Saturday, July 31, 2010

Grrr Woof Woof! - Picture

Near my house there is a park. 

The park is a place of native plants in a manicured setting.  It's not much from a city park standpoint, it's a small place where you can commune with nature while sitting on a giant copper butterfly.  There is a plinth with another copper butterfly on it.  It's not meant to be an exercise park or a fishing park or a place to run wild with the gators.  This is a place for quiet contemplation of things that are native and watch the world drive by on the way to other places.

That is exactly why I like it.  It is a place reserved for nature in a very crowded South Florida area.  

Unfortunately others aren't so civic minded and walk their dogs by without cleaning up after them.  This gentle reminder of what should happen is one that is used all over North America.  It also serves to get a smile out of me when I see it.

I wonder if we can get a dog bag dispenser and a trash bin for that spot?

Friday, July 30, 2010

The Work Continues - Demolition of Old City Hall

Yesterday, I had pictures of the front and the side of the building.  This is what the inside of the building looks like from the window near the City Clerk and City Manager's office.  Dawn Walker, Joe Gallegos and Bob Mays would have sat near or at this spot.  Now its an open space.

Turning to the right this is the view through what was Finance toward the main entrance where Charlie and Joy sat.  If you walked up the steps to pay your water bill, you'd be roughly where that Bobcat is in the background of the right side of the shot.

Speaking of paying your water bill, this was through the glass at the door of the main entrance.  Now, where they took your money for your bills sits a bobcat parked inside.  You can see clear through to the back lot.   There's a silver coating on the window to reduce the sunlight so it also made for a dark picture.

Sticking with the through the window shots, this one is through the hole in the door left when the doorknob was removed at the back door of the police gym.  You can see all the rubble left from demolishing the roof and the tiled backsplash of the shower in the back.

Here's a slightly less dramatic view of the same spot.  This was from the windowsill in the south corner of the building.  You can see the ledge in the foreground of the shot and the same tiled wall in the background.

From the fence at the back lot you can see the same view from the outside.  They've chewed away the roof and the back wall of the building and it's open to the air.

The last shot for the day.  This is the view from the fence of the back of City Hall.  The wall behind that puddle is the other side of the first three pictures.  This is that open yard behind City Manager and Clerk's offices.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Work Begins - Demolition of Old City Hall

First, let me make this completely clear.  All pictures were taken from outside of the building. No trespassing occurred.  The shots of interior spaces are with me holding the camera overhead and through a window.  I'm 6'4" and I have a real long reach.  Some pictures were taken through the existing fence between the holes in the wires. 

Please re-read that in case you are unsure, no trespassing occurred. 

This is the view of the building from the street.  Probably the most complete view you're going to get from now on out.  Windows are knocked out, the Siren has been stored, the "HR Trailer Trash Trailer" has been moved off site.  The building actually looks from this distance like it's still in use but its de-energized and the inside has been stripped of what can be reused.

Here's where the "HR Trailer" used to sit.  When I walked over to the spot it still smelled like old cigarette smoke.  Years of it I guess!

Holding the camera through a broken window pane shows what the old Police Gym looks like today.  The little closet in the corner mid frame is where the HVAC unit stood.  Now, its partially removed.

This is an interesting shot.  Its just to the right of the above shot.  I got it standing outside the window, holding the camera up over my head, through a window.  Aiming it to the right angle, I tilted it down to get the Bulldozer in the background that chewed a hole in the building.

You can see the wires of the cyclone fence to the upper right and lower left of the frame in this shot.  This is the yard showing that window from another angle.  The PD Gym never had so much open space!

Here's the Scoop... of the bulldozer and the pile of debris pulled from the carcass of the old building.  No wires in this shot, the angle was just right from outside of the fence.

Finally, here's the view pulled back just a bit looking North East.  You can see the entire scene here.

I will continue taking pictures as long as I can get close enough from OUTSIDE of the fence.  I haven't been invited in and I don't want to step on anyone's toes.

The demolition is starting from this side of the building working toward the front facade that you see in the first picture.   When done, that last wall will be gone and the footprint of the old building will be paved over for a temporary parking lot.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

My Speech to the Commission for CAAB

I usually only do a single post a day, but last night was special.  I was reelected by the Commission and the Mayor of the City of Wilton Manors to the Community Affairs Advisory Board.   It was also the first time I had to get up in front of an audience and do public speaking at any level since... college?  SHEESH!  I've got to Lighten Up!

I basically had my head down and muscled through it all, just under 300 words. 

My intent was to stress our work together and how we worked together to help the residents of this City.

Thank you again to the Commissioners and the Mayor of Wilton Manors.


I am currently the Vice Chair of the Community Affairs Advisory Board and I am here tonight to ask for my reelection and reinstatement to the Board for the next term of two years.

I have found the Board to be a fascinating position in which to do truly nice things for nice people, the Residents of Wilton Manors.  This is a board that in my mind is here to recognize the improvements that people are making in their properties that go unnoticed, to provide an opportunity for neighbors to meet neighbors and see what good people are doing in the City.

In my tenure, I was selected as Vice Chair shortly after joining the Board and work with Sherrill, Kevin, and the others in order to complete our mission.  I have revived the tradition of recognizing Properties of Distinction by presenting the home owners with the first Home Beautification awards after a couple year absence.  The current award design resembles strongly the original design that I had presented to the board.  That process had brought a spirit of camaraderie as everyone had their input on the final design which was almost identical to the original.

One of my favorite memories of being on CAAB was the Holiday Lighting program.  We were tasked with presenting the winners with awards for the best lights in the city.  It was my suggestion and insistence that the awards should be from as many businesses as possible within the city limits of Wilton Manors.  This way, the winners could use their awards to help keep some struggling business alive and thereby benefit the City. 

Everyone wins when you help your neighbors.

It is my hope that the Mayor and the City Commission will select me for another two year term on CAAB.

Thank you

Commission Meeting - July 27 2010

After having the budget meeting the night before the Commission Meeting was much shorter than what has become normal.  I've gotten used to the meetings stretching past 10PM and having to get up to leave to walk the dog.  This time it was finished at 8:40pm.

The highlight for me kept me quite rattled all night.  I had my first time speaking in front of the Commission and the City.  The Community Affairs Advisory Board had three seats whose terms had expired.  This is the board that I am the Vice Chair of and along with two others, we were all reelected to another two year term. 

Congratulations to current Board Chair Sherrill Mc Carthy, Board Member Kevin Knorr and myself who will continue to serve as volunteers on the Community Affairs Advisory Board for another two years.

My speech was short, and I shall post it as a separate blog posting after this one.  It stressed the Board's accomplishments and our commitment to serve the residents and businesses of Wilton Manors by bringing recognition to things done by people who may not have been noticed. 

Parking on Wilton Drive is not yet running at the budgetary expectations but Lanier Parking fully expects to meet or exceed that amount by "the end of July".  We are currently taking in $1000 a day, and are expecting $1800 a day, however that does not take into account the money from parking tickets.  Parking tickets have not gotten to the point where they are being fully collected because it is too soon to do so in many cases.  The numbers are only for a month so stay tuned.

