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Frank's Plantation

With a mentholated cough drop in his mouth, Frank Veltri sits at his old kitchen table in his old house in old Plantation. Beside him, on a table full of files and city papers, are five or six tightly twisted wrappers, the vestiges of the lozenges he's already consumed. Veltri's tough, blue-veined, 86-year-old hands twist up the latest wrapper with a controlled and determined nervous energy, the bare, rounded tips of his fingers revealing nails bitten to the bitter, blood-touched quick.

Veltri's slow Southern stammer quickens as he speaks of rising and falling fortunes, of development and downfall, and of the similarities between human beings and insects.

"It's like fireflies. You know what a firefly is? They're those lightning bugs," the former mayor says, his voice rising and his ancient eyes hardening with resolve. "People are like fireflies going into a light to pick up its energy. Are people magnetized that they tend to go to development areas where the buildings are bigger and newer? Why do you think people don't go to State Road 7 anymore? They go to University Drive. Why? Because it's a magnet. The Broward Mall is a magnet that pulls people into it. Now there's Sawgrass Mills and the arena out farther west, so that's where all the people are going now."

Then he says, rather darkly, that University Drive -- grown in the past 25 years from an empty, edge-of-the-boondocks road to become one of Broward's main streets -- may be next on the blight bandwagon.

"The danger is there," says the white-haired politician, leaning back in his hard-backed chair.

Veltri knows about these things. He ran Plantation -- Broward's geographic center and one of the county's most heavily populated cities -- for the past 24 years and spent six years prior to that as a councilman. Before stepping down on March 12, Veltri was the city's strong mayor, its manager, its guide, and as he likes to put it, its "CEO." He was lauded in local daily newspapers at the time of his retirement. Under Veltri's rule the city ballooned in population from 15,000 to 80,000, the total assessed property value rose from about $150 million to well over $3 billion, and the city budget climbed from $500,000 to $90 million. There wasn't a single major scandal in the city, which has a low tax rate and higher-than-average property values.

Yet Veltri says he really didn't want the city to turn out this way.
"I would've made this city all one-acre lots and minimal commercial places," Veltri declares.

The cycles of boom and blight, of megamalls battling for the firefly people, wasn't supposed to be a concern of Plantation, which bills itself as the "City of Dreams." It was all planned out by the early '50s, how this city built on drained freshwater swamp and farmland would retain its "rural" nature as it slowly grew. It was supposed to feel like a small town instead of the overgrown suburbia much of it has become.

That dream still lives outside Veltri's kitchen door -- past the rebel flag license plate hanging in the carport of his aging and weathered four-bedroom, faux-brick bungalow. It's on Veltri's quiet, bucolic acre where no traffic to speak of breaks the peaceful, slow passing of time. He bought his piece of Plantation in 1953, the year his city was officially born, and there are more than 260 other acre-size home sites between the turnpike and University Drive, where remnants of the original dream can be found.

The founders, who included a multimillionaire and an esteemed architect, knew when the idea of Plantation began to germinate in the '40s that central and western Broward was about to experience a growth bonanza and would eventually be packed with large stores, corporate headquarters, and office buildings. So in 1954 the founders announced to the world their plan that would make Plantation different, a place where future developers would bend to the city's will, rather than the other way around.

Forty-six years later there's not much left of that dream; a once-unified vision has resulted in a schizophrenic cityscape. University Drive and areas west of it are crowded with thick urban sprawl; the eastern border, State Road 7, is depressed and blighted; and the far west provides the final insult to Plantation's first hopes: It's an unhappy mixture of regional superstores and "horse community."

Veltri says he would have liked to have stuck to the plan and kept down the precipitous growth west of University but then declares, "Nobody has that kind of power." So much for a strong mayor. Veltri is ambivalent about the growth he helped create. He says it messed up an ideal blueprint but then also says it was "all good." Then he claims he wishes it weren't there. Yet he welcomed it into his city.

