Should it be illegal?

By Bob Norman - Investigative Reporter

Many in Hallandale Beach say Mayor Joy Cooper crossed the line in her relationship with big developer Related Group.

In June she helped push through a controversial Related Group plan to build a $100 million, 31-story hotel tower called Beachwalk on the Intracoastal. In July, Related Group threw Cooper a fundraiser that raised her roughly $20,000, nearly a third of the total amount of money she's raised so far.

The mayor told me there was no quid pro quo and no deal that her vote would get her any campaign money. That would be illegal. But absent concrete evidence that the fundraiser was contingent on the vote -- and there is none in this case -- it's perfectly legal, timing and all 

"I've known Related Group for over ten years," Cooper said about the fundraiser. "They've done other projects in my city. They are my supporters."

But Hallandale residents who opposed the Beachwalk project at 2600 Hallandale Beach Boulevard say it shouldn't be allowed.

"I think that's a crock of baloney," said Lou Parsons, president of The Islander condo association. "I think she took advantage of the fact that it's an election year."

As part of the deal, the city allowed Related Group to provide fewer parking spots than required. Nearby business owner Adrienne Despaigne said parking is already a problem in the area along Diana Drive. She said the problem will only get worse -- and the city will have to deal with it at some point.

"I think it's kicking the can down the road," said Despaigne.

When she learned of the Related Group fundraiser for the mayor, Despaigne said she thought it was "awful."

"If it's not already written that it's unethical, I think laws should be changed," she said.

Commissioner Keith London, who is running against Cooper, voted against the deal with the developer. He said the city should have gotten more in return for giving the developer a half-acre piece road and approving 84 residential units for the project.

He wanted Related Group to pony up $1 million to pay for improvements to the area but that idea had no support from other commissioners. "I didn't feel that they were giving back to the city enough," he said. 

The developer is promising to spend $2.5 million on nearby North Beach Park, where it is building a restaurant and will provide a shuttle for hotel guests and condo residents. While the developer will manage the park, it will remain open to the public.

The city's Planning and Zoning Board voted unanimously against the project. Chairman Arnold Cooper said he felt the project was too big for the area, which already suffers from terrible traffic, and that the deal amounted to "giveaway" to Related Group.

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