In the remainder of the meeting there were three resolutions passed.

When City Hall is demolished, the City will place a temporary parking lot on the footprint of the old City Hall.  This will cost the city just under $92,000 and will require their dipping into the reserves for $5,000.  The parking lot will be done "On The Cheap" and is designed to last 3 years.  It will be done that way because there is the open question of the Two Lane Initiative and the Tiger 2 Grant and that property may get re-used and covered over by a mixed use Commercial and Residential building with an interior Garage, or may not.  This all depends on whether the City gets the grant.  We have a strong proposal, but it still is quite open as to whether the Federal Government agrees.

Congratulations to the City for doing it this way should be given.  The design will be done completely in house and was done by Dave Archacki Director of Public Services of the City of Wilton Manors and staff.  His design will save the city approximately $310,000 by bypassing external design firms and engineers and using our own staff.

Building of the new Temporary Lot can start when the old City Hall has been cleared and will begin as soon as the designs are deemed insurable.  Construction will take two weeks from start to finish.

Two short items:

The Wings and Things property will be completed per the original plans.  The building will house a new Sushi Rock restaurant as soon as construction is finished.  The property is now in compliance with code for a construction site so we can look forward to continuing growth in the middle of the Central Business District.

The Yawt Property
Still in flux over the G Resorts, the City has decided to look into any existing code violations by sending in the inspectors from the City and the County.  The City intends to have a "face to face meeting with Sandy Yawt and the other" trustees of the property to get them to follow through with the court orders and remove the blight that is on the East Side of the City.  If the City is not fully satisfied, they will pursue other options - their "Plan B" was alluded to.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Old City Hall - Last Day Picture

This is the last full day for the Old City Hall in Wilton Manors.  Tomorrow it is scheduled for demolition.  What comes in the future for this plot of land is up for discussion.

The view you have here is one you haven't seen in quite a while.  There used to be a trailer for the HR Department bolted down to that site.  What was most surprising to me is that the line of shrubs in the planter were so lush and green.  There must have been just enough light and water to keep them happy, they're even blooming.

The old building is "deenergized", and without power.  Water has been turned off, most likely capped off.  The other services have been identified and triaged as to whether they will be removed or abandoned in place.  There are hieroglyphs spray painted into the pavement all over the property and more flags showing who owns which line than there are American Flags flown on July Fourth. 

This was taken from the corner of NE 21st Court and Wilton Drive, a view which will change from this point onward.  If you're looking forward to seeing the old thing off, today's the day to get your "Before" pictures.  Tomorrow, the site will be a very busy one indeed.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Banana Bread Recipe

Yes, I like to cook.  I just don't like recipes that take forever and have many fussy ingredients. 

I've always shied away from Banana Bread, and now that I've broken down and made some, I don't know why. 

I love Cavendish bananas and their cousins plantains.  I even have a banana tree in the back yard in a tree prison next to the pool.  The poor tree is screaming "Free Me!  Let me out of this POT!!!" every time I go out back. 

I was in the mood to cook yesterday and made a number of strange things, all of which were simple.  I knew I wanted some different food and when I was at GFS Marketplace in Fort Lauderdale, I found the ingredients I needed to make them over the week.

Here's the store if you want to see it.  If not, just page down.  :)

View Larger Map

The Banana Bread came around because they had some "perfectly ripe" bananas on sale.   A bunch for $1.75.  A hand of bananas with speckles that promised sweetness also produces its own problem.  You just can't eat seven bananas in two or three days.  I could freeze some for later baking or make a pudding out of them but this time I decided to try the banana bread.

The rules were no strange preparation, no strange ingredients and I wanted to try it in the bread machine.  I had found a recipe that worked out perfectly.   I only mashed the bananas a little because the machine did that for me except one rogue chunk that refused to stay down.

You can't keep a good banana down, apparently.

The recipe was simple:
Toss all the ingredients into the bread machine in order,
Run on Dough cycle for 5 minutes to make sure that the bananas are all mashed and everything is mixed.
Press "Light" for bake setting
Press start,
Walk away until done.

The ingredients are:
2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda (don't get these two mixed up, I have and it never is pretty)
3/4 cup white sugar
2 eggs
2 bananas peeled and halved lengthwise

That's it!  I had a slice this morning with some home churned butter and it was wonderful with the coffee.  I'll have to make more once this loaf is done.  After all, I still have more bananas and they're not getting any younger!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

A Hidden Treasure in Wilton Manors

To many people, the City of Wilton Manors is a hidden treasure itself.   It certainly is a fascinating place to live.  It is chock full of interesting people, large personalities, and entertaining things to do. 

The City has things for people of all ages to do.  One of them is a peculiar hobby of treasure hunting.  There are places you can go online to find hints toward the location of this treasure in order for you to go somewhere you may not have been before, experience the excitement of being on a hunt, and creating new memories in a creative way.

I'm calling it treasure hunting, but the more accepted term is "Geocaching".  With cheap GPS units being commonplace, people have placed caches of things for people to find in random places throughout the world.  As one of my favourite sayings goes, all those who wander are not lost, and the excitement is in the journey not the destination.

Ok, two sayings.

The caches can contain something simple like a piece of paper that you can write your name and date on, others have little toys or goodies in them and you can take one if you wish and are expected to replace one.  The sites I have seen for these have descriptions of where to go, what to look for, and what to look out for.  Some of the caches are described so clearly that all you have to do is locate a specific spot on your GPS and look down.  Others are encrypted in a cypher hidden in an enigma within a riddle. 

This particular cache is the size of the vitamin pill I took this morning with my coffee.  Inside is a small slip of paper of visitors.   It is well known within the maintenance staff for the City and is watched over with care and a smile.  It does bring visitors, as I have opened the cache and read the log.  I replaced it all with care, and it is there at the moment of this writing.  The comments that people have written on the sites about this particular cache speak of the treatment of the visitors to this city by the City workers, and by the folks who stay here.   Its seen as a warm place, people look forward to coming back, so I see this as a positive thing for us. 

We have approximately six caches in the city.  This one is in an accessible place and welcomes many to later visit our other attractions and perhaps learn some about our history and get to know us.  The stories are amusing and sometimes heartwarming that describe the hunt.

I'm purposely being vague about it.  Its a harmless little thing, and a great weekend hobby for children to learn about map reading, GPS usage, Latitude and Longitude plotting and gives them a bit of practice using their minds to puzzle out the clues.  Come to Wilton Manors, home of the teeny little Geocache, visit our parks and shops, and bring home memories.

Ok, I'll stop being tour guide for now.  If you want to play hide and seek for yourself, the only hint for that I will give you is the site that I found it on is at this link.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Bonnie Kissed The Beach

Tropical Storm Bonnie was a non event here in South Florida.  We've had normal thunderstorms that were more vigorous. 

The beach is still here.  We haven't had any tar balls show up yet from BP's spill, people will be there enjoying the weather today since it is breezy and nice.  At least it will be once the sun comes up.  We aren't even getting into the 90s today, Fort Lauderdale is running a wee bit cooler than seasonable this year.