It all makes more curious his role in Plantation's transformation, his balancing act of allegiances, which, in the end, saw him join the developers and the wheeler-dealers rather than beat them.

"If he'd have liked to have seen it less developed, it would have been that way," says 35-year Plantation resident Charles Cannon, a business owner, community activist, and vice president of the city's Gateway 7 Advisory Board. "He's strong enough he could have done about anything he wanted. Him and his developer friends have done nothing but waive, waive, waive city rules and let everything get through."

And so the biggest dream of Broward's city of dreams vanished in the process.

Along University Drive heading north toward Sunrise Boulevard, one can see one apartment complex after another, all of them upscale, with fountains and landscaping, leading to a Holiday Inn, then to a Denny's, then to a strip mall full of stores. Across University is the massive Motorola plant, where thousands work, and across Sunrise is another huge strip mall, with many businesses -- and quite a few empty stores, including a hulking former Publix with its front ripped out, forming a dark mouth that exposes the gutted innards. Mounds of garbage line the wet cement floor, countless wires dangle from the stripped ceilings, where the skeleton of a sprinkler system remains. Outside, dumpsters spew twisted metal, torn-out insulation, and more wire.

Another store is set to move in to the gutted building, and it may last or it may not. Back down University is the king of Broward's failed business dreams, the grand, white Fashion Mall complex, which has always been plagued by a high vacancy rate and has decreased in value from $150 million at its inception a decade ago to less than half that today. Further south is the vast Fountains Shoppes complex, which has a dozen stores with nothing in them, about 30 percent of the total, including a few large, empty, corner anchor sites.

City councilman Lee Hillier, Veltri's staunchest critic, says the vacancy signs are omens that the danger to which Veltri referred, of University Drive falling downward as Sawgrass Mills thrives, is quickly becoming reality.

While the retail areas are less than packed, the roads are jammed. Plantation has serious traffic problems -- studies commissioned by the city show that both University and parts of Sunrise have an "F" traffic rating, the worst rating given, in terms of crowded roads. At rush hour the cars jammed on the roads barely move, with frequent, long stops.

Eighty thousand people live in Plantation and tens of thousands more commute to work there. In just nine square miles of Plantation -- from University Drive west to Hiatus Road and from Interstate 595 north to Sunrise Boulevard -- lies well over six million square feet of office and retail space. That's roughly equivalent to three Empire State Buildings (a fact which provides some insight into why downtown Fort Lauderdale's skyline is less than impressive). Another Empire-size skyscraper's worth of offices is either being built or planned in the same area. Motorola, American Express, Kemper, Cigna, Florida Power and Light, and BellSouth all have either regional or national headquarters there. And then there is the Broward Mall, that weakening "magnet" which has had, as Veltri said, the most profound impact of any development in Plantation, devouring business from older shops and stealing the glory from the original town's center, the Towne Mall on Broward Boulevard east of University. The Towne Mall was supposed to be Plantation's version of downtown; it was doomed to fall short.

The nine-square-mile area is called "Jacaranda," and it used to be called Gulfstream, after the Gulfstream Land and Development Corporation, which bought it. It's also called urban sprawl, which wasn't what Plantation had envisioned itself to be. Or at least not that kind of urban sprawl, the overcrowded, cookie-cutter kind. While Plantation -- with its close proximity to Fort Lauderdale -- could never truly be a small town, it was supposed to be like one, even as it served mainly as a bedroom community for people who worked in Fort Lauderdale.

Now much of Plantation has been subsumed by what it was trying to escape, that vast, South Florida chunk of supermart America that -- like it or hate it -- lies somewhere between city and suburb.

Exactly how it happened is an untold story, and Frank Veltri played a leading role.

