Around the State- Southeast- June 2002
Anti-growth forces brace for war against a new slate of pro-business commissioners.
By Pat Dunnigan
As the person charged with trying to attract business to Martin County for the past 11 years, Ted Astolfi is used to feeling like a pariah. Here in this enclave of fierce anti-growth sentiment, attitudes toward development are summed up by a county commissioner's assistant: "What a bad word."
It is a community that defines itself largely by what it doesn't want to be. "We don't want to look like Fort Lauderdale or Dade County," says Lloyd Brumfield, a retired Dade County schools administrator and one of the county's staunchest environmental defenders.
For years, those who shared Brumfield's philosophy held the upper hand. They controlled the county commission and adopted some of the toughest growth-management regulations in the state. There was no such thing as wetlands "mitigation." Wetlands were to be left alone, period. Developers had to navigate a rigid permitting process that took months to complete.
Such things left Astolfi, executive director of the business development board of Martin County, and his colleagues often feeling like they were being sent to fight a war with no weapons. "We had to work six times as hard to get what little business we had," Astolfi says.
Despite having per-capita income second only to Palm Beach County's, Martin County's economy -- as measured by the kinds of businesses that bring money in from outside -- was stagnating, Astolfi says. But things changed in 2000, when voters replaced all three members of the county commission's anti-growth block with pro-business candidates. It was a clean sweep for those in the county who believed it was time to open the gates, at least a little bit.
But it has also ratcheted up the emotions on both sides, with residents whipsawed between competing studies, accusations of exaggerations, even a bit of name-calling.
Brumfield says the election was more the result of a "whopping big campaign" by the chamber of commerce, big developers and the business lobby than a reflection of popular feeling. Now, he says, it's war.
The first battles will be fought this summer over changes the new commission has made to the county's comprehensive plan, including relaxing the rules for creating commercial zones and exempting public projects from wetland restrictions.
Richard Grosso, who runs a public interest, environmental and land-use law clinic at Nova Southeastern University and who represents two groups of plaintiffs challenging the changes, says Martin County residents have benefited from one of the best growth-management plans in the state and are right to feel threatened by the change in course.
Brumfield agrees. "I think it's do or die right now. If we can't stop this, then we are going to have to change our name to Broward County north."
In the News
Boca Raton -- Florida Atlantic University's College of Education received $655,000 in grants from the South Florida Annenberg Challenge. The college will use the money to identify south Florida's most successful teaching practices, build a website to aid aspiring school administrators and begin a speakers program to educate and inform principals, teachers and community leaders.
Lynn University is embroiled in a controversy arising from its relationship with Professional Transport Systems, which was paid to deliver corpses for the school's embalming classes, apparently without proper authorization. University President Donald Ross says school officials did not know that the troubled cadaver transport company was bringing in bodies for use by mortuary science students without the consent of family members. State regulators revoked the company's operating license in April.
Cooper City -- City officials are vying for $2 million in funding from the county's parks preservation bond money to purchase the Cooper Colony Golf and Country Club and turn it into a city golf course.
Fort Lauderdale -- Minto Communities Inc. has broken ground on a 31-story, 319-unit condominium complex south of Las Olas on North New River Drive. Units will sell for just under $200,000 to just over $300,000. Occupancy is planned for early 2004.
Hallendale Beach -- A judge dismissed a lawsuit challenging the city's at-large voting system because Fort Lauderdale lawyer Mikel Jones did not identify the plaintiffs. Jones says the voting system impedes the ability of minorities to get elected. Plaintiffs were not identified, he says, out of fear that they would be harassed. Jones says if necessary he will refile the lawsuit and identify the plaintiffs.
Hollywood -- Passenger traffic at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport has returned to pre-Sept. 11 levels, with approximately 54,000 travelers a day passing through its concourses.
Members of the Washington, D.C.-based plumbers and pipe fitters union are awaiting the outcome of a Department of Labor investigation into the union's investment in the newly reopened Westin Diplomat Resort and Spa. The union's pension fund owns the $800-million resort, which was plagued by delays and cost overruns during four years of construction.
Some citizens on the city's west side are criticizing plans to build an elaborate Arts Park in downtown Hollywood, fearing the city's $5-million to $7-million investment will divert money from improvements needed elsewhere. Broward County commissioners have committed $5 million toward the park, which is to include a renovated amphitheater, dance and art studios and classrooms.
Palm Beach Gardens -- Investigators from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement have found human remains in a wooded area surrounding the Menorah Gardens cemetery, where a group of families has accused cemetery workers of smashing burial vaults and unearthing bodies to make room for new burials.
Pembroke Pines -- City commissioners will purchase an option to buy a 114-acre tract next to city hall that they hope will be the site of a hotel and convention center. The $5,000 option gives the city 90 days to buy the site for $24.8 million.
South Florida -- South Florida's economy has nearly returned to pre-Sept. 11 levels, according to a Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce task force. Occupancy rates for hotels are down by less than 5%. Last September, occupancy was off more than 20%. Meanwhile, unemployment in Broward County has fallen from 6.2% in January to 5.5%. In Miami-Dade, unemployment is down to 7.2%, from 7.7% in February.
Benson Moves Up
HOLLYWOOD -- Longtime Deputy City Manager Cameron Benson has been named interim city manager, replacing Sam Finz two months before Finz retires. A divided city commission was concerned about Finz's lame-duck status during budget negotiations. If named to the position permanently, Benson would be Hollywood's first black city manager.
Redlands squares off with Miami-Dade County in an effort to keep its rural identity.
