So what kind of businesses will best be served by opening on Wilton Drive in the short run? 

Three new businesses popped up recently.  Actually one expanded and one is new.  They both are “daytime friendly” businesses.   There is never a problem during a weekday of finding parking on Wilton Drive since every time I walk down the drive on an afternoon – it’s fairly empty.

First, the Real Estate Office at the corner of NE 6th and Wilton Drive had expanded.   Castelli Real Estate spilled over into the adjacent bay and added desks for quite a few new Realtors.  This says that while the market is misbehaving, there’s a lot of life left in Wilton Manors Real Estate.  In fact the house next to mine was actually in a bidding war and closed around 25% higher than asking price.  This was most likely due to lack of supply more than anything else.  More people moving in means a better environment all around and the particular person who moved in next door is doing a nice job in reversing the decline that that house has seen over the last four years.

Thanks, Jack!

Second, just south of Belle Isle in the new multi-story condo, a new barber shop is set to open.  This will be roughly the fourth on the drive, but more power to you!  The thing is that there are some available spaces on the property and plenty of open parking on the drive.  The location is directly across the street from The Manor so there could easily be a number of folks who will notice it and come back to the Drive to patronize the place.

The more businesses that area open in the early evening and into the night time Bar Hours, the better Wilton Manors will be.  After all, a well lit store with people inside is a draw.  Closed stores, no matter what, mean people will go to their destination and not consider coming back.

The restaurant that opened up within the last month, Rodeo, is a prime example.   The place serves Southwestern cuisine, and was packed when we walked past yesterday at 1PM.  Past the lunch hour on a Sunday and the restaurant was stuffed full of people.  No problem with parking at all, plenty of happy customers and an enticing new addition to the drive.

There is no centralized organization that has control over what businesses come into an address.   For the most part, if you pass Wilton Manors zoning ordinance you can open up any sort of business and hope for the best.  The trick is to look at Wilton Drive for what it is *now* and complement what is there.  You’ll then have a better chance of staying open a year later.

Challenges for the New Administration in November

I should have said as seen by www.ramblingmoose.com and my readers this week.

The reality is that of the top five topics here, a blog that is billed as an open letter to my sister, three of them were strictly about Wilton Manors.

Sure, people like my pictures, and they hit my posting about the Mexican Petunias, but that was not the majority by a long shot.

I am a Project Manager and Web Developer as well as a lot of other things, so my posting on how to stop Hotmail from annoying you by using the delete key to delete emails was even more popular.  I guess I still can write technical documents – That’s going to be brought up in my next interview, and I am ACTIVELY looking for work.

60 Percent of you came here for information on what is going on here in Wilton Manors.  I find that to be the norm but a bit of an obvious prediction. 

I am active in the volunteer effort here.  I have met some very interesting people, some are quite capable.  Others like one particular person that I have the misfortune to run into, is dismally incompetent in what she does.   Luckily she is a volunteer and she’s getting paid exactly what she is worth.  That is an almost direct quote from a Commissioner here…

We have a lot of people adding their opinions to the discussion, and while some are right and some are wrong, it is always a judgment call as to which one to follow.  We cast our votes around the modern oracle of Delphi, and the best critical path to proceed is chosen.

The problem is that while the critical path has been chosen, the results do not show that the plan has been followed. 

We say we want to do something about the problems at hand, but there hasn’t been a lot of vision on how to proceed to get results from the Administration here in Wilton Manors. 

I hear a lot of very good plans from the Volunteer space.   Within the various groups that I have been involved in, I have been a part of fixing one of the problems with those who are on Wilton Manors Main Street and we have presented the plan to the City Commission.  The plan itself is self funding however there has to be seed money.  That is what the whole Tiger II grant discussion is about.  Main Street has taken that original discussion that we brainstormed and with some amazing help from volunteers, the plan has gotten to the point where it can solve the parking problem in Wilton Manors.

The question is why hasn’t it been done before?   Things seem to work, after all so why change it? 

That description is incorrect, it doesn’t work well.  Parking in Wilton Manors is dysfunctional.  People flow into town to use the bars, they park all over the few spots that are available, and then spill out into every available nook and cranny and use that melted butter to winkle themselves into places where cars should not be.  People’s front yards, vacant home’s driveways, blocking driveways, and double parking happened – all last Thursday Night and this is the Off Season.  When the Snowbirds arrive, it gets worse.

We all agree Parking in Wilton Manors must be fixed.  The question is when will it happen?

I have only seen three possible reasons for Parking to be fixed in town.

1) The Elephant in the Room is Gay vs Straight.  The Old Guard here wants it to be the way it used to be .. back in 1955.  Sorry, there’s no place in the South Florida Sprawl that even remotely looks the way it did in 1955 and it isn’t happening.  Mom can’t afford to stay home and bake cookies in that perfect Pleasantville way of life.  There is much more equality these days, and we have a horrendous amount of work to do.   This is not a Gay City, and it is not a Straight City.  It is OUR city, we ALL live here and if you are of the mind set that you want them out, let me suggest that I-95 runs just west of town.  Get on it and keep driving until you find a nice backwards place to live – whether you’re straight or gay.   Leave it for the vast majority who wants to live here and work together for our best common good.

2) Inaction.  That will have to end in November.  The prior administration has been hand wringing on a number of issues, parking is one of them.  I moved here 4 years ago and I keep hearing about Parking Parking Parking.  There have been a number of steps taken recently, all of which are bandages to keep things from getting markedly worse, but all are temporary.  Meters are to pay for the lots that will have to go in places they aren’t while people decide what to do.   You have a plan, you know what to do, budget for it and move forward.

