December 2009

December 18, 2009

Florida Developer Planning RV Friendly Project
Premier Properties next month is launching Celebration Cape, a new gated community in Cape Coral, Fla. It's a rare event in today's market dominated by foreclosed houses whose prices are hard to beat with new construction.

But Premier owner Roger Schutt thinks he has a winning formula: he bought the land with infrastructure already built for a fire sale price, and he's offering something unusual in the city: deed restrictions allowing outsize backyard garages that can accommodate RVs or a large boat, according to The News-Press, Fort Myers.

Prices start at $129,900 for home and lot — less than the $150,000 a lot in the community was being offered for in 2005 when it was known as Pinewood Lakes. Read more of this story here.

December 17, 2009

Developers Rush to Get Ahead of Amendment 4

The prospect of land-use changes going before voters if constitutional Amendment 4 is approved next year, is sparking an unprecedented crush of proposals being sent to state planning officials.

The Florida Department of Community Affairs has been buried under 937 packets of proposed comprehensive plan amendments from local governments so far this year, while the agency has already approved 50 percent more proposals than in 2007, the most comparable year.

Despite a lousy economy, unemployment at a 30-year high, and more than 300,000 unsold homes on the market in Florida, developers are rushing to get state approval for scores of projects that don’t meet local comp-plan standards. Read more of this story here.

December 16, 2009

Lease Up/Lease Down: More Consolidations as the Year Winds Down
The U.S. Postal Service could be closing as many as 170 post offices as it looks to consolidate operations.

Earlier this year, the Postal Service conducted a review of about 3,300 retail stations and branches that are in close proximity to each other to determine where consolidation is a feasible option. USPS has filed periodic updates with the Postal Regulatory Commission, identifying certain locations that remain under consideration, though no final decisions have been made.

The potential consolidation comes after a continuing drop in income. The USPS reported a $3.8 billion net loss for the 2009 fiscal year, compared to $2.8 billion last year. The agency also said operating revenue fell 9.1 percent to $68.1 billion, down from $74.9 billion in 2008. Read more of this story here.


December 15, 2009

Zoning changes won't affect sensitive lands, Bonita officials say
Environmental advocates Monday breathed a sigh of relief after Bonita Springs officials agreed that zoning changes won’t affect environmentally sensitive lands.

The Conservancy of Southwest Florida and other citizens were worried the proposed changes could have allowed more development in the environmentally sensitive lands in east Bonita Springs called the Density Reduction Groundwater Resource. Read more of this story here.

December 15, 2009

Quarry project wins P&Z approval
After almost four hours of debate Monday, planning and zoning commissioners voted 3-2 to recommend a comprehensive plan amendment paving the way for a 5,800-home residential development on the north side of U.S. 98 and Lake Lindsey Road.

But that is only the first step on a long road to approval. Read more of this story here.


December 15, 2009

County delays key plan of Miami
Miami-Dade commissioners are holding up a vote to grow a Miami redevelopment district that is a key component of a wide-ranging city/county redevelopment plan. Read more of this story here.

December 15, 2009

Costs of new campus soared
When it started looking for a construction manager, Hillsborough Community College was planning to spend $10 million to build its campus in south Hillsborough County.

By the time the project was finished, the campus was smaller than HCC had planned, it was six months late in opening, and it cost about $17 million. Read more of this story here.

December 15, 2009

Building permits up for month in Manatee
The county saw another increase in residential building permits in November, an indication that the home building industry may be bouncing back.

Sixty-six permits for new homes were filed, compared with 28 in November 2008.

For most of this year, the number of permits for new homes trailed previous years' figures. Since September, however, the county's building department has reported increases compared with monthly data from 2008 and 2007. Read more of this story here.

December 15, 2009

People residing in downtown Jacksonville want it to prosper. But how long will it take?

Looking out the windows of The Metropolitan Loft Apartments on Church Street, you get a panoramic view of Jacksonville’s past, present and future.

To the east is the past, the Thomas V. Porter house, built in the immediate aftermath of the Great Fire of 1901. The old home, which today serves as the offices of KBJ Architects, is one of the last surviving remnants of an era when downtown was the city’s population center.

Circling the Metropolitan Lofts are Jacksonville’s present: A checkerboard of parking lots — asphalt gaps in the city’s skyline. Read more of this story here.

December 14, 2009

Does Marco need a new downtown?
Despite some skepticism, city and county officials hope to develop a win-win proposal. Would a city center on Marco attract residents from throughout the county? That’s the question on many county officials’ minds as they wait to be further engaged in the proposal to create a community redevelopment area for the approximate 200-acre area surrounding the Town Center retail mall on Marco’s Elkcam Circle. Read more of this story here.

December 13, 2009

Vital issues for state and region near a critical stage
Twenty-ten was still 20 days away, an eternity at a daily newspaper, Friday.

Nevertheless, I accepted an 8 a.m. invitation from the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce's Governmental Issues Council to preview local and state issues on next year's agenda.