By David Villano
In a county increasingly defined by sprawl and gridlock, the south Miami-Dade community of the Redlands is quite literally a breath of fresh air: Lush farmland, vast open spaces and strict zoning laws that require home sites of at least five acres. It also is the center of one of the county's fiercest incorporation battles, pitting those determined to maintain the area's rural character against those championing the rights of landowners.
The Redlands, a roughly 65-square-mile area northwest of Homestead with a population of 15,000, is one of a handful of communities in the county contemplating cityhood. Those in favor of making the Redlands its own city say a smaller government will shrink bureaucracy and improve services and accountability. Opponents worry cityhood will bring higher taxes. About half of Miami-Dade's 2 million residents live in unincorporated areas, receiving services from the county; the rest live in one of 32 incorporated municipalities.
In areas that have incorporated in recent years -- Pinecrest, Key Biscayne and Miami Lakes, for example -- property values have risen dramatically, mainly because homeowners believe smaller, more responsive government is worth paying extra for.
But in the Redlands, incorporation could produce the opposite effect. As mostly rural farmland, the Redlands lies outside the county's urban development boundary (UDB), keeping development in check and land values low. Many residents like it that way. By incorporating, they argue, zoning laws that prevent or discourage development will be insulated from the pressures of county politics.
Indeed, in recent years much of the area's farmland has been acquired by speculators and outsiders who are eager for county officials to push the UDB farther west, as they have done in other parts of Miami-Dade. That would open the door for high-density development in the Redlands, which would send land values soaring.
"No question, the county commission has a reputation for being developer-friendly, and many landowners see the potential for urbanizing the Redlands area," says County Commissioner Katy Sorenson. Unlike many of her colleagues, she is a staunch incorporation supporter. "As a city, the Redlands will add a layer of government that will protect its rural flavor. That makes developers and some landowners very nervous."
Incorporation opponents say it isn't that simple. They fear higher taxes and economic isolation. A well-heeled group of landowners and bankers has raised more than $100,000 to oppose the measure. Last November, after hearing from at least six high-profile lobbyists arguing against it, county commissioners indefinitely deferred a vote on a proposal calling for an incorporation referendum in the Redlands.
Sorenson hopes the commission revives discussion of the issue by year's end. "The residents are frustrated," she says. "I think the votes are there, but we all need to be patient. When it comes to Miami-Dade politics, nothing comes easily."
In the News
Coral Gables -- Citing a need to work more closely with its New Jersey-based parent and with other AT&T subsidiaries, AT&T Latin America will move its headquarters to Washington, D.C., from here, where it employs 56.
Miami -- Carnival Corp. (NYSE-CCL), the world's biggest cruise line, pleaded guilty to six felony counts related to the dumping of oily waste from six of its ships and will pay $18 million in fines and restitution. It also faces five years' probation. In a plea agreement with federal prosecutors, the cruise ship operator admitted that the Sensation, Ecstasy, Fantasy, Imagination, Paradise and Tropicale cruise ships illegally dumped the waste from bilge tanks from 1998 to 2001.
Codina Construction Corp. has broken ground on a high-rise residential condominium building in downtown Miami. The 19-story, 199-unit NEO Lofts project is expected to be completed in November 2003.
Miami Mayor Manny Diaz has signed into law an ordinance creating a civilian review board to investigate police misconduct within the scandal-plagued department. It will be among the first such boards in the nation with the power to subpoena police officers and other public officials.
Gov. Jeb Bush has appointed David Lawrence, former Miami Herald publisher and chairman of the Florida Partnership for School Readiness, to lead a panel to review the state's child-protection system in Miami-Dade County. "The recent case of Rilya Wilson has raised very troubling questions," Bush said, referring to the 5-year-old Miami girl under state care who was missing more than a year before anyone noticed.
Miami Beach -- Mount Sinai Medical Center and sister hospital Miami Heart Institute will lay off 70 employees, or roughly 2% of its combined workforce. Officials say the cuts will be in areas unrelated to patient care.
Miami-Dade -- County Commissioner Miriam Alonso is the latest Miami-Dade official facing public corruption allegations. Alonso, popular within Miami's Cuban-American community, has been indicted on charges of misusing county commission money and of stealing from campaign funds. She faces 15 years if convicted. Also charged in the case are her husband, who served as her campaign manager, and her chief of staff, Elba Morales. Gov. Jeb Bush has suspended Alonso from office pending an outcome of the case.
A non-profit consumer research group has named Baptist Hospital of South Florida one of the nation's top 50 hospitals. Baptist's pulmonary care unit has been rated among the nation's top 10. Washington-based Consumer's Checkbook based its ratings on physician surveys, mortality rates and on scores from the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Health Care Organizations.
Miami-Dade County has submitted a bid to host the 2004 Democratic National Convention. Miami-Dade will compete with Detroit, Baltimore, New York and Boston for the event, which is expected to draw 30,000 visitors and pump $150 million into the local economy. County officials say they also will bid to host the 2004 Republican National Convention.
Miami Lakes -- Taiwan-based Nien Made, the world's largest maker of mini-blinds, will open a U.S. base of operations here to service North America, Latin America and the Caribbean. The company expects to hire 150.
Posner Estate: Beneficiary Battle
MIAMI-DADE -- Attorneys for family members of the late business tycoon Victor Posner are predicting a costly, protracted court battle after a Miami-Dade circuit court judge threw out a proposed settlement between feuding relatives and Posner's one-time girlfriend and manager. Posner died in February at age 83 only days after signing a new will naming 53-year-old girlfriend Brenda Nestor as his chief beneficiary. His estate is estimated at $195 million. Four children and three grandchildren insist that the ailing Posner was not mentally competent to sign the will, arguing instead that a will signed in 1996 remains valid. A related lawsuit accuses Nestor of looting and mismanaging Posner's assets prior to his death.