After meeting on Thursday, Broward County and Hollywood commissioners still disagree over where to put a new 911 communications tower.
The meeting between both sets of lawmakers was the latest highlight of a nine-month battle between the county and city over the location of the 911 tower. The Broward commission has wanted the tower placed in the county-owned West Lake Park but has needed the city’s approval to build the tower there.
Hollywood commissioners and local residents, however, have said the tower would be an eyesore in the park and could be damaged during future hurricanes. The city instead wants the tower placed atop the Circ hotel and apartment highrise on Young Circle in downtown Hollywood.
A critical roadblock has been that experts for the city and county disagree on which location would provide the best coverage. Commissioners for both sides agreed on Thursday to hire an independent expert to decide on the best and most cost-effective location.
“The alternative is we’d be litigating. We can be in court for six months to two years. Where does that put us?” Broward Mayor Mark Bogen said after the meeting. “At least if we can try to work something out with the city, it gets the system up and running.”
The new tower is part of a larger countywide project to address communication failures that occurred among emergency response officials during the 2018 Parkland school shooting and the 2017 shooting at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. The county is adding six other radio towers as part of the plan to replace the county’s 911 regional communications system.
The radio tower in Hollywood would provide emergency coverage to Hallandale Beach, Hollywood and Dania Beach. If placed in West Lake Park, it would be made of 300-foot-tall metal poles that sit on concrete. A 25-foot antenna would be atop the structure.
The Broward County Commission has argued the park location is the most affordable and convenient option. Construction of the tower in West Lake would cost an estimated $900,000 and could be completed by the end of the year, the county has said.
But the park, which includes a three-mile stretch of mangrove estuary, is popular among kayakers and cyclists. Local residents and city commissioners have said the tower would impact recreation and the ecosystem and be a scar that could decrease nearby property values. Commissioners said a strong storm or flooding could also damage the tower. Thursday's meeting came after Hollywood commissioners on Wednesday voted unanimously against the West Lake Park option.
Hollywood instead wants the tower placed atop the Circ hotel and apartments. The county has placed 911 antennae on top of building rooftops in the past, and Hollywood's expert has concluded that putting the tower on the Circ would be the best option.
“It never made sense that you would put an antenna in a low-lying, basically sea-level park that’s a nature preserve,” Hollywood Commissioner Caryl Shuham said. “A mile away we have a 300-foot building that is ripe to put this antenna on the roof.”
The county’s experts, however, say that putting the tower on the Circ could result in less adequate coverage and reception. It would also be more expensive than placing it in West Lake Park.
Frustrations over the months-long disagreement were clear throughout the nearly three-hour meeting. County Commissioner Michael Udine opposed the plan to hire an independent expert to settle the dispute. He said it will just prolong the dispute between the county and city and delay completion of the upgrade to the countywide system. He proposed letting Hollywood move forward with the Circ plan at its own risk.
“People are going to die if we don’t get this done,” he said during the meeting. “I’m not willing to hold this up anymore.”
Commissioners for the county said they were prepared to take the issue to court. But both sides ultimately agreed to let an independent third-party expert review both locations and decide which is better for the tower. The process could take months depending on how long it takes to choose the experts and conduct the review.
Hollywood residents left the meeting concerned about the potential result of the plan.
Siobhan McLaughlin said she hopes that the third-party expert will decide against putting the tower in West Lake Park.
Putting it there “basically destroys some of the land, some of the wildlife,” she said. “I think it’ll affect property values. I think it is basically not as safe as the location would be if it were on the Circ.”