Other than the opportunity to hear what other people are thinking, there's only one reason to attend an early morning meeting -- get a column out of the exercise.

So, here is a partial list of big stories and important issues in 2010: Read more of this story here.

December 12, 2009

Trash politics and the cost of waste

Jeryl Covington, a woman of impeccable habits of dress, a mind that churns over technical details with vise-like precision and expertise on all things related to trash, watched a driver for Hilco Transport turn his rig into the parking lot in front of Greensboro’s waste transfer station.

The trailers were lined evenly in place, some empty with tarps rolled back indicating they were ready to be pulled into the load-out tunnels to receive their cargo, some full and ready to be hitched up for the 62-mile journey to Republic Services’ Uwharrie Environmental Landfill in Montgomery County.

Covington, who heads the city’s environmental services department, eyed a slot between two trailers and judged it too narrow, but the driver surprised her. Read more of this story here.

December 11, 2009

Ridge Road link hits pothole
Four years ago, Pasco County commissioners let Florida turnpike officials put off planning for a link between the Suncoast Parkway and the county's planned Ridge Road extension.

On Thursday, Pasco officials learned to their surprise that turnpike officials can't hold up their end of the deal, even as county officials hope to begin building the Ridge Road extension next year. Read more of this story here.


December 11, 2009

Planning Council has issue with proposed fees
Members of the Central Florida Planning Council voted unanimously Wednesday to send a message to state legislators that local officials don't want to bear the cost of a proposed transportation planning funding concept that may be considered next year. Read more of this story here.

December 10, 2009

62nd Avenue owners appeal height limit
The owners of several commercial properties on the Southwest 62nd Avenue corridor are appealing a recent commission vote that would limit building height in that area to two stories.

The owners of a string of lots on Southwest 62nd Avenue say they have a right to build up to four stories and turn a profit.

But residents of single-family homes adjacent to the corridor say they shouldn't be forced to endure commercial or mixed-use buildings towering over their properties.

The dispute ultimately will be decided by a judge.

In response to an Oct. 20 South Miami Commission vote meant to hold building heights along that four-block stretch at two stories, owners of those properties are asking Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Joseph Farina to reverse the decision.

Read more of this story here.

December 8, 2009

Florida Cabinet rebuffs Palm Beach County landowners' development intensity
Gov. Charlie Crist and the Florida Cabinet on Tuesday unanimously ordered Palm Beach County to rescind a pair of growth plan amendments that would have expanded development density for two property owners.

For one project, owner Salvatore Balsamo sought approval for nearly 100 homes on 97 acres on Northlake Boulevard near the Vavrus Ranch. At most 10 homes would be allowed on the site under present zoning limits.

Lantana Farm Associates asked to build 26 homes, instead of just two, on 26 acres off Lantana Road and State Road 7.

The county approved the development increases in 2006, but the state's Department of Community Affairs rejected it, leading the owners to appeal to the governor and Cabinet.

Read more of this story here.

December 7, 2009

Isle of Wight subdivision progressing slowly
The publicity blitz worked — buyers from across southeastern Virginia and more distant points, including Texas, Florida, Maryland, New York and Pennsylvania, have spent millions buying lots in the remote subdivision over the past four years.

All but 19 lots have sold, with several buyers in mid-2006 — the months leading up to a price-slashing frenzy on land — forking over more than triple the property's assessed value, according to county tax records. Eleven lots in Lawnes Point have sold in 2009, with all but one selling more than 20 percent below its assessed value, and seven properties are currently in foreclosure, said Isle of Wight Commissioner of Revenue Gerald Gwaltney. Read more of this story here.

December 5, 2009

Conservative Tea Party Movement Targets Florida Rail Plan

The conservative "tea party" movement, last seen complaining about the government-funded local transit system that they took during an anti-government march in Washington D.C, is veering back to form in Florida with an organized protest against the state's proposal for broad new investments in rail transit. Read more of this story here.

December 4, 2009

Florida rail plan on shaky ground

A special lawmaking session on passenger rail projects opened Thursday with a Republican senator abandoning his support and critics firing off objections that could foreshadow more political trouble ahead.

With a close vote anticipated in the 40-member Senate, Sen. Carey Baker, R-Eustis, announced he no longer supports the legislation after learning it would allow for bullet trains throughout the state, the very purpose of this special session. Read more of this story here.

December 3, 2009

Hometown Democracy gives power back to people

The 2010 election is still a year away, and yet The Post is already editorializing against Florida Hometown Democracy, on the ballot as Amendment 4. Given that The Post recognized that Amendment 4 is "the biggest thing on the 2010 ballot," it is very important to set the record straight.

The Post editorialized that under Amendment 4, voters would be forced to vote on every change to a local comprehensive plan, whether important or meaningless. In fact, the plain language of Amendment 4 establishes voter referendum only over comprehensive plan changes that concern "future land development." These "future land development" changes often determine the future of a community for decades to come. The Post thus erred when it stated that Amendment 4 would require a vote on each and every comprehensive plan change. Read more of this story here.

