County manager will recommend delay in marketing former Homestead Air Force base land
By Frank Norton
County and private developers eager to market and commercialize the former Homestead Air Force Base should cool plans for a while, Miami-Dade Manager Steve Shiver said this week after conferring with county attorneys.
Mr. Shiver says he will tell county commissioners that a pending lawsuit regarding the site, 25 miles south of Miami, has put a cloud over the property's ownership and thus the county's ability to attract a willing developer.
Although the US Department of Defense still owns the land, negotiations are well underway to hand it over to Miami-Dade County under an economic development conveyance, or property transfer.
A pending lawsuit, however, by the Homestead Air Base Development Initiative (HABDI), whose majority shareholder is the family of the late Jorge Mas Canosa, would obscure "the conveyance of property," perhaps transferring possession but hindering the county's ability to bid it out to developers," Mr. Shiver said.
HABDI, which a couple of years ago sought to develop the site into a commercial airfield, is still challenging the US Air Force's Jan. 16, 2001, decision that prohibits commercial aviation on the eco-sensitive land 8 miles from Biscayne and Everglades national parks.
"I'm frustrated. We need to move forward with this because it's a big resource that's not being used," said Commissioner Katy Sorenson, whose district includes Homestead.
The Urban Land Institute, hired by the county commission to study the Homestead land and its future, recommended various development possibilities consistent with the Everglades restoration, including eco-tourism and other so-called clean business.
"That's a big piece of economic development that we lose out on if we have to languish through a trial," Ms. Sorenson said. "But like I've said before, HABDI is the gift that keeps on giving."
Still, county officials say Air Force officials are holding steadfast to transfer plans, which could be final "within a few months," said Assistant County Attorney Richard Rosenthal. "The Air Force has told us under no uncertain terms that from a legal perspective the litigation is not something that will hold up the conveyance."
And despite the blow to development plans, Mr. Shiver said, "we're still moving rapidly with negotiations and are motivated to get the property transferred."
Last week, Assistant County Manager Bill Johnson and counsel met with Department of Defense officials in Washington regarding the transfer of the still-contested property.
Mr. Johnson said only that negotiations have been smooth.
Ironically, Miami-Dade County was actually a plaintiff alongside HABDI until about two years ago, when commissioners voted eight to five to drop the airport proposal in favor of more ecological business alternatives.