County rejects feds’ building plan

Dec 21, 2011 Issues: Protecting Children

"Opposition has reached such a level that U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, whose district includes the Keys, wrote a Dec. 6 letter to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano urging her to find another location to house the agents."

County rejects feds’ building plan
It’s unclear if owner will pursue project
By DAVID GOODHUE
dgoodhue@keysreporter.com

The federal government, already facing fierce community opposition to Homeland Security plans for the old Florida Keys Electric Cooperative building in Tavernier, now finds its building permit application rejected by the county.

Homeland Security wants to convert the 10,316-squarefoot building at mile marker 91.6 oceanside into an office building to house agents with its Investigative Division and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Marine Unit.

But the plans by the government and the building’s owner, Tampa-based Hoover Properties, have met strong opposition from Tavernier residents.

More than 80 people packed into a small room at the Tavernier firehouse earlier this month and urged the Monroe County Historic Preservation Commission to reject the project because they
felt the design and intended use of the building go against the community character.

The Preservation Commission decided at its Dec. 5 meeting not to rule on whether the proposed project meets the architectural standards of the Tavernier Historical District — the only designated historic district in the Keys other than Key West — until the county gets more details from the federal government about exactly what it plans to build.

But the county Planning Department sent a letter dated Dec. 9 to Carlos Solis, the project’s  contracted civil engineer, rejecting Hoover’s permit applications. 

The main reason given was that the Homeland Security building, although a government building, is not necessarily a public building.  And under county code, office buildings that are not public that provide services to the surrounding community need a major conditional use permit if they are larger than 10,000 square feet.

Joseph Haberman, a review manager with the Planning Department, wrote that the county is also rejecting, for the time being, Hoover’s application for a “certificate of appropriateness” to be allowed to build in the historic district.

Haberman detailed a list of items Hoover must provide the county to be eligible for reconsideration for both applications.

These include detailed descriptions of what types of employees would work there, full site plans, a written description of the exterior and interior improvements, and a sample photograph of
the shutter type, proposed landscaping and fencing.

Hoover must apply for the major conditional-use permit, and the five-member Planning Commission will decide on the application, Haberman said. 

Tob Trickey, Hoover’s chief financial officer, could not be reached for comment on whether the company will go through the steps to be approved for the project.  Hoover paid $1.4 million for
the old FKEC building in May, according to county Property Appraiser’s Office records.

Much of the community’s opposition to the project lies in it housing inmates, even though Trickey and Homeland Security officials insist the building will not be a jail. It would have a holding cell, but would not be designed for overnight use, according to Special Agent Leo Morales, with Homeland Security.

Neighbors also have problems with the proposed 6-foot wrought-iron security fence the initial plans detail. Another concern is to close the building’s current entrance on U.S. 1 and, in exchange, create a new entrance on Sunset Drive and an exit on North Sunset Drive.

Opposition has reached such a level that U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, whose district includes the Keys, wrote a Dec. 6 letter to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano urging her to find another location to house the agents.