December 2, 2009

Gas station rules may hurt families, but could help investors

Gas station owners say those unable to get financing to meet new Florida environmental rules have their hands tied, many are preparing to shut down and others are already out-of-service.
   The shakeout is going to affect families dependent on mom-and-pop stations that face closing down, gas station owners say, but it will also create investment opportunities for fuel suppliers looking to grow and other retailers in expansion mode.
   But with financing scarce and the economy still hurting, it's going to take a while for an already depressed commercial market to absorb the almost 800 gas stations at risk of shutting down in Miami-Dade, a commercial investments analyst says.
   Gas station owners in Florida have until Dec. 31 to meet new rules that require them to install double-walled storage tanks to prevent fuel leaks. Read more of this story here.

December 1, 2009

First Green Airport Scheduled to open
The Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport, the first completely green airport and industrial business park, is scheduled to open in May 2010.
Read more of this story here.

December 1, 2009

Developer plans to buy, update old Hilton
Miami condo developer Jorge Perez, chief executive of the Related Group, is spearheading the acquisition of the largest hotel in Pittsburgh, as the company shifts course away from development in the downturn.
Read more of this story here.

November 30, 2009

Hometown Democracy's troubling poster child

In 1985 Gov. Bob Graham's administration placed an important legal framework in place in Florida to control rampant, undisciplined growth that threatened wetlands, induced traffic congestion and promoted random sprawl. Until that landmark legislation, developers virtually built where they pleased, and taxpayers had to follow with schools, roads, sewers and the rest of the infrastructure that necessarily followed development.

The 1985 act created the Department of Community Affairs, strengthened the state's Department of Transportation and set in place the concept of concurrency law where the developer was obliged to take on much of the road, school, sewer, parks and other infrastructure that was made necessary by the development. Read more of this story here.

November 28, 2009

Tradition Hilton Head defaults on loans, agreement with Hardeeville

The developer of Tradition Hilton Head, a 5,500-acre, mixed-use development in Hardeeville, has defaulted on financial obligations to lenders and the city of Hardeeville, according to a regulatory filing its parent company made earlier this month.

Core Communities defaulted on loans for $113 million and is negotiating with its lender, the company disclosed. It also is negotiating with two other lenders for loans totaling $38.7 million.

Core cut 20 employees and was notified it has defaulted on a development agreement with the city that obligates the company to pay $1 million toward a new fire station. Core is in discussions with one of its lenders to fund the payments. If Core can't remedy the default, it could lose entitlements for the project.

Tradition Hilton Head, located on U.S. 278, has permits for 9,500 homes and is planned to include a town center of retail and office space. As of May, about 30 homes had been built.

Core's parent company -- BFC Financial Corp. of Fort Lauderdale, Fla. -- lost $54 million in the third quarter. Core became part of the company when BFC merged with Woodbridge Holdings Corp. in September.

Core also is the developer of Tradition Florida in Port St. Lucie, Fla. Read more of this story here.

November 27, 2009

Special Session a Possibility for Next Week

House and Senate leaders told members Wednesday that they’re moving closer to an agreement on passenger rail legislation – “very close” in the words of Senate President Jeff Atwater – that would allow for a special session, and suggested it could come as early as next week.

In separate messages to members, both Atwater, R-North Palm Beach, and House Speaker Larry Cretul, R-Ocala, said they anticipated that a session could soon be called.

“I am optimistic that we are very close to having legislation … while addressing the concerns raised by senators regarding liability for freight and passenger rail and a dedicated, sustainable funding source for commuter rail,” Atwater said in a short letter to the Senate sent late Wednesday. Read more of this story here.

November 26, 2009

Serving Seniors: Housing market relatively healthy, Realtors say

Seniors still want to buy their Florida dream home; they've just redefined the dream. Folks living in the Midwest or up North are still arriving in Marion County, it's just taking them a little longer to sell their homes so they can buy here. And many with substantial home equity and lack of a mortgage are taking advantage of the buyer's market. Read more of this story here.

November 25, 2009

Agency's plan costly for banks
The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.'s plan to replenish its insurance fund to cover losses at failed banks is going to cost FDIC-insured institutions in West Virginia more than $166 million.

That's money the institutions will not have available for loans and other moneymaking investments. They must send the money to the FDIC by Dec. 30.

The FDIC needs to replenish the insurance fund because of mounting bank failures in Florida, Georgia, California and other states where there was a housing bubble. The fund protects deposits in insured institutions up to $250,000.

The FDIC has a $500 billion line of credit with the U.S. Treasury. But earlier this week the agency decided that instead of tapping that credit - which, in effect, would have been a loan from taxpayers - insured banks and thrifts must pay their insurance assessment for three years in advance.

Read more of this story here.