Veltri's first good look at South Florida was at 5000 feet, flying in his American-made AT6 war-training plane over the Everglades in 1942, where he could gauge his speed by how fast the drainage canals passed below him. Veltri, then 30 years old, was a hobbyist pilot in his hometown of Nashville before nabbing a job as a civilian flight instructor for the British Royal Air Force. A son of an Italian-born immigrant tailor named Rocco, Veltri found his new job far more exciting than his previous one as a hotel bookkeeper.

Veltri was married at the base and after the war got a job at First Federal Savings and Loan of Miami, where his number-crunching skill allowed him to work his way up the ladder. He and his Moore Haven, Florida-born wife, Genevieve, and their three children got a house in a large development in Dade County but quickly realized it wasn't for them. As was typical in Miami's housing developments during the booming postwar years, the homes were close together, cramped, without enough yard for the kids. The Veltris desired a different kind of place, a rural place. In Plantation they found it.

In the late '40s, a millionaire scion of a St. Louis shoe empire, Frederick C. Peters, decided to build homes on the 10,000 acres of ranch and swampland he'd financed ten years earlier through Veltri's savings and loan (a $350,000 mortgage). The corpulent, deeply religious, world-traveling Peters decided to create a rural alternative to Dade County suburbia, and his original ambition was to introduce a farming cooperative where the residents would grow their own vegetables to sell at a community-owned produce market.

Peters advertised his communal development with fliers proclaiming in boldface type, "A Full Acre With Every Home." The fliers explained: "The spacious lots ensure the homeowner against crowding by neighbors. Careful building and zoning regulations are provided in this modern planned community."

In 1953 Veltri got a job as comptroller of First Federal of Broward and promptly bought one of Peters' acres in Plantation. Two years later the Veltri family moved in to its new house in the new city, which then had just 300 residents. University Drive was then called Annapu Road, with nothing but swamp and cattle country to its west.

By the time Veltri moved into Plantation, Peters' plan had become more realistic. Rather than building a farming cooperative, Peters and his architect, Russell Thorne Pancoast, the grandson of Miami Beach pioneer (and Collins Avenue namesake) John S. Collins, decided to build an "antidevelopment." On August 1, 1954, the Miami Herald publicly unveiled the new city plan in a Sunday spread, with a banner headline calling Plantation "The City of the Future," and another headline declaring, "Ultra-Modern Master Plan Brings Rural Life to Town." Pancoast's plan was to build a town center with a shopping and business area. Near the town center would be apartment buildings and other forms of high-density housing, with population density decreasing as it radiated outward from the center.

Neighborhoods of single-family houses were to follow a square pattern to make getting around the city uncomplicated. August Burghard wrote in his book The Story of Frederick Peters that the city also had an "anti-look-alike" ordinance to prevent the uninspiring "development look" that was taking over South Florida.

"Uncrowded growth was the city's formula," Burghard wrote.
In addition to a bustling town center, Pancoast's diagram for the city included sections for commercial and industrial land use on parts of Sunrise Boulevard, along State Road 7, and in a few other pockets, which would provide the city a tax base and provide for the needs of the residents. Huge regional shopping developments were antithetical to the plan.

"We have what we think will be the finest city in the United States, one offering rural living within one of the fastest-growing metropolitan areas in the country," Ellsworth Gage, the first mayor of Plantation, said in the Herald article, adding that Plantation would "set a pattern all over the country."

Fred T. Peters, one of the founder's three sons, became the city's first fire chief, and Veltri became a friend of the Peters family when he joined the volunteer fire department in 1956. Four years later Veltri, who was still working at the savings and loan, became fire chief.

Then, in the early '60s, the senior Peters fell ill, and in order that his family wouldn't be burdened with the planning of the city's future, they decided to sell the undeveloped 5400 acres of land west of University. Peters' intention had been that it would become a part of the city. Early attempts to sell the land, according to the late Pancoast in Burghard's book, were fraught with the conflict between Peters' vision and the new buyers' plans. Contract negotiations collapsed as developers refused to follow Peters' plan.

