County will take control of former Air Force land
By Sherri C. Ranta
The transfer of 601 acres at the former Homestead Air Force Base to Miami-Dade County will begin this fall, but redevelopment of the land is clouded by a federal lawsuit.
After a decade of negotiations marked by lawsuits and land-use proposals that included a commercial airport, the county is accepting the free land in as-is condition, said Diana M. Gonzalez, project coordinator.
Transfer of the land is to start in September with 400 acres in 11 deeds now under review, she said. Another 200 acres will be leased to the county after cleanup of the base's industrial area.
The surplus land is next to Homestead Air Reserve Base and touches Florida's Turnpike.
Miami-Dade officials once refused the land until resolution of a lawsuit against the federal government, which nixed a proposed airport proposal, was settled. The suit is pending in US District Court.
Homestead Air Base Development Initiative, an investment group hoping to put a commercial airport on the land, and the Miami Building and Construction Trade Council (AFL-CIO) are plaintiffs.
The county, Ms. Gonzalez said, changed its stance last month about taking the land when federal officials offered a timetable allowing a year after the suit is settled to begin redevelopment.
"There's a cloud on the title until the suit is settled," she said. "They will not be able to get financing."
Discussions about reuse of the land include recreational, retail and government business.
City Manager Curt Ivy said Homestead officials hope to see development promoting job creation.
"I hope it's something that complements the air base," he said, "and hopefully, it will be related to Homeland Security operations."
Miami-Dade County and Homestead officials continue looking for ways to redevelop more than 600 acres of land at the former Homestead Air Force Base while awaiting deed transfers.
"In this case, time is on our side," said Diana M. Gonzalez, Homestead project coordinator. "What has happened since negotiations started in 1993 is unprecedented growth in Homestead and South Dade," Ms. Gonzalez said.
"We want to make sure that property is put to the highest and best use," she said, "and to maximize the job-creation potential of the site."
County officials, backed by recommendations from the non-profit Urban Land Institute, a group hired in 2001 to study redevelopment at the site, propose environmental-education and recreational uses for the site that would not damage the neighboring Everglades.
"We could put in some type of retail center now, given the amount of residential coming into the area," she said. "One thing that's not going to be put there is residential. Residential creates temporary jobs creation," Ms. Gonzalez said. "Our goal, consistent with federal requirements, is to have permanent job creation."
Ms. Gonzalez said previously that a "variety of uses are viable for those properties. Any development or proposals would be considered through a competitive bidding process."
A new 150-member US Coast Guard unit, the Maritime Safety and Security Team, is renovating and plans to lease a building on the site next to the base. The Coast Guard unit will share support services available at the reserve base, Ms. Gonzalez said.
Department of Homeland Security officials are looking at the site for facilities. "We find a portion of the property could accommodate DHS facilities," she said. "The county could lease the land back to the federal government for future use."
A pending lawsuit by the Homestead Air Base Initiative, an investment group hoping to build a commercial airport on the land, and the Miami Building and Construction Trade Council could delay deals for private development.
Washington, DC-based Piper Rudnick attorney Lawrence Levinson said Tuesday that he filed a motion for summary judgment on behalf of the Homestead Air Base Initiative and the union in December but a ruling has not been issued.
"We still haven't seen any response," he said. The case is well-litigated, Mr. Levinson said, with 85 entries on the court docket from January 2001 to December. "This case is far from over," he said.
The initiative, according to published reports, is a group financially linked to the family of the late Jorge Mas Canosa, an influential Cuban-born businessman and lobbyist who co-founded and was chairman of the Cuban American National Foundation.
The suit, Mr. Levinson said, contends undue political influence from the final days of the Clinton administration on the Air Force's decision to ban development of a commercial airport at the site. The suit seeks to reverse the decision, he said. Miami-Dade County filed a similar suit against the federal government regarding its decision but dropped it in 2001.