TAVERNIER -- The Monroe County Planning Commis-sion will decide Friday, Aug. 31, whether to overturn its planning director and allow a federal customs facility at mile marker 91, oceanside.
The special hearing is prompted by Planning Director's Townsley Schwab's decision to deny Hoover Properties Islamorada LLC, a Tampa-based company, the right to lease its building to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Outrage was sparked after County Commissioner Sylvia Murphy reviewed initial plans for the building that included holding cells, rooms for weapons storage and a spiked fence around the building.
John Hammerstrom, president of the Tavernier Community Association, calls the federal facility "totally inappropriate."
He said it would make the small historic town on the southern end of Key Largo a less desirable place to live.
"We are surprised that such a savvy and respected company would make such a blunder," he said.
In a 36-page appeal filed May 24, Hoover Properties argues the security facility should be considered a public building and compatible with other area buildings. According to the application, those are the requirements to meet for approval.
The application says that Hoover Properties is willing to take steps to make the building's physical appearance more compatible with other buildings in the town's historic district.
"The applicant is willing to consider reasonable design changes from the Tavernier Historic Preservation Board," the application says.
Schwab, however, denied Hoover's application in April, saying the proposal "has been determined incompatible with the community's character."
He also wrote that the facility "is not intended primarily to serve the needs of the immediate planning area."
The U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the Immigration Customs and Enforcement presently share a facility in Islamorada. Bill Prichard, a spokesman for Customs and Border Protection, says the area is too cramped, and a larger facility is needed.
Consequently, the Department of Homeland Security asked the U.S. Gen-eral Services Administration to find a new place.
GSA connected with Hoover Properties, which owns the former Florida Keys Electric Cooperative building, and that's when the problems over its proposed use began with the Tavernier community and with Monroe County officials.
The agents "will spend the vast majority of the time on the water," Prichard said.
He added it would be rare for the facility to hold anyone for a lengthy period of time.
The appeal also notes that the DHS has two similar offices in Key West and Marathon.
"We're not trying to force this on anyone," Prichard said.
If the Planning Commission denies Hoover's request, County Planner Joe Haber-man has said the property owner would likely appeal to the state Division of Administrative Hearings.
A spokeswoman for the GSA could not say whether the federal government would exercise eminent domain to attain the property if its plans are thwarted.
Officials from Hoover Properties and their attorneys did not return several phone calls seeking comment.