TAVERNIER -- A Tampa-based real estate company filed an appeal Friday, Oct. 26, with the state Division of Administrative Hearings, challenging the county Planning Commission's decision to keep a federal immigration facility from opening here.
Hoover Properties Islamorada LLC wanted to lease the former Florida Keys Electric Cooperative building, at mile marker 91.5, to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which would use the property to investigate border-related crimes.
Planning Director Townsley Schwab in April denied Hoover's application to redevelop the property as a federal facility, saying the proposed use did not meet the primary needs of the community, a requirement of its suburban-commercial zoning, and was incompatible with the historic district's character.
In an Aug. 31 hearing, the Monroe County Planning Commission upheld Schwab's decision after two hours of public comment without one local supporter of the project. Part of the commission's decision was based on interior plans for the building that have not been made public. They have been classified "need to know" and are open to only the commission and its staff.
Monroe County Commissioner Sylvia Murphy, however, has seen the plans and has said the building would include holding cells and weapons storage rooms.
In its appeal to the state, Hoover contends that the county failed to establish how the immigrations offices would adversely affect the community.
Through its attorney, Franklin Greenman of Marathon, Hoover also argues the commission based its decision on the facility containing a detention area. Hoover, however, says no evidence was presented to the commission that there would be a detention area.
The appeal describes the commission's actions as "capricious, discriminatory and unreasonable."
"Throughout this appeal, the county staff created imaginary definitions and contradictory interpretations to attempt to justify ... the unlawful decision of the senior planner and the planning commission," Greenman wrote.
The appeal says the building's purpose will not differ from that of the previous owner, the Florida Key Electric Cooperative, a public utility that provides power from Key Largo to Marathon.
Greenman also claims that the commission made its decision based on the wishes of people who live near the former FKEC building.
"The objections of a large number of individuals representing a small portion of the affected neighborhood are not a sound basis for the denial of the appeal," he wrote.
A poll of the individuals is not proper, the appeal says.
A hearing officer will be appointed to handle the case. A date and place for the hearing is not yet known.
Hoover Properties has not returned several phone calls from the Free Press on the matter.
When approached by the Free Press after the August hearing, Hoover Properties Chief Financial Officer Tob Trickey said he was disappointed with the commission's decision and declined to comment further.