I picked up the loose and light objects and set them aside and under cover.  Hurricane Prep took an hour. 

We have something else brewing off of Puerto Rico so we could still have some drama, but for now at least, I know where the shutters are and that if we have to, we can be safe.

Friday, July 23, 2010

How to Shower in South Florida

I went back to sleep hearing a weather alert sound just before midnight.  I half heard some announcement of Tropical Storm Bonnie and went back to sleep.  This morning, as normal, I woke at 6 AM.

Mrs Dog started to rattle around wanting food.  Getting up, I fed her and begun the normal morning ritual.  In my case, that means roasting two ½ cups of green beans to make coffee when I later grind them to make the pot. 

While they were roasting, they infused the house with the strong and wonderful odor that only fresh roasted coffee beans can give.  I let the dog out the front door to do her business while the second batch was perfuming the kitchen.

Looking around my front yard, I noticed that it had not rained over night and the clouds were not dark enough for me to give it a second thought.  At that time of the day, I am not awake enough to give much of anything a second thought.

I grabbed the bags and the iPod and got myself and the dog out the door. 

Walking about a half mile from the house and back, I ran into one of the locals that I see from time to time.  He looked concerned since he was around a mile from home.  Apologizing that he had to get back before the rain started, we parted company.  He left me scratching my head about rain.  I looked East over Dixie Highway and the Railroad tracks towards the ocean beyond and saw that there were more of the grey flannel uniform of this morning's sky and still thought little of it. 

The air was thick but breezy, a normal early morning here.  There was a gentle scent of coffee on the breezes everywhere I went.  My own personal cologne was following me.

Walking through Wilton Manors is a part of living here.   Its fairly walkable, although we could use some improvements, and it is getting better with the efforts of the volunteers and the City Government.

I got out to Wilton Drive and as at the shops I felt one single drop of rain on my arm.  It still looked like grey flannel in the sky but This Isn't Good.

If you have ever watched a Making Of video you may see how they make it rain in Hollywood.  There are sprinklers on the roofs and they will turn it on and off like a light switch.  To go from clear to torrent with an eye blink is something that will surprise.

Right as I got to the open area, that happened to me.  It was an absolute torrent.  No roofs nearby so I soldiered onwards.  Drenched I made my way home.   As I rounded the corner near my house it happened again.  The rain simply stopped.  The silence was deafening. 

The result was a wet dog, a wet me, and it washed all my coffee cologne away. 

Thus was the beginning of Tropical Storm Bonnie here.  It isn't expected to be all that dangerous here, and should not be much more when it hits the Gulf of Mexico nothing more than some rain.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Tiger 2 Grant Application Goes Forward

Last night in Wilton Manors Commission chambers, there was a Special Commission Meeting discussing the Tiger 2 Grant application.  The Pre-Application was approved by an Unanimous vote of all Commissioners and the Mayor.

The Gables team with Pasquale Architects presented an interesting plan that would be their donation in kind of $2.5 Million.  What they would need for this is a 65 to 85 year lease on the property to pay for their donation.  Gables would build a Parking Garage with wrap-around residential and ground floor commercial property.

The plot would not effect any existing amenities at the adjacent Hagen park. The existing tennis courts, volleyball court and buildings are safe. 

The plan for the development would be a building that is as tall as the neighboring Gables Wilton Park complex.  The building would be disguised by a raked back frontage on Wilton Drive and the parking garage would be hidden from view by the surrounding ground floor commercial and higher level of residential units.  These would be built to a higher standard than the existing development and would incorporate significant Green Technologies for lighting and construction so they will be as efficient as possible. 

It looks like Gables is here for the long haul and wants to do it right for and by the City of Wilton Manors.

The Specifics are:
120 residential rental units.
5,000 square feet of commercial units.
4,000 square feet of civic space.
175 parking spaces for the City to use as we see fit
150 to 160 parking spaces for Gable to use for the development.
The Veteran's Memorial will be moved to the civic area and an amphitheater and  fountain will be built on site.

An important issue is that Gables intends for this property to be taxable to the proportion that they control.  Wilton Manors will be getting back tax revenue on this property every year that it is there.

The project will take 6 to 10 months for permitting, another 18 months for construction. 

If we do not get the Grant, this project will not bind the City to the agreement. 

This is wonderful news for Wilton Manors.   Basically this project specification allows us to apply for the 10 million dollar grant.  We can then proceed to plan out what we want to do to it.  All improvements are limited to Wilton Drive and adjacent properties.  $10 Million is a lot to spend on a mile of road, but I'm sure we can do it.  A second parking garage at the North end has been suggested.

We have been handed the key to the lock.  Next step is the full application which will be placing the lock in the door.   Getting the grant is not a definite thing.  In the later budget meeting it was described as a being as likely as a lightning strike, but like in the lottery you have to play to win.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

You can wear out a Border Collie – When Monkeys Fly!

I got a box of random things from a company called last week.  Its a lottery, you pay $8 and you can get junk or a pallet full of things that make it worth while if you sell them on ebay.  I've gotten enough things worth while that I'm still in the black with them after 8 years of purchases.

Check back daily...

My box was more junk than anything else.  Two calendars from 2010, two High School Musical Clocks, something else that I can't remember, and a plush toy.  I don't need toys, my house is stuffed with them, but this was something that a Border Collie would love.  It is a flying toy that looks like a monkey wearing a cape.  When you put your fingers in the two hands and pull back on the feet, the arms stretch out to three feet.  Let go and the rubber bands that are the arms will snap to allow the monkey to fly across the room.

Do not launch monkey at others. 
Do not launch monkey at ceiling fan. 
May cause injury. 
Your mileage may vary. 
Do not taunt happy fun ball.

All that.

When you launch the monkey, there's an electronic sound box that lets loose a shriek that is music to a dog's ears!  I have a shelter dog who was billed as a “Non Barky Dog”.   It was weeks before I heard her bark at anything other than other dogs, and in the house she's next to silent.   If I show her the toy, it sets her into spasms of doggy joy that is accompanied by a fusillade of barking that can only be eclipsed by Fireworks. 

If she gets that toy, it's dead.  So far we have managed to hit the ceiling fan and not damage it, knock over some things on tables and chairs, and it is still safe.  She doesn't think it's hers yet so she's still doing that Instinctive Herding Behavior, but when she changes her mind, it won't last five minutes in her mouth.

So that picture?  Last night I had played with the screaming monkey and Lettie was so overjoyed that when through she sat down completely tired out, hyper like a 3 year old on sugar, and fell asleep after whining at the toy that I had thoughtfully hung on the door just out of reach.


Tuesday, July 20, 2010

What to do with a Sunken Yawt

It began with a phone call at 8:30AM.  One of the neighbors called me up on the cell phone and started talking.  I almost hung up, he spoke so fast I couldn't fathom what he was saying.  When I finally realized who it was, I begun to understand what he was trying to tell me.

