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Glades Grab

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It wasn't the first time Alu had voiced opposition to the project. Remember the county's warning to the developer that it might need to have an environmental Development of Regional Impact study done because of its massive size? Well, the city tried to bypass that with an amendment to designate the Everglades Corporate Park land as "suitable for more intense office use" than previously allowed. The intention was to allow the development to sidestep the state's scrutiny.

The amendment came before the commission on May 13.

"I don't think I've ever been more opposed to anything in my eight years being on this commission," Alu said on the dais. "As you can see how close this area is to the Everglades, the only thing that buffers it is the C-13 canal... I am going to do everything in my power to fight any negative impact that this development could possibly have on the ecosystem."

She tabled the item, and the amendment has yet to be returned to the commission.

On June 27, just six weeks after Alu's sharp rebuke, the development's lobbyist, Dennis Mele, threw a fundraiser for Deputy Mayor Roger Wishner at Ruden McClosky's downtown Fort Lauderdale offices.

When asked how much Ruden McClosky raised for him, Wishner said, "I have no clue."

A look at county records indicates his campaign received more than $12,200 on that date, including contributions from Sawgrass Investments and the project's engineer, Rhon Ernest-Jones. The sum also includes money coming that day from other Ruden McClosky clients with interests in the city, including sports mogul H. Wayne Huizenga and prominent builder Terry Stiles.

On top of that, Ruden McClosky donated another $1,750 before the fundraiser, bringing the law firm's total raised for Wishner to nearly $15,000.

Ruden McClosky also recently held a similar soiree for Commissioner Don Rosen, who has yet to report the totals. He'd already received $2,000 from interests in the development, including a $500 maximum contribution from Sawgrass Investors and $1,500 from Ruden McClosky.

The money flooding into the Wishner and Rosen campaigns could be key to the project's viability. With Alu, those two commissioners form a powerful triumvirate on the board. Because outgoing Mayor Steven Feren and Commissioner Joey Scuotto have been little more than pawns for development, snaring the support of Wishner or Rosen would ensure that Everglades Corporate Park gets the votes it needs.

Wishner, however, said the money would not influence him.

"How much money someone gives me is irrelevant," Wishner told me. "I'm going to ask them for certain things on this development, and if they don't provide them, then the approval process is going to be more difficult.

"I think elected officials should be given some credit," he continued. "You can't find any improper connection whatsoever. If they were getting through the process without any obstacles or questions being raised, then you can do that. But this project isn't getting any special treatment whatsoever."

I brought up the special zoning status — which Wishner supported with his November 25 vote — as an example that it was, indeed, getting special treatment. He pointed out that he initially had seconded Alu's motion to table the amendment and delay the vote. "When I saw my votes for the table weren't there, what is a vote against it going to accomplish?" the deputy mayor asked rhetorically. "I will continue to hold up this development until Commissioner Alu's concerns are satisfied. I will not support this if my issues aren't resolved or Alu's issues aren't resolved. I am not going to give this development any special treatment."

We'll make sure to hold Wishner to those promises.

Ernest-Jones refused to comment for this column, and repeated phone calls to City Manager Bruce Moeller and City Planner Mark Lubelski went unreturned. The refusal to comment harks back to the recently ended reign of famously secretive and autocratic former Sunrise City Manager Pat Salerno. Perhaps things haven't changed much with the much-ballyhooed new regime.

Of course, if I were involved in such an attempt to build a giant "corporate park" on the Everglades, I probably wouldn't want to talk about it either.

The good news is, there is still time to kill, or at least minimize, the vile project. Removing the ridiculous B-7 zoning status would be a start. Making sure it goes through the Development of Regional Impact process is another. And then there is the wild card: The chance that there might be an Indian burial ground on the site.

Though the county instructed the developer to conduct a survey, it hasn't yet done so. Likely another detail it wants to forget. If any relics or bones are found, the project will be at least temporarily stopped in its tracks.

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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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