Mayor Behind Plan to Pave Everglades Land Since 1987

So how does it happen?

How does a giant ugly giant Marriott Hotel-anchored development get built west of the Sawgrass Expressway on a part of the Everglades that was meant to be an open space park and is now popular with hikers and boaters?  

It's done in secret. It's done with lobbyists. It's done with big campaign dollars given to bad politicians. It's done with the help of government cronies and rubber stamps. It's done with fear. And sometimes it's done right in the face of an outraged public.

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The aptly named Everglades Corporate Park project has met all those criteria so far, with the final insult planned for the Tuesday-night commission meeting. There, a majority of derelict commissioners is expected to vote to rezone the development to allow it to ignore the city's -- and I quote -- "development standards, setback requirements, and landscaping standards."

Yes, the city plans to pass a zoning law that says the development won't have to follow the city's laws. And that, of course, will allow the developer to make its eyesore bigger and uglier.

Two key backers of the plan are the duo of Mayor Roger Wishner and Commissioner Don Rosen. Wishner has been there to support the development almost every step of the way, including the vote in 1987 to quietly change the zoning for the land from park to commercial. Both Wishner and Rosen have both been given thousands of dollars in campaign contributions connected to the developer, Kentucky-based Sawgrass Investors, and its lobbyist, Dennis Mele of Ruden McClosky.

You might remember that Wishner and Rosen were also the two villains in the recent "Green Now" garbage dump controversy that ended with angry citizens cramming City Hall and shaming the commission into dropping the dump. The same kind of showdown is set for the Tuesday-night meeting, as people are encouraged to stand up against the Everglades incursion.

Leading the opposition, again, will be Commissioner Sheila Alu -- the only elected official on record to denounce the zoning change -- and attorney Michael Ryan, who is running against Wishner and who also helped organize the Green Now folks.

"If this is a fait accompli and these people come out and they aren't listened to, then there should be serious

consequences for the board," said Ryan. "All the people want is for their voice to be heard. It should be a heavy turnout, but I don't know if it will be as big as Green Now."  

Understand this isn't a Sunrise issue -- it's a Broward issue. Hell, it's a national issue. Tuesday's meeting will provide a historic chance to take a stand not only for the Glades but against sprawl and sleazy lobbyists and politicians who profit from it.

Among those in the forefront is the Sierra Club.

"We're strongly opposed to this development," said club Chair Phil Busey. "Our concern is that this would be the first commercial development on the west side of the Sawgrass Expressway. We really believe that this should be its original designation, which is a park and recreation area."

The change for the land from park status to commercial zoning came in a quiet vote back in 1987 that never even made the newspapers. Among the commissioners who made the unanimous vote was none other than Roger Wishner.

Now Wishner -- who himself enjoys the area with his children -- says he has no choice but to support the development because it's already zoned commercial. He always neglects to say that he voted to steal the key piece of Everglades away from its citizens.

When asked by a Channel 6 reporter why he supports the development (and the outrageous zoning designation), Wishner said, ""Because it's their choice. They own the property."

Actually it was Wishner's choice 23 years ago. And the mayor continues to support the development, including the outrageous rezoning that will be voted on Tuesday night.

A small matter of $15,000 obviously influenced his decision. Wishner received that amount in campaign contributions that were connected to the development and its lobbyist, Mele, in 2008, most of it given to him during a fundraiser at Ruden McClosky's downtown Fort Lauderdale offices in 2008. Wishner's buddy, Rosen, also was given thousands from the same interests.

It's a sellout, and the fix appears to be in. It looks like the city has already given away the store.  

[A second part to this will be coming out soon.]

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