At 8:30 on a Monday Morning, I'm usually sipping my second mug of half caff coffee while going through the Job Boards online looking for a Project Management or Business Analysis job.   I've normally got on some soft music in the background and I'm going through about 100 web pages, one after another.  It takes me until Mid Morning.  The last thing I'd expect is a phone call at 8:30 but since it was this person, it was pleasant.  Nice guy, he walks his ancient Black Labrador past the house a couple times a day and we've chatted a few times about goings on on our quaint little sandbar that is Wilton Manors, Florida, 33305.

I had to use my line on him though once he got started talking.  "I'm not a politician and I don't play one on TV".  I'm a volunteer here in the city and I'm on a number of boards, but my opinion really only counts when I tick the box next to a name.  I can advise the officials but I would never pretend that I have influence.

My neighbor started talking about the G Resort that was going in on the East Side of town.  The deal had just fallen through and it made it to the Pelican and then to the Sun-Sentinel a week later.  This had been discussed at the Commission Meeting last Tuesday.  The resort was to be a massive hotel and spa complex built on a particularly run down and blighted trailer park, the last of its kind in the City.   The Resort is to be a jewel for Wilton Manors, full of high end accommodations and would help us continue to be a destination for people on vacation.

I say "Is To Be" because while the original deal at the Yawt Property had sunk due to the foot dragging of the four trustees, the G Resorts people found another site at NE 15th Avenue and NE 26th Street on the grounds of the Church there. 

View Larger Map

That leaves what to do with the derelict Yawt Property.

It has many code violations due to improper construction, shoddy landscaping, and trash piles laying around.  The place is a badlands where the crime rate spikes when you cross into it.  It still has downed trees from Hurricane Wilma back in 2006.

On the other hand, if you remove the trailers, the trash, and the trailer trash, it is one of the few open spaces you have left in Wilton Manors.  It also is adjacent to the FEC railroad right of way, Colohatchee park, and near Five Points. 

The neighborhood was so rough looking that the street view camera did not even go in there.  The inset below shows the close up satellite view.  If you zoom out, Colohatchee is due South, Five Points is North and a block West.

View Larger Map
My neighbor, Tim, insisting that I had some sort of influence decided to tell me that what he wants for that property is a park.  I want it!  Its the last open space in Wilton Manors!  Its next door to Colohatchee!  Its just a great idea!  Don't you agree?!?!?

The thing is, I do agree.  I don't see how it can be paid for. 

Tim got restless and insisted that he and everyone else would want to pay a few dollars more in taxes for the property and so forth.  This is an election year, Tim, you're not going to get someone to vote for a tax increase.

I do agree though that this should be grabbed by the City.  The only other use for it would be low density housing and in this day and age, nobody will do that sort of thing, its just not economic in this business climate.

We then got onto some good old fashioned blue sky thinking.  What we came up for that property would be the following:

1) Float a 30 year bond at 3% to buy the property to be paid out of an earmarked increase of taxes.  Enough of a term to stretch the payments so that the impact on a single taxpayer per year is "nominal".

2) Negotiate with the Yawt family to sell the property at a deep discount.  If they get too demanding, send in the code enforcement officers and cite them on any and every violation that they can find within the current settlement for the prior violations and lien the property.  Bring this up to the Court that had heard the situation and ordered that the property be sold immediately.

3) When the city has the property, clear it out.  This cost should have been taken into account on the purchase price.  Remove all the trash and downed trees, the trailers and the trash. 

4) Assess the situation for the best use for the property.  The suggestion is a mostly undeveloped "ecological" park to showcase what we can do for the environment and to mirror what is available at the other parks.  Keep it as simple as possible.  Add a multiuse trail on the property for running and biking and skating.  All the other parks in this city are chock full of things - keep this one as open as you can!

5) Place a surface parking lot at the corner of the property sufficient for visitors but allow for expansion. 

6) Since we're next to and probably within the Transit Corridor Overlay District, reserve room for a larger parking lot and a train station sufficient for commuter rail.  We're getting a train station when the new FEC light rail line goes in, we need the space.

7) When you put in lighting, consider making all lighting Solar and add in a Windmill Power Generator.   There are significant discounts and rebates for doing such a thing.  The power generated will help lower Wilton Manors' electricity bills.  The site can become a showcase for Green Technologies.  It can also become a place where children can be educated on how we will be lighting our homes in the future - Oil will not last forever!

Granted, this is all Blue Sky.  The property will cost between 1 and 2 Million.  There are costs to the County to get them to drop or reduce their Liens for taxes not paid.  There will be a cost to clear out the property of all the trash and bring the property up to code.  There may be pollutants that need to be abated.  I would be surprised if there weren't years of old motor oil poured into the ground there.

Once all that is done, it might be the best use possible for an eyesore of a property and retain some needed greenspace.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Commission Meeting - Tiger 2 Grant for The Drive

Needless to say when you have an opportunity to do something important and get a grant for doing so, you spend a lot of time on discussing how it can happen.

The meeting last Tuesday had a significant discussion on whether, then how to proceed with getting a Federal grant for improvements on Wilton Drive.  This isn't going to happen without some significant effort as well, and the City being cut beyond the bone to the point of being perhaps impaired, will require the Task Force to study the Two Lane Initiative to proceed with this. 

There is an opportunity for the City to proceed with a 10 million dollar Grant from the Feds to get a lot of the pieces of the Tiger 2 grant done on the grant.  The grant requires a 2 million dollar matching payment either in cash or in kind to the projects in order to get this done.  The "Pre-Application" has a two week deadline, which means that Mr Gallegos, and his excellent staff has some work ahead of them.  It will require them to state the very basic parameters of the project planned, and that they have either a donation of "in kind" funds or the cash on hand.

Wilton Manors is a small city and we just don't have that kind of money sitting there.


In order to get this done, there is a very strong "Pre-Proposal" from the Gables Group.  They have not fully committed to it yet, but the Gables Group has strongly hinted, implied, rumored or however you'd like to call it that they would donate a parking garage to the City free of charge on the current Old City Hall site.  The string on this little package is that they want a 50 year lease (most likely for a dollar as is customary) for a "wrap around" building that faces Wilton Drive and most likely NE 21st Court at the light that will be Residential and Commercial.  The design concerns will be hammered out to make the building "fit in" with the existing City Hall and be complimentary with the existing Gables development.

If you have any doubts that Gables can do the job, check my prior post from Saturday on Mizner Park.

These People Can Do The Job If They Are Allowed To Do So.

That is the 2 million dollar matching grant.  What will we do with the remaining 10 Million?  That is up for discussion.  The Grant can not be used on parks or purchasing park land.   It has been described to me by Mike D'Oliveria of the Pelican that the Grant can be used on Infrastructure Improvements that will provide Economic Stimulus for the City.  In short, this has to add jobs to the City.  We just have to show how this can do so.

