May 13--Broward County officials are exploring whether to pay up to $40 million for a nursery wedged between Port Everglades and Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport that has been owned for 70 years by the family of former U.S. Rep. Clay Shaw.
Officials have no plans for the 40 acres but say they worry that if the land is left for private development, it could hamper future expansion of the two major transportation hubs. The nursery is one of the few large undeveloped tracts of private waterfront property east of Federal Highway.
Shaw, a former Fort Lauderdale mayor who served 26 years in Congress before losing his seat last year, said he has had only one brief conversation with the county. Senior county administrators, though, have since met with commissioners over the past few weeks about having the property appraised.
Shaw said he has no plans to develop the site even though his family receives about a half-dozen inquiries a year from developers about doing so.
"We are always talking to someone about it, and something will eventually happen," Shaw said. "It's 40 acres east of Federal Highway, so it's obvious people would be interested in it."
The purchase of the Shaw site would be the largest at the airport and seaport since the controversial decision in 1997 to buy 271 acres of swamp and scrubland from developer Michael Swerdlow for $120 million. That purchase ended the career of the county administrator and contributed to the defeat of two of the four commissioners who voted for it.
Whether to buy the Shaw property could prove to be divisive as well because of its price and lack of any plan for the property.
"To take millions of dollars and spend it on property that we don't know what we would do with does not seem to be a good business decision," said Commissioner John Rodstrom, who unsuccessfully challenged the Swerdlow deal a decade ago.
One of his newer colleagues, Commissioner Ken Keechl, agreed. "I don't think the people of Broward County want us to purchase property we don't need," Keechl said.
The acreage, off Taylor Road with frontage along the Dania Cut-off Canal, has been owned by the Shaw family since the 1930s and is used to grow palm trees. Although it is on the tax rolls for agricultural use, the county approved the land for commercial and industrial development in the late 1980s.
Shaw said past proposals for the land have included a high-end hotel.
Shaw declined to say how much he thought the property was worth. However, Port Director Phil Allen said the county thinks the asking price was $40 million. An internal county estimate placed the value at around $30 million without taking into account the lucrative water access.
Allen said the property is not needed as part of the port's plans to expand its cargo and cruise business nor as part of the airport's long-range plans that include extending the south runway. He said the property's location warrants that the county consider buying it because private development there would limit future options for the airport and seaport.
"Any time land near the port or airport is on the market, it behooves the county to take a look at it," Allen said.
The sudden interest, though, has caught county commissioners and the city of Dania Beach off guard.
Most of the property is in Dania Beach, and City Manager Ivan Pato said he would be concerned about the county taking developable property off its small tax base.
County Commissioner Stacy Ritter said she would want to ensure Dania Beach's concerns are addressed but said the county should explore buying Shaw's property.
"The port and airport are going to expand, and there is not much land left in the area, so I don't think we need to know today exactly what we would do with the property," she said. "To me, what is important is planning for the future and having the ability to expand when we need to."
Broward County commissioners agreed Tuesday to spend $10.7 million on an 18-acre tract that could someday be turned into a parking garage.
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