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County cites Carlisle probe as housing vote is delayed

Miami-Dade commissioners delayed a decision on Tuesday to certify 11 affordable-housing developers because one of the firms, Carlisle Development Group, is under investigation by a federal grand jury.

Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s administration cited a Miami Herald report on Sunday that revealed that prosecutors suspect Carlisle of defrauding the U.S. government of tax subsidies to build low-income rental apartments.

“One of the firms that is on that pre-qualified pool is now the subject of a federal investigation, so we need to take a look at that a little bit longer,” he said.

The board had been scheduled to approve Carlisle as one of its pre-qualified vendors to develop affordable housing on county-owned public housing sites. Qualifying for the pool does not guarantee future work, but implies that the vendor has “successfully demonstrated its qualifications” for projects in the pipeline.

Several commissioners had another problem with the list, saying not enough developers had been notified of how to be included. Among them was Commissioner Audrey Edmonson, who also noted that Carlisle has yet to be charged with any wrongdoing.

“I always thought you were innocent until proven guilty,” she said.

Over the past decade, Edmonson has received more in political campaign contributions from Carlisle, its affiliated corporate entities, and its executives and their relatives than any other county politician.

Lester Sola, director of the county’s internal services department that oversees the vendor pools, said news of the Carlisle investigation will allow Miami-Dade to notify more developers of the pre-qualification list and will not hurt the other 10 companies that had expected approval Tuesday, because no projects are imminent.

“We understand that they are only allegations [against Carlisle], but it would be wise to pause,” he said.

In other business Tuesday, commissioners signed off on a resolution supporting Sun Life Stadium’s bid to host the 50th or 51st Super Bowls in 2016 or 2017, respectively. Landing the 50th game — never a certainty — appears to be even more of a long shot because Florida lawmakers on Friday failed to take action on Miami Dolphins-backed legislation required to renovate the 1987 stadium.

The local Super Bowl bid committee, which will present its proposal to National Football League owners Wednesday, had been counting on those upgrades. The San Francisco area and its brand-new stadium is also competing for the 50th game, with Houston also in the mix for the 51st championship.

Also Tuesday, commissioners:

•  Approved Gimenez’s surprise request to allow the county attorney to file a legal motion to intervene in a lawsuit between the archdiocese of Miami and the city of Miami. The $89 million lawsuit, filed by Catholic Archbishop Thomas Wenski and the archdiocese last month, claims the city’s Miami 21 zoning code devalued the church-owned LaSalle High School and Shrine to Our Lady of Charity properties in Coconut Grove.

The Miami-Dade circuit court lawsuit seeks to annul sections of the code that affect the church properties just south of the county-owned Vizcaya Museum and Gardens. The city has said the claim has no merit.

Gimenez said the county has an interest in the outcome of the case because changes to the code could allow building that would affect views from Vizcaya. “It’s in our best interest to be part of this particular lawsuit,” he said.

Two of the 11 commissioners present disagreed with Gimenez: Bruno Barreiro and Xavier Suarez. Commissioners Jose “Pepe” Diaz and Juan C. Zapata were absent.

•  Provided the Nigerian-American Foundation with county-owned land in Miami Gardens to build a museum and cultural center. The proposal by Commissioner Barbara Jordan was delayed earlier this year after Commissioner Lynda Bell questioned giving the land away. Since then, the county created a policy requiring a lease agreement and rental payment in such deals, unless a hardship exists for a nonprofit renter.

Under the lease under approved Tuesday, the nonprofit foundation will pay the county $1 in annual rent over 50 years, with two, 24-year possible extensions. The foundation qualified for a hardship because it intends to spend $5 million to $6 million to build the center, and would later invest any revenues back into the operation.

• Hired TransCore to convert to SunPass and toll-by-plate the toll plazas at the Venetian and Rickenbacker causeways, which currently accept cash and C-Pass. As part of the five-year, $4 million contract, the Pennsylvania-based firm — which has a local facility in Miramar — would have to complete the conversion by June 2014.

The conversion, which would save the county $1.1 million a year, was required by commissioners as part of their agreement to hike the Rickenbacker tolls to fund emergency repairs to the Bear Cut Bridge to Key Biscayne.