What I think we should do with the money is the following:
1) Perform the Two Lane Initiative - all four phases.  Approximately 1.6 Million
2) Add a garage for the North End of the Drive.  Approximately 4.3 Million
3) Add a network of multi-use trails through the entire city.  Approximately 1 Million
4) Improve Sidewalks through the entire city.  Price varies due to scope but Approximately 1 Million
5) Improve NE 26th Street East of Five Points to the East boundary of the City.  Approximately 2 Million

I'll admit that I pulled the number for the last one out of my ... hat, but the rest were from discussions in the chambers.  The trick is that we need to come up with 10 million of improvements that will add jobs and otherwise make Wilton Manors more competitive.   With the Transit Oriented Corridor along Dixie Highway, a Parking Garage makes sense since we will have a train station on the FEC line that will be added for commuters, and it would certainly improve the viability of businesses on the North end of the Drive, including those that never took off at Wilton Station.

If I came short there, I'm sure that someone else can find another project to add onto it to bring it up to the needed price.  I'm certain that Dixie Highway could be repaved as a part of this, streetscape improvements and benches for Bus stops and so on.  

The motion was passed unanimously to authorize the City Manager to pursue this grant with the utmost haste. 

Good luck Mr G!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Thoughts on a Pelican

In South Florida, we have a number of papers.   The Miami Herald is the big one, it used to have a national reach especially on South Florida News and Latin America Affairs.  This was the paper that was referred to when I lived in Philadelphia when ever someone wanted to report on serious news down here in South Florida.

The Sun Sentinel is the big paper in Broward County, heavily reporting on Fort Lauderdale and South Florida, but it has a distinctly "Second City" feel to it.  Lately it has been depending on the Wire Services so much for news that I have to question if it would not be easier to go to or one of the other web pages and get national news directly.  It reports heavily on Fort Lauderdale and Broward County but if you live in a smaller city, I've found it is not all that helpful. 

Personally I tend to get more information from the BBC on national and international news, I skim the headlines in the two papers above online, and then settle in to read local news in a weekly paper here, The Pelican. 

Yes, I did speak of a weekly newspaper in the same breath as I did when mentioning my lifelong news source, the BBC, and the two big gorillas on the local news stand, The Herald and the Sun-Sentinel.

After moving here, I got quite involved in Politics as a volunteer.   As I have said to two successive Mayors here, the reason I go to Wilton Manors Commission Meetings is that it is entertaining and informative.   In my typical irreverent manner, I have said that it is more entertaining than watching TV, especially on a Tuesday Night.  I record everything on my Digital Personal Video Recorder anyway so if it comes into the house, I can time shift it and watch programming at my own schedule freeing me up to be involved. 

TV Viewing and Entertainment aside, There is a LOT of information that is given in the Commission meetings here.  I sit in the front row clicking away on my Zaurus, typing into a text editor some horrifically spelled notes in some high level of detail getting the information down.   It is helping me get to my goal of 366 days of consecutive pertinent posts here on - that anniversary is September 13, 2010 if you're counting.

In the same crowd is the reporter for the Pelican, Michael D'Oliveira, taking notes down on a steno pad.  I'll look over from time to time and am usually rather surprised that he takes very sparse notes, relying on his memory to get some quite in-depth articles out for the publication, on Fridays, while I'm sitting there acting more like a stenographer banging away furiously and ending the evening with sore thumbs when I'm through.  Apparently, his memory for this subject is better than mine.

Michael has an excellent view on the way things are working here.  I've seen him in multiple city meetings, such as Commission, Planning and Zoning and others.  He also does this for some of the other smaller cities in the county that the Sun Sentinel slights.  Pompano and Deerfield get significant coverage as well as Oakland Park and Lauderdale By The Sea. 

We get a lot of free papers here in Wilton Manors, some of them are just "Bar Rags" and not worth the effort it takes to pick them out of the stands.  Others vary from being catty nonsense to somewhat informative.  I will say that due to Michael's efforts, the Pelican is a Must Read for anyone who lives in or cares about Wilton Manors and nearby cities.

Now, if they could just get this paper online...

Thanks Mike, I'm looking forward to our next chat.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Mizner Park, Boca Raton Picture

Why would I be writing about a park in Boca Raton anyway?

Part of it was that I went up there and had a fairly nice time of it.  A pleasant lunch, a bit of a walk under the shade of the walkways, and got off the Island for a change.

The other part of it is that it fits in nicely with all this discussion of parking and reworking what Wilton Manors should look like in the Central Business District of the Drive.

Mizner Park is a large scale New Urbanist Development in Boca Raton.  The development includes shops at ground level, some business offices on premises back from the walk ways, apartments and a rather nice Bandshell and Stage at one end anchoring the development.  There is a wide park in the middle of the development that  separates the two sides and the whole thing was built so you can live work and play in one spot without needing your car.  Should you need a car, there are ample free spots to park in a garage that is set off the central area.   Its there and you don't really need to see it.

Here is a view of the Bandshell from Street view on Google Maps

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The nice thing about it is that this picture is a good illustration of what we should be working towards.  The buildings are all built set back from the parking and streets.  The set back is covered by an overhanging second floor and this results in a shaded place that you can get away from the South Florida Sun.  There are planters on the outside of the walkway along the street to further protect pedestrians from being hit by cars, and the central strip of greenery is chock full of what you'd expect in South Florida, Tall Palm Trees.

One block down you can see the Google Street View of the way that Gables built their on street parking and how far back the buildings are set.

View Larger Map

This development is built by the Gables group.  Gables is the group that built Wilton Park on Wilton Drive, one block up from City  Hall.  These buildings are quality construction, at least outwardly, and they do seem to know what they're doing when you are looking for a development that is mid to upscale in your neighborhood.   In short they seem to be a good addition to our City.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Commission Meeting - Two Lane Initiative Committee

There was quite a lot that happened here in the Commission Meeting on Tuesday night.  So much so that I've still got more to write about.

In this case the discussion of the Committee for the study into the impact of the Two Lane Initiative. 

There is a consensus on the Commission that there needs to be a Committee to study the feasibility and impact of the Two Lane Initiative as put forth by Wilton Manors Main Street.  The plan is complex in that it takes four phases to get to completion, but also in that it sets the City on a course for expansion of the Business District on Wilton Drive and gives the Residents the walkable city that we all want.

When complete, we will have a showcase of New Urbanism that builds on our strengths and erases the biggest weakness that we have, a race course in the middle of town.

Commissioner Ted Galatis raised a question about the need for such a study.  In this down market, the City Manager Joe Gallegos had explained, the City staff is cut to the bone.  In some cases it is so small that the City can not take on the functions that a place of prominence that Wilton Manors has become will need to be done.   There just isn't the manpower within the staff to sit down and study the initiative. 

The idea is that the City will have one member on the committee that will report back to the Commission the results of their finding.  As structured, the committee will be subject to the same laws that the Commission is such as minutes reporting and sunshine law.  I fail to see why this committee needs to be subject to the sunshine law.  The idea of the sunshine law is that it will force all discussions to be held in a formal recorded meeting place in front of the public. That is fine, but it will further limit any discussions between any two or more members on the subject of the Initiative outside of the meetings. 

This will cause a knock on effect of forcing anyone on  the other boards to be careful about what is said in context so as not to violate the law.   It will also slow down the works by forcing any discussions to be held only within the meetings unless a formal sub committee is created.  There is a small pool of people who are active in a city of almost 13,000 and there are just so many volunteers to go around.

