Ags to Riches

Can rural Homestead find deliverance from rampaging developer Steve Shiver?

Homestead's Main Street is an encomium to the ideal of the small town, an open invitation to tourists more interested in quaint Americana than South Beach glamour. But by early afternoon on any given weekend day, the street becomes populated by a crew of leering, shirtless drunks and a few streetwalkers hopping into pickup trucks a block or two north of the Homestead Police Department's headquarters.

These remnants of the city's not-so-distant past as a rural outpost on the edge of South Florida's wilderness reflect the identity crisis facing the burgeoning burg, which, along with other southern county communities such as Florida City and the Redland, is teetering between dense suburban development and rural quietude.

Those who want the area to retain a small-town aesthetic argue that while large-scale row crops (such as soy) aren't economically feasible, smaller boutique ag operations such as tropical fruit, orchid, and even exotic-fish farms can thrive, creating an economic base while negating the need for a strip-mall and condo boom.

But if there is one sure-fire way to make quick money in South Florida, it is buying up some land and throwing together a housing development. Load up on red tile and stucco and conjure a name that evokes blissful living on faraway shores (think "Tuscan Villas" or "Florentine Lakes") or the state's own rapidly shrinking natural habitat ("Osprey Trace" or "Falcon Hammocks") and you're sure to sucker homebuyers swarming Miami-Dade County.

With inevitable population growth in mind, developers have been purchasing large tracts of land outside the Urban Development Boundary (UDB), hoping that county commissioners will extend the restrictive line, opening South Miami-Dade to a development free-for-all.

Thus it was amusing to hear former Homestead mayor and Miami-Dade County manager Steve Shiver declare his neutrality when New Times called him in January to ask why he'd gotten involved in Jeffrey Industries' failed bid to buy Homestead's flagging sports complex and turn it into a multi-use park. Sherry Miller, Jeffrey's president, said Shiver threatened one of her financial backers in the parking lot at city hall and actively worked against her bid. Shiver claimed he had no idea what she was talking about, and in fact had no idea how he always seemed to wind up in the middle of these kinds of situations.

As it turns out, Shiver put himself in the middle. In addition to haranguing Jeffrey Industries reps (Miller claims he called her and had a similar temper tantrum after New Times first wrote about the stadium deal), he went before Homestead's city council on behalf of Charter Schools of America and landowner/developer M&H Homestead to ask that the council give (as in, for free) the sports complex to the company as a setting for a charter school.

Shiver made his pitch after Jeffrey Industries submitted a letter of intent to purchase the complex. Tom David, Shiver's former chief of staff, is the president of Charter Schools of America. Many residents who showed up at council meetings to protest the Jeffrey Industries plan were parents whose children attend Keys Gate Charter School (elementary and middle grades), motivated by a letter from Charter Schools of America urging them to protest the sale so the land could eventually be home to an institution of similar quality for secondary education.

But there is another reason Shiver -- who told New Times he attended the sports complex meetings as a "concerned citizen" and M&H Homestead representative -- might be interested in the 138 acres of land. His father, Roy Shiver, is a Florida City commissioner and adviser to Mayor Otis Wallace with regard to that city's attempt to annex 4300 acres of land southeast of Card Sound Road. That land lies outside the UDB, but landowner Atlantic Civil and mega-developer Lennar Homes are reportedly planning large-scale housing and commercial tracts. That parcel is about a mile south of the Homestead Sports Complex.

 
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