What access does public have to historic Broward County-bought cottage?

Millions spent to buy, restore, renovate Carpenter House from top to bottom

HOLLYWOOD, Fla. - It's a beachfront cottage. There is a cabana house and an art studio.

The oceanfront compound at 4414 Surf Road in Hollywood is owned by the Broward County taxpayer. The property was bought in 2004 and is part of the Broward County park system.

Millions and millions have been spent to buy, restore and renovate it from top to bottom. But the general public has had virtually no access.

Those who exercise along Surf Road every day often look.

"I wonder (what it is) all the time," resident Richie Naples said.

It's called the Carpenter House, built in 1941 and bought by Broward County using funds from 2000 Safe Parks and Land Preservation Bond Referendum and the Florida Communities Trust.

Broward County bought the property 11 years ago to be used for meetings, weddings and as a marine education center.

However, Local 10 News had learned this year, only two nearby homeowners associations have held meetings at the location, and there has been one wedding.

The Anne Kolb Nature Center uses the beach behind the house for the "Sea Turtles and Babies" program in the summer.

"We didn't envision it to be this poorly utilized," former Broward County Commissioner Sue Gunzburger told Local 10.

Gunzburger led the way to buy the property for the public use.

"People can't go in. They have no idea what a hidden treasure there is there," Gunzburger said. "And the art studio really never opened. The gift shop, no one gets in, so how can anybody buy a gift?"

The Carpenter House may be the most expensive and underutilized public facility in Broward County. In 2004, the county spent $3.7 million to buy the property and house. Records show $73,000 has been spent on house design and more $1 million for construction.

"The things that I had hoped to happen aren't," Gunzburger said.

The county built a 25-space parking lot for the Carpenter House as well -- $68,419 was spent for parking lot design, $375,085 for parking lot construction and $116,916 for parking lot tree mitigation.

That's $560,420 for 25 parking spaces that are not open to the public for beach parking when there are no events at the house.

Water, electric, telephone, supplies and maintenance costs are $35,000 of taxpayer money a year.

"It's being maintained beautifully, but for what, and for whom?" community activist Brenda Chalifour asked.

The Carpenter House is only available if people want to rent it for a meeting or a wedding, but the county's website says but no more than 50 people.

Dan West, the director of Broward County Parks and Recreation Division, said the house is still a work in progress.

"It's still a work in progress, obviously," West said.

West said Nova Southeastern University has spent hundreds and thousands to renovate a pool for a sea turtle exhibit. West said it takes time to get permits to house turtles. A caretaker who will live on the property has to be hired by NSU. No date has been set for an actual turtle to be on exhibit here yet.

The gift shop would be converted into a classroom for marine education.

"It's a great investment," West said. "It's a great investment because you are preserving a piece of history."

West agrees that most people in Broward County don't know about the facility.

"I can guarantee in the next 10 to 15 years, people will look back on this and say this is a great destination location for people to come and visit," he said.

Click for more information on the Carpenter House.

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