3) Finances.  The market has crashed.  The bubble has burst.  We are in the Great Republican Induced Recession.  Fortunately those who visit here are still coming.  If something hasn’t been done substantial to fix Parking Parking Parking, they won’t come back.   The temporary lot at Hagen Park is a start.  Striping the Drive for Phase I of the Wilton Manors Main Street should be Priority Number One for who ever gets in to the Commission in November.  We are under what the economists call The Economic Order Quantity for parking revenues.  We don’t take in enough to make a large enough surplus or profit to make the business worth going into.  This is called by either too few hours or not enough spaces.  In Wilton Manors, the solution is to add spaces and hours, Both.

The time to act is now.  There are other organic economic problems with the way that Wilton Manors Business functions, but this has gone long, so I’ll save that for another day…

Parking hours discussed at the Commission Meeting

Last night, I was at the Commission Meeting.  I had missed a couple of them in a row and was there specifically because I was asked to be there by two of the up and coming candidates, Joe Angelo For Mayor and Celeste Ellich for City Commissioner.

I also was there because as a member of Wilton Manors Main Street I felt it was important to be there to show my support.   We had presented a Business of the Quarter award to the owners of the Alibi last night, Jackson Padgett and Mark Negrete.  Great bar!  It has the best burger in Broward County, a wonderful restaurant with those rolly picnic tables outside under the awning, and some of the friendliest staff around.   A place where everyone is welcome. 

Among other business, the City Manager Joe Gallegos was picked up for another two year term. The law firm that the city works with was renewed for another two year term so we’ll get to work with Kerry Ezrol as City Attorney.  I have had discussions and worked with both on the various boards that I am a part of and have nothing but good things to say from my experiences.   Good luck to both of you.

The discussion later in the evening turned to the ongoing saga of parking in the City of Wilton Manors.  The hours of enforcement will be cut back to 6PM to 2AM, 7 days a week.  The meters will still be there, but enforcement will be limited. I am not against this idea, after all, the business district is very lightly used during the day time, and this does cover the sweet spot.   The problem is that the original agreement assumed that we were going to have enforcement 24 hours a day.  In an economic downturn, and in a small business business district like ours, this is not a reasonable assumption.  This thought was realized by the Commission and hours were excluded. 

Unfortunately there’s a problem there.  The problem is that the contract with Lanier Parking Systems states that they will get the first $350,000 of parking revenue as a management fee.  Yes, I’m simplifying that but basically the idea is that if the parking in the City does not bring in the needed $350,000, then the City Government will be stuck for the difference.  Add to that the costs of installing and maintaining all that equipment and you see the problem.  I don’t disagree with cutting back the hours to the evening, but I don’t have a good answer for the alternative. 

There is a situation that has come to my attention and that is that of fees.  I have been told, and I have not confirmed, that the fees for the tennis courts are lower than nearby cities.   Fort Lauderdale has tennis courts and does not charge for parking to use them, however their fees are higher.  The answer there is to forget about this particular fatted calf and raise the fees for the Tennis Courts equal to that of neighboring Fort Lauderdale or higher.  After all, the courts at Wilton Manors are meant to be a Premium surface, and therefore more desirable to be played on. 

I personally don’t see why we are subsidizing tennis in the city of Wilton Manors.  It is only one sport among many, and while we do not have room to have facilities for every sport here, it is one that is practiced by a minority, and a well heeled one at that.  It is a rather expensive perk for those who have extra money to burn to have them here and pay less than other places.   If you doubt that, drive by the adjacent parking area and look at the luxury cars parked there.   These few parking spaces are stacked with Mercedes, BMW and Lexus cars every day.  They can afford to pay for parking. 

Unfortunately, the Beach Volleyball which is an open court, is right next to it and that is a much less intense use of the space requiring much less maintenance.  To the best of my knowledge, the Beach Volleyball court is free for all, and not charged by the city so charging for parking may be a good way to reclaim some of the expenses of maintaining that lot, minimal though they are.  The place still has to be raked smooth at the end of the night.

New Dawn for a Demolished City Hall

Sometimes the Camera Phone is just enough camera.  Polaroids were never the highest quality pictures, but the foggy or slightly out of focus pictures that mom would get out of her camera were just right for the family subject matter.  This morning I remembered that I hadn’t remembered my good camera so I took these shots at sunrise of the demolition of old City Hall.   The building is down now, all that is left is the concrete slab and the rubble.

As the sun rises on a new day, the old sign of the Historical Society and Wilton Manors Main Street are about all that is left standing of the old building.  Having run into a “Dog Friend” with her Golden Retriever and her little black mix, she described the site as her “Nuclear Bomb Site”.

We walked for a bit and talked about the Bomb Site.  She didn’t know that this view of the Commission Chambers with New City Hall in the background would shortly become a new temporary parking lot.

We stood in front of the main entrance looking toward Wilton Towers and chatted for a while about the possible plans.  Temporary parking lot will go up shortly.  Within two weeks of the site being cleared of the old building, they will begin work on the grading and asphalting of the plot.

Looking into the Police Doorway is very different now, but we can see where people will be leaving their cars.  If the Tiger 2 grant is given to Wilton Manors, I would be looking into someone’s studio apartment window instead of at Wilton Towers.

This view from the corner of NE 21 Ct below Wilton Drive could have another couple hundred people living in apartments and working in shops on the Drive in buildings that “wrap around” a parking garage.

About all that is left of the building is the corner where the Police Gym used to be.  That corner and the steel door are most likely to be gone by tonight.

This view was of the part of the building where John Bold’s remains were.  Inside the building was a piece of wallboard that were marked with a big “X”.  That was John’s resting place for a few years.  Now he and the building both are resting together.  Soon John’s residence will be replaced by parking and hopefully apartments and a garage.  He’d have liked that improvement to the business district, I’m sure.