State attorney general: Redevelopment agency should not allocate funds for new Camillus House project
By Jacquelyn Weiner and Zachary S. Fagenson
A state attorney general's opinion could mean bad news for plans of Miami's Community Redevelopment Agency to help fund construction of a new site for the Camillus House outside the agency's bounds.
Responding to a request for his opinion, State Attorney General Bill McCollum said that the Overtown Community Redevelopment Agency would be overstepping its powers by funding a private facility outside its boundaries.
Florida state law "does not authorize the expenditure of funds for construction of facilities located outside the redevelopment area," Mr. McCollum said.
Such a move would have to be approved via legislation, he said.
Some disagree with his analysis. The city attorney suggested his opinion be ignored.
A previous analysis requested by the city from law firm Gray Robinson found that "under certain circumstances it is appropriate to use funds outside the boundaries…"
City Attorney Julie Bru said she feels the attorney general mis-framed the questions.
"It's just an opinion," Ms. Bru said of Mr. McCollum's opinion. "It's not binding."
The Overtown agency hopes to invest up to $10 million in tax funds for the $60 million construction of a new Camillus House between 15th and 17th streets on Northwest Seventh Street. The site is outside the agency's redevelopment district but within the boundaries of a proposed expansion awaiting approval by the county commission.
Miami's redevelopment agencies, which fill their coffers by capping the value of real property and collecting the increment above, have never funded projects outside their individual boundaries.
Their main purpose is to prevent and eliminate blight and slum.
City officials, meanwhile, disagree with the way the attorney general perceived the question as well as his response.
"The issue is: Can we use CRA moneys to relocate a blighting influence from the CRA district to areas outside of the district?" Frank Castañeda, chief of staff for Commissioner Angel Gonzalez, asked in a June 19 e-mail to Ms. Bru and others. "The issue is not the building of the facility but the removal of the blight."
Ms. Bru agreed, saying the attorney general's opinion was "very, very narrow in my opinion, perhaps not having really looked at the entire comprehensive scheme of community redevelopment."
"My recommendation is to file the opinion," she added.
Camillus House officials say the new complex will help eliminate slum and blight by assisting the homeless in both the Overtown area and around Omni.
Spokesman Sam Gil has said that when the center is complete, people from both districts will come seeking shelter and help.