TAVERNIER -- A Tampa-based real estate company has given up trying to turn a mile marker 91.5 building into a federal immigrations facility. This comes after unsuccessful appeals to county and state officials.
A state judge in May sided with the Monroe County Planning Commission in denying Hoover Properties' request to convert the former Florida Keys Electric Cooperative building.
Judge D.R. Alexander of Tallahassee ruled the facility would not benefit residents within 300 feet of the property as required by its zoning.
Alexander wrote that the building, which Hoover planned to lease to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection agencies, would also have served as a detention facility while individuals were being processed. It was also to include an armory.
Late last month, Hoover allowed to expire a 30-day period in which to appeal Alexander's ruling to a Monroe County Circuit Court judge. From there, another petition could have been filed with the 3rd District Court of Appeal.
Hoover initially appealed the decision by the Monroe County Planning Department, which in April 2012 denied the company's application to redevelop the mile marker 91.5 property into a federal facility. Planning officials said 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 county Planning Commission upheld that decision, partly based on the fact that the federal government's plans for the interior were not made public. They were classified as "need to know" and open only to the commission and its staff.
Hoover's appeal to Alexander claimed the commission made its decision mainly based on the wishes of nearby residents, not on the facts or the law. Alexander rejected that contention.
Hoover's local attorney, Frank Greenman of Marathon, did not return phone messages seeking comment on the company's reason for not appealing again or on its future plans. Greenman and Hoover officials have continued to ignore local press inquiries since last summer.
Hoover, which purchased the former FKEC building in 2011 for $1.4 million, now appears to be courting another federal agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, to lease the building, according to Assistant County Attorney Steve Williams.
"The immigrations facility is over," Williams said.
Greenman most likely will begin preparing new applications to seek the county's approval for the NOAA venture.
Tavernier attorney Nick Mulick, who represents residents opposed to the immigrations facility, said he was pleased Greenman didn't appeal Alexander's ruling.
Mulick, who spoke at last year's Planning Commission meeting and who also filed a legal argument for the state appeal, said he plans to meet with his clients.
"That may be too soon," he said of celebrating. "We need to watch and see what happens."
According to Karrie Carnes, spokeswoman for NOAA's Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, the sanctuary's lease for its Upper Keys office expires in July 2015. Authorities from the leasing division of the General Services Administration have visited the former FKEC building on behalf of NOAA, Carnes said, but it is too soon to tell if a move is planned.
Leasing a new location doesn't necessarily mean the sanctuary would move from its bayside facility, where it has been based since July 1997, she added.