The only way around that is to immediately create a subcommittee that incorporates the entire board for the sole purpose of discussion of the Initiative.  I have a feeling that that would violate the law and would certainly make a lawyer smile.

The structure will be that one seat will be from various volunteer City boards and there will be an effort made to be as inclusive as possible to mirror the diversity of this City.  This process will take years, and the intent is as suggested by Commissioner Tom Green to Sunset the Commission after 18 months.

This Committee will be formed in August and immediately set to work formalizing the future of the City. 

Hopefully they will be effective.  There is a lot at stake and it will give us so much back.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Commission Meeting - The Parks Master Plan

On Tuesday we had our Commission Meeting.  In that meeting the Parks Master Plan was presented by the consultant.  The findings reflected the people's desires of what they most wanted to see out of the park system. 

Much of this information was derived by asking people what they wanted to see.  There is a problem of inclusiveness.  The assumption is that if you ask people at a workshop that is given on a certain topic, those people who are there to give their opinion are those who are the most active within this particular topic.  In the case of the parks, you are finding that those people who would be there are those who are the heaviest park users.  This sort of problem is not exactly a new one, you're going to find it in any sort of survey, and many people simply hate surveys and won't answer. 

How to get those who are not going to answer is a difficult problem for which I have no answer, and they may have a very different view.  The question should be asked exactly why are they so disinterested?  You may get a much more pertinent answer.

But that not withstanding, the parks plan came up with the Top Ten list of things that should be improved.  These things are the ones that were recommended to be worked on within our limited budget.  The budget can be expanded by creative grant applications as well, many other cities are doing so.  A person should be brought onto the city staff who works on a partial commission basis in order to get grants for the city for Parks and other projects.   Wilton Manors having so many volunteers and activists should not be lacking for opportunities to apply for grants to support.

The first thing that was said was that we are looking at a long term plan.  I am fond of saying this is a marathon and not a sprint.  We need to take the long view of this process and not just slap bandages on it.  Needs must be assessed periodically and adjusted as demographics change.  When changes happen a coherent plan must be addressed so that the result is the best one that we can manage.

Highest on the list was a profound lack of playgrounds.   The city had few areas where children could play.  Swings and slides were the sort of equipment that comes to mind in this case.   Here was where a need came against a hard fact - we simply don't have enough room for this sort of thing within the existing parks.  Our parks are chock full of "stuff" because we're a built up city.  A recommendation was that we should purchase adjoining land where ever possible to allow for that sort of growth.

One thing that I keep hearing is that we are losing our sense of history.  This was echoed within the Master Plan.  Our parks can and should be used as a repository of our historical worth.  This has been done throughout time and is something that is done within parks all over the world.  The suggestion by Wilton Manors Historical Society President Diane Cline and echoed by Wilton Manors City Commissioner Scott Newton to house the old Fire Siren at Richardson Park is a good one.  After all, Richardson's name is "Richardson Historical Park"... or something close.

Water is another item in the top needs list.   We are surrounded by it.  This is an island city and we are not adequately leveraging this.  There are boat ramps but few areas where we can go play in the mud so to speak.  The Middle River isn't all that deep but there are many people who kayak there.  When I was a kid, I used to build sand castles in my yard next to the Cooper Creek in New Jersey next to the water with my sister.  I'm sure that children these days still do that.  Adults enjoy sitting on benches and watch the water float by.  There are few opportunities to do that sort of thing here, there aren't many benches that face the water.  There can be areas that will be cleared of weeds and made to be an attractive picnic ground on the esplanade near the river with minimum of expense.

The environment was mentioned.   With the efficiency of LED lighting and the falling prices, we could easily include solar lighting to the grounds and move some of the lighting Off The Grid.  There are Federal tax credits to do so.  I would even take this one step further and consider an opportunity for a windmill or solar power generation installation on one of the parks as a "Pilot Project".  This would be a chance for Wilton Manors to Shine for Solar Power (There you go Wilton Manors, have a slogan!) and sell back the power to FPL thereby lowering our bill.  Florida Department of Transportation says that one of the highest expenses of maintaining the roads is the bill for electricity.  We can easily generate enough power in this way.   We can also build in a program of recycling where instead of having a dumpster stuck on Dixie Highway, large attractive bins can be installed at the parks and used as an chance to educate children and adults on the Life Cycle of a Glass Bottle and the like.   We are a wasteful society, but we are learning to be a better one.  The parks can help.

The flexibility of our parks were stressed.  Mickel Field is an example that was brought up where we were doing the right thing.  The park is a large open area where all sorts of sports can be performed without massive installations.  The area can also be used for concerts, outdoor movies, and other festivals due to its location and availability.

Bike Trails should be added and upgraded where ever possible and with this sidewalks must be added.   In order to make this truly a New Urbanist mecca, and a truly Pedestrian friendly city, we need to make sure that the sidewalks are wide and inviting with a large tree canopy.  We need a network of bike trails all through the city.  As a Skater, I would welcome a safe network of bike trails so that I could skate in my own city without driving to Pompano Beach.  This network of trails would serve to tie the entire city together as a festival site.  It would also allow us to be able to ditch the car and walk places. 

Imagine that, Walking in South Florida!

Adding signs to tie it all together with LED solar lighting would give us an opportunity to strengthen our brand and let people know that they are somewhere special.

The raw numbers were not very promising.  In order to do this, we would need to spend approximately 20 million dollars.  At our current parks budget, we would take 78 years to complete all of this.  I don't think many of you reading this will be around in 78 years and I'd like to see this happen quickly.  Here is where the person working on obtaining grants would be able to cut this time down to something manageable so we don't have to worry about spending money when it isn't there. 

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Commission Meeting Overview July 13 2010

Sometimes the most important comments to a neighborhood are made in the Comments at the end of the meeting. 

It was announced at the end of last night's meeting that the proposed "G Resort" for the Yawt Property on the east side of town, just over the tracks from Five Points has been withdrawn.  This means that the resort will not be built, the plans have been canceled.  For the owners of the Yawt Property, the liens on the property due to non compliance of code will continue to apply and interest will continue to be charged at a rate of 8 percent. 

Unfortunately for Wilton Manors and the neighbors on the East Side, the Yawt property will continue to be a wart on our city until someone comes in and cleans up that land.   It does not look like the owners will do so.  The intent of the City will be to watch over the plot for additional code violations and to prosecute them fully when they have a chance.   Old violations have been "settled" and can not be expanded, but new ones will be applied.  I would be surprised if Code Enforcement has not already been over there having a look around.

The Planning and Zoning Board (PnZ) has approved an amendment to the specification of the sidewalks for new construction in the city.  It is the intent of the Mayor, the Commission, and City Government to have Wilton Manors become an "New Urbanist" oasis of safely walkable shaded streets and the new PnZ amendment will be a great help to achieving our goals.

