Florida East Coast Industries is one of the largest, if not the largest, property owner in southeast Florida. At issue, tomorrow, is whether the county commission will accede to the company's plan to rezone the former rail line stretching near Ludlam Road, from approximately the airport in a straight, uninterrupted line to US 1.
FECI evinced no interest, other than land-banking, this property until citizens began thinking what a good idea it would be to create a huge linear park, turning the rail line into a unique feature that could be used daily by hundreds if not thousands of nearby residents. It is an area of the county desperately lacking public amenities like parks.
Suddenly, FECI began moving toward a plan to rezone and thus increase the value of the property.
It is hard, of course, to find money for public parks. In this case, however, the case will be made that the by bonding a purchase price, the park will smartly pay for itself through increases in property values nearby and, hence, tax revenues.
In other parts of the United States, there would be leadership and a spirit of cooperation to bring together community aspiration (raise your hand if you want more development in your neighborhood!), private property owners, and funding.
The missing ingredient, here, isn't money. FECI would get its money, if it helped push for funding allocations from the recent Amendment 1 victory (a portion of the documentary stamp tax will be allocated to land acquisition). The missing ingredient is leadership.
Unfortunately -- except in one recent case, the removal of incumbent Linda Bell from the commission (this will be, by the way, her final commission meeting) -- have not held county commissioners accountable at the polls. Two good examples of the tendency of local elected officials to abdicate: how commissioners surrender to Florida Power and Light. Whatever the corporation wants, it gets, and routinely bulldozes straight through expert recommendations of planning staff. The better example: the Miami River where a vision for using the waterway as the Central Park of Miami was crushed by land use lawyers, lobbyists, and developers like Jorge Perez (a board member of FECI) eager to use "public access" as little as possible to achieve their maximum profits.
FECI is not going to lose anything, by the commission refusing to vote and to delay on tomorrow's zoning decision. On the other hand, the public's dream for Ludlam Trail will be badly compromised if the commission accepts FECI's plan. Instead of cooperation, the Ludlam Trail advocates will be in an adversarial relationship with a powerful developer in a hostile political climate.
By denying or delaying the vote, the county commission could use its leverage for a better outcome.