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Change in plans by college catches council by surprise

Homestead city council members discussed Wednesday evening whether their approval of Dade Medical College’s proposal to build a downtown university campus would have to be reopened in light of the college’s intention to build an urgent care center instead of a university theater as previously proposed.

Sold on the idea of a for-profit university to be built on a half acre at 72 NW First St., the council, acting as the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) board, approved an option agreement for Dade Medical to purchase the property for $328,000

The December 2011 agreement stipulated that plans for the campus be approved by the city’s Development Review Committee, Planning and Zoning Board and council by Jan. 9, 2014. The site would then have to be built within 24 months of the sale.

Reporting on the development review held May 21, planning director Joseph Corradino told the council Wednesday that Dade Medical College CEO Ernesto Perez had informed staff of his intentions to build an urgent care center with Miami Children’s Hospital – intentions that didn’t match the original application, the letter of intent, or the site plan submitted for review.

“The application was incomplete,’’ Corradino said.

Perez, who was not at Wednesday’s meeting, discussed the application at the May 21 review.

“I am going to be, like always, very honest with what we are doing,” Perez said, according to meeting minutes.

“What we’ve done is, we have a memorandum of understanding. I don’t know if we’ve done a letter of intent yet, as far as Miami Children’s’ Hospital. And they are interested in bringing an outpatient/urgent care center. The idea would be that we do a lot of work for Miami Children’s Hospital, and the idea possibly could be as far as taking this theater idea and maybe retrofitting that so that would be the eventual permanent house for a Miami Children’s Dade Medical College Learning affiliate facility.”

Corradino said the planning department had not received a new letter of intent or site plan from Dade Medical.

“I’m a little confused,” Councilwoman Judy Waldman said Wednesday. “I sat through all those meetings and thought the whole intention was a school. To me, that’s not full disclosure. They have a letter of understanding with Miami Children’s Hospital, and this is the first I’ve heard of it? This opens a whole big bushel of concern.”

Councilman Stephen Shelley questioned the timeline and asked how staff would reconcile the mismatch between the site plan they received and the college’s new intentions. Corradino’s answer was the same one he gave during the review:

“He is getting approved for what is on this sheet of paper. You want to change the theater into something else, you need to get that reapproved.”

The committee review minutes reveal the sweep of Perez’s involvement in downtown Homestead, from proposing a college to retail to residences.

He told review staffers of his plans to buy the Art South building on Krome Avenue and to refurbish a neighboring building for 12 tor 16 apartments. He added, “Right now, as you know, there used to be prostitutes and people smoking crack in front of the Montessori school, and [Police] Chief Rolle came to me and said, ‘Hey Ernie, would you mind buying this property so that we can get this element out of here?’ ”

Yet the CEO was oblivious to the site plan requirements. The planning staff noted that zero parking spaces had been provided, yet 130 spaces would be necessary. The traffic study contained conflicting data. There was no expected number of students, description of activities, or reasons given for approving the plan.

To Perez’s statement, “It’s in the ball court of what we are trying to do,” staff had to explain, “The application needs to be for what’s going to be in the building, you know, exact measurements.”

The change of use to a downtown urgent care center appeared to dampen council members’ enthusiasm for the project. Shelly said he supported the original idea of a university because it would be good for downtown. “So, yes, this could change the decision. I would have to see the proposal,” he said after the meeting.

Vice Mayor Jon Burgess reacted similarly. “My concern is that an urgent care center isn’t a part of a university. To me, that’s different. I was sold one bag of goods and am getting another.”

In the city’s option agreement with Dade Medical, however, one of the allowed uses of the CRA property is a medical outpatient facility such as the one Perez was talking about.

Throughout the CRA project discussion on Wednesday, Mayor Steven Bateman remained seated on the dais, despite telling The Herald two weeks ago of his wife’s real estate work for Dade Medical.

According to a Jan. 16th memo sent by Joseph Centorino, executive director of the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics, to elected officials across the county, the county code requires those with a voting conflict to “absent himself or herself from, [the] meeting during the discussion of the subject item.”

“He should not have been part of that discussion,’’ said Waldman. “I was shocked.”

Bateman has denied any conflict. He did not respond to an email sent on Friday afternoon or to several phone messages.

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