Wilton Manors has granted the permit to Wilton Manors Main Street to proceed with the street closing for "Wicked Manors" on Saturday October 30 and into Sunday Morning October 31.  The party has been a Halloween success for our city for the last couple of years, and this year will be no different.  Come in costume or not, you can enjoy our city.  The hours will be announced later.  Alcohol will be served until Midnight when Music will stop, at 1AM the street will be cleared and 6AM on Sunday the Drive will be open for traffic.

The status of Old City Hall is that a workshop was to be held to define what will happen.  The City Staff is instructed to make a plan to be presented to the Commission prior to any action.  The recommendation from the Commission is that any buildings on the corner where old City Hall stands is to have ground floor commercial space.  For now, Commissioner Green is suggesting a temporary paved lot that will be built to last 2 to 3 years that would be up to the minimum of city code.  Mayor Resnick instructed that Lanier be consulted on this matter.  The idea is to place a lot there to hold the space until we can get construction going on any other permanent expansion on that plot.

On top of Old City Hall there is a Fire Siren that was well loved by the residents that were here when we had a Volunteer Fire Department.  If the Siren on top of City Hall went off, it would be so loud that it would stop business in City Hall, including the Commission Chambers until it was done.  This gave us some of that quirky Small Town Charm that a larger city would lack.  There was a discussion of it being given to Fort Lauderdale for their Fire Museum and Commissioner Scott Newton has said that there was no reason why we should give it to Fort Lauderdale.   As the President of the Wilton Manors Historical Society, Diane Cline said, "we have given too much of our history away and lost too much to Fort Lauderdale" in the past to want to lose this.  With Commissioner Newton's insistence, we will find a home for our siren.

There was a long discussion of our park system here in Wilton Manors.  The plan had been presented and the information was well received by the Commission.  There is a list of ten items that should be followed so that the residents will get the most out of the park budget dollars.  In a tight budgetary era, it will be difficult to implement any changes, but now the Commission knows what the people here would want first if they are to improve the park system.

Tying together with the long discussion of the park system, there was another detailed discussion of the Two Lane Initiative and how it fits with the Old City Hall site.   If all the pieces fall together with grants, the majority of the Two Lane Initiative can be done without local taxpayer funding.   There are some grants that the city can apply for that will allow some significant work to happen if we get matching money together.   The minimum amount that we can apply for would be 10 million dollars, and that would require that the city have a matching fund of 2 million dollars.  The Commission has instructed the City to work toward applying for these grants and to do so with the help of Wilton Manors Main Street since there is not enough manpower on the part of the City government to achieve this goal without Main Street's help.

That being a summary of what happened, there are a lot of pieces that got glossed over. I will endeavour to complete these and your knowledge of them over the next few days.  It all ties together nicely.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Is Work Beginning on Wings and Things Again?

I do need to get out more, but one short walk to the Drive on Sunday yielded two rather interesting points.  At least they were interesting for me.

Yesterday I wrote about the stop light and the need for a readjustment of the timing on the thing.

Today is this picture. 

Wings and Things was a restaurant that I never had a chance to try.  I'm a big fan of "Local Dive" restaurants and eating where the Truckers Eat, but Wings and Things looked far too chancy for me to try when I first moved here.   It looked like a place that was dying and looking for someone to stick a fork in it.

Ironic for a restaurant isn't it?

It was sold in the intervening time and was intended for redevelopment as an "Asian Fusion" or Thai restaurant.  They begun to work on the property that in a prior life was a Sunoco gas station, if I remember my local lore correctly.  If not, Diane Cline will certainly correct me... but you can still see the roof line in this picture.

They got as far as you see here and work stopped.  The new owner or long term lessee or what ever they were ran out of money and ended up in a country over in South Asia, Indonesia most likely, and that was a year ago.

We in the city were left with this wart on the nose of the central business district.  Probably at the midpoint of Wilton Drive, we had a stalled construction project.  This sort of nastiness won't happen again quite this way.  The Mayor and the Commission rightly passed a performance bond ordinance that says that if you're building a commercial structure or remodeling one of a certain size, you pay a bond that will be returned in case it fails.  That will be used to stabilize the structure and property so at least it won't be a hazard.  I doubt it will bring it past eye sore stage, but it is a good start. 

It was so long ago that this started when the Google Streetview Car came through, it was still "under construction" as you see below.

View Larger Map

This project predates and is probably the cause of the ordinance.

Fast forward to Sunday Afternoon.   In all this heat, I walked past the place and saw a landscaper working hard on the grounds.  He is visible in the (first) picture in a white shirt, and did a pretty good job with the sow's ear that this place has become.  The grass, weeds more like it, were trimmed short.  The trees that had grown up on the grounds were cut back so it didn't resemble the brambles of Blackberry Bush that I used to hide under as a Fort in The Swamp near my Jersey Childhood Home. 

He wasn't alone.  He had help.  A rather large woman was hiding under the porch of that building looking very bored playing with her phone.  I don't know her story but she certainly didn't seem effective if she was being paid to be there on that Sunday.

At any rate, it still looks like a wart, but now it looks like someone trimmed the hairs out of it in an attempt to make it look more presentable.  Hopefully work will begin in earnest and we'll see that building finished off.   I've seen mock-ups of the original plans and would like to see that vision finished, or anything else for that matter!

Hopefully Wilton Manors will get that Wart removed!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Is 1 minute 45 seconds too long to save a life?

Strange question, but actually I believe it is.

At 2:40 in the afternoon, I was at the pedestrian crossing in front of the Wilton Manors City Hall.  After having done some browsing in some of the shops on that end of Wilton Drive, I decided to cross over onto the sunny side of the block.  This being Florida in Summer, they're both sunny, but the South Side was my destination so I thought it best to cross at the light.  Wilton Drive being four lanes of traffic plus a turn lane or a median is a difficult place to cross.  At present there are four lit crossings on the street, none of them being placed where the pedestrians seem to want to cross.  Wilton Manors is a place where jaywalking seems to be the rule rather than the exception. 

View Larger Map

Wilton Drive also has a 30 mile per hour speed limit.   The road is almost exactly a mile from its beginning at the Fort Lauderdale city limit on the South end at the Middle River to the intersection at Five Points.   At 30 miles per hour, that would mean that in 2 minutes, you should be able to drive the entirety assuming nobody got in your way or you decided to turn off and park and actually enjoy our city.

Having gotten to the crossing, I pressed the button on the pole, and the button on my chronometer to try to see how long it would last.  As some of the Commissioners of this city will tell you, I tend to be a stickler for knowing how long something lasts.  During the time I waited for the light to change, three different sets of pedestrians decided that it was pointless to stand there in the sun any longer and crossed without benefit of light or crosswalk.  One used the crosswalk but didn't wait for the light. 

On a Sunday afternoon it seems that traffic is light enough that you can actually cross the Drive without getting hit.  I know, I saw 5 people do it in three clumps. 

The question remains though that if the person presses the button on the stop light pole, does it actually do anything?  If the button does in fact do something, could the timing of the light be set to something more reasonable? 

