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Frank's Plantation

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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."

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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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