Peters died in 1964, and then the family finally sold the land, at roughly $3000 an acre, to Gulfstream, a consortium of big-money investors led by Henry Epstein, a real estate mogul from Philadelphia famous for buying entire towns, and Edgar Bronfman, Sr., the billionaire president of Seagram's.

In 1969, while Gulfstream was busy planning the new future of Plantation, Veltri ran for office and won a seat on the council. By 1973 Gulfstream had acquired all the remaining acres of the Peters family's holdings. And the company had big dreams all its own.

Tucked away in a file at the state's South Florida Regional Planning Office is Gulfstream's 1973 application to build on its new, raw land. And Gulfstream made it perfectly clear to the state that it wanted nothing to do with the rural hopes of Plantation's founders -- the corporation estimated that $3 billion would be pumped into the area by the mid-'90s, and 54,000 housing units for 132,000 people would be built. Only a quarter of those units would be single-family houses, the rest a conglomeration of low-rise, mid-rise, and high-rise apartments, townhouses, and finally condominiums, which were all the rage at the time.

In addition to the dense housing, Gulfstream had already made agreements with Motorola, American Express, and the future builders of the Broward Mall. Gulfstream would "not be a bedroom community, but contain a large number of commercial, industrial, and home office establishments," wrote Gulfstream marketing consultant Reinhold P. Wolff in the application. West Broward, Wolff surmised, was prime development property because it "offers a great deal of building land in the relatively short distance from Fort Lauderdale, the core of the metropolitan area.... It is also in the path of the urban development which originates from the employment centers of Dade County and has moved northward through the West Hollywood and Pembroke areas. This development undoubtedly will eventually encompass Palm Beach County."

The plan caused some uproar at the time, as it called for 10.2 housing units per acre -- more than twice that allowed by the Broward County Area Planning Board. County officials warned that such a massive development would set dangerous precedents for the entire undeveloped region and that the ability for roads, namely University Drive, to handle such a development was highly questionable.

But no dire prediction was heard from Plantation city officials, including Veltri, who says he was an early believer in Gulfstream. City leaders had several reasons to join in with the company, the most pressing of which was that the area -- though it was part of Pancoast's master plan -- hadn't officially been annexed yet. There was a possibility that it could be taken by the City of Sunrise, remain unincorporated, or incorporate into a city itself. Veltri and other Plantation officials were also enamored with the tax base the growth would bring to the city.

"I could see nothing but pluses for the city," says James Ward, who was Plantation's mayor from 1969 to 1971. "We knew we had to have control of it ourselves or anything could happen.... Of course it was different from everything we had been doing."

Veltri made his run for mayor in 1974, and that was the only year he ever took monetary campaign contributions. Even then, he says, he accepted less than $100, which is certainly one of the more remarkable aspects of Veltri's remarkable political career. But the two contributors who did manage to give to him were heavyweights: the Peters family and Gulfstream.

"Fred [T.] Peters called me and gave me his checkbook and said, 'Write the check,'" Veltri says, adding that he accepted only $25. "Then Gulfstream took me to lunch and wrote me a check for the maximum at the time [$1000], and I kept $50 of it and sent the rest back."

The game of give-and-take between Veltri and developers had begun.

When his stovetop burst into flames some 20 years ago, Mayor Veltri grabbed a pan of boiling olive oil that spilled out and scalded his hand raw. The "spaghetti night" -- which Veltri called those evenings when he had his closest friends over and cooked for them -- had gone terribly awry.

"You want to know how tough Frank Veltri is?" asks Allan Minter, the chief developer for Gulfstream whom Veltri invited to that spaghetti night years ago. "He walked out into the back yard and took an aloe plant and rubbed it on his hand and finished the night out -- and was a good host, too. I would have been screaming and running out of that house as fast as I could go to an emergency room. I never met a tougher guy, and I used to be a Marine paratrooper."