Having watched many car shows, I have noticed that the standard for stopping distance seems to be around 120 feet.  40 Meters if you're counting.  30 MPH is 44 feet per second.  That works out to three seconds at legal speeds to stop.  Now it would be insanity to suggest that we set the time from pressing the button to the light changing be 3 seconds.  I would say that a more reasonable time would be closer to twelve seconds, 528 feet or one tenth of a mile travel time.  That would be a "standard" block in a ten block per mile area like South Florida.  After all, the light then would turn yellow then allow the person to cross at a red. 

A minute and 45 seconds is approximately the distance it takes to drive at legal speeds from Five Points at the North end to the City Hall Light.  Is that amount of time really necessary?

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Parasailing at the Beach Picture

This morning, one of my Facebook friends, Norma, mentioned that she was going to the beach.  She had a friend up in Springfield, Mass that said he wanted to go too.  

I probably won't go to the beach.  If I go out into the sun, I tan so fast that I'd end up looking like a surfer dude.   I don't mind that, but when you're interviewing for Project Management positions, looking like you spend your day sitting on the beach isn't exactly the best thing for portraying your professionality.

On the other hand, we have a great beach.  I used to drive 1206 (yes exactly) miles from my place in Pennsylvania to this particular beach to do what these folks are doing now.  I'd lay out and bake and turn nut brown and come back and make everyone jealous.  I wouldn't lay out flat on the ground here facing the street again though, the beach is angled fairly sharply to the water's edge.  One time I hit the perfect storm of time of day, sun angle and my laying feet toward the street and managed to sunburn my sinuses.  I never want to go through that again!

Although this picture was taken in June, I would bet that the beach today will be just about as crowded.  There are no tarballs yet washing up here, no Kiss of BP's Incompetence destroying the beach yet, and plenty of sand to lay out on.  This may not be forever since the Gulf Stream is only 8 miles off shore here.

If you're planning on coming, now's a good time to do it.  You can even go up and parasail like one person did in this picture.  I've wanted to do that but have always wondered how I'd taste to a shark.   It looks like a wonderful adventure, I'd have to take a camera up in a plastic bag if I went, but I think most likely it will just be a wonder rather than a memory - I'll probably never do it.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Air Plants in a Bottlebrush Tree

There were a few things that I'd see when I came down to Florida as a snowbird that would have me staring and smiling.  Obviously the Monarch Butterflies around here are one, and I usually just stop and smile when I see them while walking around town.

One of the others would be the air plants.   I'm fascinated by these things, hanging from trees growing on seemingly nothing, just sitting there being green. 

When you drive south and get to South Carolina you begin to see Spanish Moss hanging from the trees.  Usually only in coastal areas, you will see more of it as you get further south.  Great grey green ropes of fuzzy and soft mats hanging from trees and dripping over the highways like icicles that sway in the breezes.  The link will tell you that it grows as far north as coastal Maryland and Virginia but I have never seen it that far up.  It means that it would also grow at the Jersey Shore, but it is doubtful I will ever be in a position to try, I'm too happy here in Wilton Manors and am setting down some deep roots.

One year my local plant store got some Spanish Moss that was live and sold it as an accent plant.  I was given some by a friend who knew how fascinated I was with it.  That year I had Spanish Moss growing in my Japanese Cut Leaf Maple Tree in the back yard, and the Robins stole most of it for nesting material.

In my front yard, I have a Bottlebrush Tree.  I also have quite a few clusters of Air Plants growing on it.  That picture above is the largest one that I have seen on that tree and is probably about a foot across.  If you're reading this and are metric, take your shoe off and look at that thing on the end of your leg.

When I say growing on it, I mean that tree is encrusted with them.  These are the smaller variety,  they don't get larger than the palm of your hand.  For some reason they really have taken a liking to that tree.   The bottlebrush tree I have has literally hundreds of these plants growing on it and I'm quite pleased with that.   In my long dog walks, if I see one knocked out of a tree, I'll take it with me and tie it to my own tree with a bit of wire.  You can see that one of the plants was tied to this particular limb on the far right of the picture near the middle of the edge. 

When I was a snowbird, before I would make the drive back to Pennsylvania, I'd find one or two of these plants and take them with me.   One year I went so far as to grow one in a small greenhouse that I bought at Ikea and managed to keep it and a rope of Spanish Moss alive in my shower for over a year.  I would say the best place for these plants is on a tree, preferrably in my yard.

Now that I'm here, I'm propagating both.   Since they're both from the same general botanical families, where one grows, I plant the other.   I found some Spanish Moss growing happily on my Bougainvillea behind my bedroom window so I tied a few small Tillandsia to it, and am watching them grow through the window.

Quite a pleasant way to wake up, looking out over natural beauty, I'd say!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Raising Mosquitoes for Fun and Profit

Ok, maybe not fun...

And maybe not profit either...

Not even intentionally. 

Yesterday I walked out onto my porch and surveyed my domain.  It was quiet, the sun was out, there were birds on the wing.  The Parrots were squawking in a nearby fruit tree looking for their next meal.  All looked right with the world.

I noticed that I had an "air plant" growing in my bottle brush tree in front of the house that was the size of a small melon.  As I looked down to step off the porch I examined my cactus that I have in two pots there.  It wasn't the best sight.  Having been two days since the torrent of rains stopped, things had for the most part dried up.  The cactus still had a little water in the ceramic pot they're in, I could make that better by drilling drain holes, but they almost never get any water where they're at.  That they had water in them at all shows how hard it rained over the weekend.

Or as a friend here would say "I need Le Ark to avoid Le Flood".

Looking into that puddle I spotted something moving.  Wrigglers.  Mosquitoes.  With a shudder, I picked up the pots and drained them one after another.  That's part of the problem living in the tropics-adjacent.  Mosquitoes and other invasives don't die out over winter cold snaps.  This year it got cold enough to kill off most of the iguanas, but they're coming back to dine on my bougainvillea plants until I find that Special Food to send them on their way.

Mosquitoes will breed in a tablespoon of water inside of a leaf.  My backyard and my neighbor's are a perfect example of that.  I'm used to seeing them because my hedges that afford me so much privacy are so lush that I can't clean them out properly to get all the leaf litter.  There are so many that I turn on a fan to use the pool in the late evenings so I can blow them South.  Fort Lauderdale can have them.

This morning after I walked the dog, inside the house I was standing in the kitchen eating a chicken patty on a biscuit and watched the mosquitoes bang their brainless heads against the glass trying to turn me into a meal.  That was when I noticed that my "Lucky Bamboo" had wrigglers in it as well.   That was a first because I usually don't get them in the bamboo.   There are two tricks you can try if you keep lucky bamboo or any other potted plant. 

One is to get a betta fish and put it in the jar with the plants.   Mosquitoes will breed in the water and feed the fish.  There *is* a third element to that little cycle of life, but I'm not certain what it is - so research it before you try that one.

The other is what I have been doing for decades.  If you are plagued by mosquitoes in your lucky bamboo, or any other potted plant, drop a few copper pennies in the jar.   It interrupts the mosquito's life cycle and they never live long enough to become nasty biting creatures.  Simple and basic, and I'm sure we all have a penny jar somewhere that we won't miss a small handful to fill the pots in the yard.  I did that a long time ago and it does seem to help.