April 16, 2014

Around the State- Central- July 2002

Ken Ibold | 7/1/2002
Making the Grade
Land-use lawyer Ken Wright finds converts among his critics.

By Ken Ibold

When Gov. Jeb Bush appointed Seminole County land-use lawyer Ken Wright chairman of the Environmental Regulation Commission two years ago, critics claimed the move was akin to assigning a fox to guard a henhouse.

Wright has long been a champion of growth and property owners' rights -- a stance that has put him at odds with environmentalists, particularly in Seminole County but also in east Orange County. Wright contends growth is not an enemy if approached responsibly -- and says his biggest quarrel is with regulators and environmental groups that want to regulate away property owner rights without compensating owners for the loss of value.

Wright, a prominent Republican, helped stage -- and ultimately win -- key legal battles during the presidential election re-count controversy in 2000. Some saw Bush's appointment of Wright as a political bone to reward his dogged determination to turn the election in the governor's brother's favor.

Silencing critics, however, has been the least of Wright's worries since his appointment. On the top shelf was a pressing battle to set fertilizer runoff limits in the Everglades. The ERC, charged with setting the standards the Department of Environmental Protection then enforces, has been performing a balancing act in trying to mollify developers, environmentalists, farmers and state and federal regulators with water quality standards that are environmentally sound, economically feasible and suitably enforceable.

That assignment, Wright says, has to overshadow the politics and vested interest of everyone involved. "There's no way the Everglades problem is going to be resolved by demagoguery. It can't be done with one person winning at the expense of everyone else," Wright says.

Wright's standing among environmentalists -- who tried to torpedo his appointment -- has improved during his two years of work on the Everglades phosphorus runoff issue. "He appears to be moving the commission in a positive direction," says Charles Lee, senior vice president of the Florida Audubon Society. "He's very straight-up, and he doesn't pull any punches. But he doesn't hide his agenda."

Jacksonville land-use lawyer Marcia Tjoflat, who was appointed to the seven-member ERC last year, says the challenge is learning to see issues such as Everglades water quality from all points of view.

That skill, says Wright, comes naturally to him. He calls himself a "passionate practical environmentalist" with an enthusiasm for fishing and the outdoors. He also says the contentious Everglades water quality issue will soon be overshadowed by a statewide water quality and quantity crisis of even greater proportions.

As the ERC finalizes the phosphorus runoff issue in the next year, its attention will turn to polluted and "impaired" bodies of water. Wright hopes to "play Monty Hall" in dealing with that looming issue with the same style that leads Audubon's Lee to grade him a B so far.

Wright is pleased with having a convert but says, "At the end of the day,I would settle for a C from everybody as opposed to an A from one and an F from another."

In the News

Altamonte Springs -- The Altamonte Mall has unveiled a $26-million expansion project that will include an 18-screen movie theater by AMC Entertainment Inc. The expansion also will include two free-standing restaurants and a renovation of the mall's center court.

Celebration -- Software developer Youknowbest.com changed its name to Channel Intelligence Inc. and launched a new business model, shifting from a business-to-consumer model to a business-to-business model. The company now provides its e-commerce
software directly to clients to use on their own websites.

Central Florida -- Seeking new technology to produce hydrogen closer to the launch pad, NASA has awarded five Florida universities $8.1 million. The University of Central Florida and the University of Florida are heading up the project. NASA currently relies on a 50-truck convoy to haul 300,000 pounds of hydrogen from New Orleans for each shuttle launch.

Kissimmee -- The Osceola County Commission picked Xentury City Development as its partner for a $100-million convention center. Construction is set to begin this year on the 250,000-sq.-ft. center and 30-story hotel at a site bounded by Osceola Parkway, International Drive and Highway 192.

Lake County -- West Palm Beach developer Karl Corp. will buy 2,086 acres of citrus land from Disney for $22.2 million at a site five miles from Disney World.

Lake Mary -- Siemens AG says it will sell its telecommunications equipment plant to Sanmina-SCI Corp. of San Jose, Calif. The plant's 300 workers likely will keep their jobs under the new owner.

Melbourne -- Goldfield Corp. (Amex-GV) plans to sell its 96-year-old mining subsidiary to a private party. The company, which builds power substations and installs fiber-optic cable on top of transmission lines, says the sale will allow it to concentrate on its core business.

Orange City -- Ocean Design Inc. says it will move its headquarters and 240 jobs from Ormond Beach into a west Volusia area where officials have wanted to create a technology corridor along I-4. The $25-million-a-year company specializes in underwater electronics and fiber-optic systems. The new facility will be able to accommodate 100 to 150 additional employees.

Orange County -- Hard Rock Cafe International announced that it and the Seminole Tribe of Florida have raised $315 million to move forward on two previously announced casino/hotel projects. The resorts will be built on Seminole land in Tampa and Hollywood.

Orlando -- The saga of the troubled Sandy Lake Towers hotel/condo project off International Drive took another turn when a buyer appeared who was poised to pump an additional $44 million into the unfinished, bankrupt project. That deal fell through when the buyer's financing failed to materialize. The project is headed for auction in August.

Ticketmaster cut 221 jobs from its downtown call center as part of the company's ongoing consolidation effort. The company has been under pressure to consolidate as more of its bookings are done through the internet, which now accounts for about 40% of ticket sales.

Sanford -- Pan American Airways will begin service between Sanford and Grand Bahama International Airport as part of the airline's plan to expand service into the Caribbean and Latin America.

Titusville -- Knight Enterprises of Vero Beach has taken over a 620,000-sq.-ft. facility, which once held McDonnell Douglas' Tomahawk missile business, where it plans to expand its weapons manufacturing business. The expansion initially will involve about 200 workers making rifles, lasers, scopes and other weapon accessories, with a potential for about 450 jobs.

Big Plans for Pebbles
ORLANDO -- Veteran restaurateur Manny Garcia III has bought back the Pebbles restaurant chain, which he founded in 1986 and sold in 1998. Garcia, who is also involved in Manuel's on the 28th, Harvey's Bistro and Culinary Concepts Inc., plans to expand the four-restaurant chain.

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