“You got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away and know when to run . . .”
— “The Gambler,” recorded in 1978 by country music artist Kenny Rogers.
Perhaps it’s time for Homeland Security to take a lesson from the old Kenny Rogers hit and simply walk away from dreams of building an Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection processing center in the heart of Tavernier’s historic district.
Since 2011, a Tampa-based developer has been hoping to convert the former Florida Keys Electric Cooperative building at mile marker 91.6 into a home for federal agents.
The developer paid $1.4 million for the property in May 2011 with Homeland Security already lined up as the exclusive tenant.
But that was before opposition to the project began to gain traction, led by members of the Tavernier community and joined by the Monroe County Historic Preservation Commission, the county Planning Commission and the County Commission.
In Friday’s Reporter, the developer’s latest defeat was detailed when a state administrative law judge upheld the Planning Commission’s decision last September to deny Hoover Properties’ application. As the commission noted in its denial, the proposed use does not fit the property’s suburban/commercial zoning. To be in compliance, the building would have to serve residents in the immediate area.
Few supporters can be found for converting the old FKEC office building into a law enforcement outpost, with holding cell, to serve the needs of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection.
Specific objections include Hoover’s stated plans for a 6-foot-tall metal fence to secure the property, closing the vehicular entrance on U.S. 1 and creating a new entrance on Sunrise Drive (with an exit on North Sunrise Drive).
It didn’t help matters when company officials declined to attend the Historic Preservation Commission’s meeting last December to further explain the project or answer questions. The Tavernier Historic District is the only one of its kind in unincorporated Monroe County.
Opposition grew so strong last year, that U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, whose district then included the Florida Keys, sent a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano urging her to find another location to house her Upper Keys agents.
Given the tortured history on this project, it’s time for Homeland Security to move on and let Hoover worry about what developers do now with their $1.4 million investment. It’s not too late to follow “The Gambler’s” advice and know when to run.