Frank's Plantation

It was envisioned as a well-planned community in a rural setting. Too bad long-time mayor Frank Veltri couldn't make it happen.

Ramos' role in Plantation, according to published reports, was also investigated in 1985 after he was accused of accepting $9500 from a developer in exchange for changing Plantation parking laws, under his purview as the planning board chairman, that would allow the client to build a shopping center. Such dubious dual capacities have marked Ramos' participation in the city for years, like his role in erasing a square mile of lakes and canals Gulfstream promised to include in the development.

In the application, Gulfstream promised that 24 percent of the entire land area would serve as a water-retention area -- which is needed to protect against floods and to avoid water runoff from its shopping centers into neighboring areas. By 1983 it was clear that such a percentage wasn't being met, so Gulfstream officials -- saying they never really planned to put that much water in their development in the first place -- tried to amend the development order to require only 13 percent water, which comes out to a square mile less than originally promised. To do so they needed the city's approval.

At that time Ramos had already left Gulfstream and, as Veltri's appointee, was serving as chairman of the city planning board. Ramos was also on the board of the state-run Old Plantation Water Control District, creating an intriguing situation: It was the water district's job to make a recommendation on Gulfstream's proposed water reduction to the city planning board, which would then steer the city's decision.

On October 24, 1983, the water district sent a letter -- listing Ramos' name on the letterhead -- to Arnold Ramos, himself, chairman of the city's planning board. The letter declared that there was "no basis for objection to the change proposed by" Gulfstream. Ramos' planning board followed suit, of course, and voted to authorize it, and Veltri, who received a copy of the letter, took that advice. The square mile of valuable water-retention area was erased from plans.

Both Veltri and Ramos minimize the importance of that apparent conflict of interest and say they barely remember the change in Gulfstream's plan -- which seems to have gone unnoticed at the time.

While Veltri lunched with Allsworth, appointed Ramos to city boards, and enjoyed spaghetti nights with Minter, he says such relationships with former and current Gulfstream officials had no impact on his decision-making.

"They've been no pawn to me, and I've been no pawn to them," he says. "I've been my own person all the way through. Compromise? Yes. Lost some things? Yes. But I've been no pawn."

The record does show that while he was in office, one of the first things the city did was cut the number of homes Gulfstream could build from 54,000 to 32,000. There are currently about 20,000 units in the area. Veltri says that when the first Gulfstream president, John Cleary, told him there would be 130,000 people living in Gulfstream, "I just looked at him and said, 'You're out of your cotton-pickin' mind.'"

But at the same time Veltri helped control the population, Gulfstream -- which planned the area and sold chunks of it to other developers -- was allowed to replace some planned residential areas with more commercial centers, giving them the ability to build more retail and office space where the housing units would have gone.

Since 1970 one development after another has popped up -- massive apartment complexes, retirement communities, corporate headquarters of various kinds, office parks, strip malls, condos, and neighborhoods of single-family homes. Each residential neighborhood has its own look, which is duplicated within itself over and over again (sometimes with slight variations), one stucco house after another, unit by unit, far from the "anti-look-alike" effect desired by the founders.

While the face of Plantation changed, so did the Gulfstream corporation. After Epstein's death in 1980, Bronfman became its chairman, and in 1985 the company was sold to Denver real estate broker Ken Good, who was a business partner of Neil Bush, a son of the President and the brother of Florida's current governor. Good, who made Neil Bush a director in Gulfstream, financed the company on a mountain of debt that collapsed under him. At the same time, he and Bush were implicated in a $1 billion conflict of interest in the nation's savings and loan scandal. What is left of the Gulfstream company is now in the hands of Hogan-Gulfstream.

"It was a good partnership, and [Veltri] was the key to it," Minter, who maintained a good reputation through the years, says of Gulfstream and the city. "When you talk about a strong mayor, let me tell you something, this guy was a strong mayor, and the buck stopped with him, and that's the way it was. And he's one of the few politicians I've ever been around in my life that actually had the interests of his city at heart."

The question is which city Veltri had in mind -- the one Plantation was supposed to be or the one Gulfstream was determined to make it? Veltri might be able to make a stronger argument that he fought for the city's dreams if he'd tried to protect Plantation Acres, another area that was plundered by big development. He didn't.

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