Minter, who maintained a good reputation through his decades of working with Gulfstream, was one of Veltri's Gulfstream friends. Another was Emerson Allsworth, one of Broward County's most distinguished felons, a former lobbyist for the Gulfstream company, and the current representative of several developments in the Gulfstream area and the rest of Plantation.

Allsworth, a former state representative, is the go-to guy for business owners in Plantation who need changes in zoning or city codes in order to operate in the city. Allsworth, who worked closely with Veltri's administration, routinely convinces council members -- almost all of whom are recipients of Allsworth campaign contributions -- to make the changes. In Veltri's last city council meeting, for instance, Allsworth and his law partner William Laystrom lobbied the council to have the rules changed to allow a school in a strip mall and three fast-food restaurants on Broward Boulevard. "We've enjoyed a great relationship over the years," Allsworth said to Veltri at the meeting.

That relationship, Veltri says, wasn't affected by Allsworth's federal conviction on charges of laundering millions in drug money in 1992 or an earlier indictment, later dropped, for his alleged role in an extortion scheme involving former Sunrise mayor John Lomelo -- who was convicted -- and a nursing home company Allsworth was representing. Allsworth now says his past legal problems are "ancient history."

Veltri says he felt sorry for Allsworth, who lives only a few blocks from him, during the indictments and the conviction. The two men continued to have lunch together, and Veltri kept alive a spirit of cooperation between Allsworth and the city. "Emerson is a good development guy, and he's good at working both sides and cleaning up glitches," Veltri says. "I'd hire him in a minute if I needed him."

Veltri did hire another former Gulfstream official, Arnold Ramos, as an engineering consultant for Plantation. Since the early '80s, Veltri had also appointed Ramos to various city boards, and the powerful engineer is currently chairman of Plantation's planning board. Ramos' company, Keith and Schnars, is the city's paid traffic consultant and, on occasion, its general engineering consultant. Neither Veltri nor Ramos says he sees any conflict in Ramos' approving plans as a city official that his company may later be paid to work with as an engineer.

"If he does a good job, you use him," Veltri says.
Ramos, like Allsworth, has been in trouble in the past, too -- he was indicted while serving as Plantation's planning chairman for allegedly bribing the mayor of Sarasota to support his engineering projects.

His career began in the Florida Department of Transportation then led to Gulfstream, where he remained five years before starting his own engineering company (which also contracted with Gulfstream developers). The new company, Mid South Engineering, was twice implicated in scandal, once for overbilling the state on road projects, which led to a felony conviction for one of its vice presidents, and later for payments the company made to the Sarasota mayor, Ronald Norman. Norman was convicted of accepting bribes. The indictment against Ramos was dropped after the state failed to tie him directly to the payments. Ramos steadfastly proclaimed his innocence and at the time said the payments were consultant fees.

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.

Plantation Acres, a four-square-mile tract of land west of Gulfstream bordering Flamingo Road, is a microcosm of the first dream. With acre estates and plenty of horses, it stood at the turn of this decade like a monument to the city's first hopes.

Veltri and city officials knew it was unique, this rural outpost, so it was protected forever from big development companies like Gulfstream. The city made it a Special Public Interest District to "protect the amenities of broad open spaces, natural landscape and rural characteristics of the Acres, the only city district in which the predevelopment environment of the land can be discerned and appreciated," according to city codes.

In addition to that law, the main commercial area for the residents was given special zoning status to make sure larger stores didn't move in and clutter the region. The area -- on Sunrise Boulevard just west of Flamingo -- was given a status of B-2L, which was designed, according to city documents, to protect "the integrity of the surrounding neighborhoods and the lifestyle of the area... and provide for the concentration of commercial establishments to meet the convenience needs of nearby residential areas."

But that seems to have been forgotten by Veltri and the city. During the last five years, the area has been invaded by huge retail developments, and Veltri allowed that to happen.

