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Academic Village headed for wetlands mitigation?

By Staff | May 1, 2012

The cost is only $5,000, but that money could determine the future of the long-sitting, 182-acre Academic Village property on the corner of Del Prado Boulevard and Kismet Parkway.

Monday at the City Council workshop at City Hall, business manager Michael Ilczyszyn spoke to council about the need for the city to use that money to reserve mitigation bank credits to offset wetland impacts at the village in hopes of getting something built there.

“We want to create an atmosphere of excitement. This would be one less hurdle when we recruit businesses to build there,” Ilczyszyn said. “We want to compete with other areas in this region and state.”

According to the plan, the development of Academic Village shows impacts on wetlands and preservation, requiring the purchase of mitigation credits because the preservation isn’t sufficient to offset impacts.

The credits are available from the Little Pine Island Mitigation Bank, requiring a $5,000 deposit to reserve them for up to two years until full payment is provided.

The credits offer developers a form of wetland replacement for unavoidable wetland impacts. The sale of wetland mitigation credits is used to fund the cost of restoring Little Pine Island, according to the bank’s website.

The total cost of the credits would be $990,000, which could be paid for by a private entity if it chooses to develop there. At that time, the Army Corps of Engineers and the South Florida Water Management District could begin permitting, the bill said.

Councilmember Chris Chulakes-Leetz asked what a mitigation bank did and what the money would be used for.

A mitigation bank, Ilczyszyn explained, would allow a parking lot to be built in a wetland, for example, provided a better wetland is built somewhere else.

“We’re paying to destroy wetland?” Leetz asked.

“We’re moving a habitat somewhere else,” Ilczyszyn answered. “The $5,000 buys us 24 months. An extra 10 percent ($99,000) buys us another 24 months.”

Ilczyszyn said the city can lock in current prices with a 25 percent deposit of the original price.

Councilmember Kevin McGrail said it would be $5,000 well spent.

“Time is money. To put this in place for $5,000 is a great investment,” McGrail said. “We can get our money back many times over.”

The city approved the purchase of the 171-acre Academic Village land in 2003. About 60 acres of wetlands/mitigation preserves are on the property, of which 30 acres can be developed.

The original plan was to have a university or high school built there. In 2009, plans were considered to allow a private concern to build an aquatic center with an Olympic-sized swimming pool. That controversial plan went nowhere.

The latest proposal came last August for a convention and entertainment center.

It’s been enough to make Mayor John Sullivan throw up his hands.

“We need to get out of the real estate business,” Sullivan said.