For buyers of computer equipment, Plantation Acres is now the place to go; within a few square miles, the neighborhood has a Best Buy, a Gateway computer center, a CompUSA, and a Circuit City, all geared to service residents, not of Plantation Acres, but of all Broward County. It's also the apparent religious capital of the county with eight churches, bringing with them traffic and plenty of parking lot pavement placed in the heart of the rural neighborhoods.

So much for "convenience needs."
"Do we need four computer megastores there? No way," says long-time Plantation Acres resident and activist Eileen Parente. "I have a telescope, a big telescope, and there's so much light pollution now you can't see the stars anymore. You used to be able to see the stars."

Parente brings up just one of the simple -- and certainly profound -- impacts of huge developments besieging a wannabe rural community. The neighborhood is also contending with noise and a lot of traffic, which makes it impossible for the equestrian residents to ride their horses on many of the roads (an amenity the city also promised to protect).

In addition to the computer stores, there is a massive Pep Boys automotive store, a regional Michael's store, a giant Petsmart, and a Party Supermarket in the special zoning district. All bring in traffic from around the county; none of them is the least bit "rural" in nature. All were fought against by the Plantation Acres Land and Homeowners Association, even as Allsworth -- who represented the business interests of many of the stores -- got the city council and Veltri to go along with their construction. "We tried as hard as we could to keep them out, but the city just kept letting them in," says Nick Perris, vice president of the homeowners association.

Veltri did nothing to stop the stores from moving in, and when he had a chance to veto the Pep Boys store, he didn't do it. He says he wasn't about to fight the developments, because doing so would have led to lawsuits by the developers. "If I could have done it, I wouldn't have had anything but an ice cream parlor out there," Veltri says. "But the law supports the owner of the land. It was zoned commercial."

Statements like that -- when Veltri speaks as if the area were never given special protection -- infuriate some Plantation Acres residents. Veltri seems truly not to know that his own ordinances state flat out that the Acres should have been protected from big, regional developments.

"It was a special district in only one concept is my understanding, and that is that it allowed animals out there," Veltri says. "That didn't have anything to do with businesses. You can't swing the law."

"Fred Peters, I believe in my heart, if he were alive today, would come in and beat the fuck out of Frank and everyone else who ruined his city," says Councilman Hillier.

While that contention may be doubtful (at least in the literal sense), Hillier says he's certain of it. He won his council seat with votes from both Plantation Acres, where he lives, and the east, where State Road 7 has been deteriorating for some two decades. Plantation has made numerous plans over the years to revitalize the area, but under Veltri's rule little has been done. Veltri says that is because business owners wouldn't put up their share.

"I kept thinking the city was going to do something," says Charles Cannon, a community activist who lives and works on the east side of Plantation. "There were always new plans and ideas. It never did. Veltri and his developer friends were always more interested in doing things for the west."

With these problems Plantation is hardly the model of growth it was meant to be. As development begins to cover western Palm Beach County -- an area that Gulfstream said 26 years ago would "inevitably" become connected to the urban grid rooted in Miami -- some there are hoping the same mistakes won't be repeated. If there must be growth, they say, let it be strictly controlled and planned, so that people will have decent yards and space to breathe when it's done.

"I'm afraid this area is going to look like Plantation in a very few years," said former Palm Beach County commissioner Ken Adams in a Sun-Sentinel article. "It's six-lane intersections with traffic waiting two changes of the light."

Veltri doesn't like to hear such complaints that urban sprawl can be defined by his city and reminds us that people rarely get their way. The former strong mayor of Plantation says he didn't have the power to save Plantation from the inevitable.

"Do you think I wanted them to build houses to the north of me?" Veltri asks at his kitchen table, twisting his wrapper. "No. I didn't want that, and I didn't know they were going to build them when I moved here. Nobody's got it perfect."

Contact Bob Norman at his e-mail address: [email protected]

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Journalist Bob Norman has been raking the muck of South Florida for the past 25 years. His work has led to criminal cases against corrupt politicians, the ouster of bad judges from the bench, and has garnered dozens of state, regional, and national awards.
Contact: Bob Norman

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