DEBBIE M. ORSHEFSKY:
Planning Florida’s Future
DEBBIE M. ORSHEFSKY is helping to plan Florida’s future. As a shareholder in Greenberg Traurig’s Fort Lauderdale office, she focuses her practice on land development and environmental law. As a pro bono leader in the Urban Land Institute (ULI), she’s helping to address key statewide issues, such as better transportation networks and the continuing need for workforce housing.
“Transportation and housing are important to the long-term viability of our state,” says Orshefsky, who is chair of the firm’s National Land Development Practice Group. “Today, it’s all about sustainability.”
A longtime advocate of various public policy initiatives, Orshefsky in 2008 organized the state’s five ULI district councils and prepared a report, “Connecting Florida: Transit and Florida’s Economy,” on developing an integrated transportation system in each metro area and connecting those regional systems statewide. “An enormous amount of planning has been done, but it hasn’t yet been conveyed to local communities,” she says. “We want to show what could be accomplished with a broader, public-private approach.”
A New York native, Orshefsky knew at an early age that she wanted to be involved in land-related issues, although her father was a furrier. Her older brother was a developer, giving her plenty of opportunities to inspect local construction sites.
As an undergraduate at Washington University in St. Louis, Orshefsky majored in urban studies, taking classes in architecture, urban planning and sociology. After graduating in 1975, she decided to become a lawyer rather than a planner, and enrolled at George Washington University’s School of Law. One of her professors was representing Collier County before the Federal Trade Commission on issues regarding underwater land sales. Orshefsky assisted him, and was soon working on issues involving the Golden Gates Estates development in Naples.
After earning her law degree in 1979, Orshefsky worked in Washington for a year before heading for Florida. She joined a small Miami firm and began representing South Florida land owners like Ed Ansin, who was planning a major business park in Miramar, now the Miramar Park of Commerce. “At that time, there were only grazing lands in Pembroke Pines and Miramar west of Douglas Road,” she recalls. “We put the entitlements in place to begin the area’s development process.”
At that time, there were few women lawyers in Florida and only a handful were active in land development, says Orshefsky. She joined the Florida Association for Women Lawyers (FAWL), and served as president in 1981-83. “Growing up in the Northeast, I had not identified with women’s organizations,” she says. “But in Florida there needed to be a vehicle to address the unique issues facing women lawyers.”
In 1985, Orshefsky married her husband David, also an attorney. They have two children, now students in college and high school. “We all enjoy traveling, cooking and entertaining at home,” she says.
Orshefsky joined Greenberg Traurig in 1983, and as she says, “My professional career changed dramatically. She began handling large-scale Broward developments for clients like Cleveland Clinic, The Related Companies, Gulfstream Racetrack, Michael Swerdlow and The Rockefeller Group. She was also active in Miami-Dade and Collier counties, as well as other locations around the state.
For more than 25 years, Orshefsky has focused her practice on comprehensive planning, zoning, subdivision controls, community redevelopment, infrastructure planning and financing, as well as state, regional and local roles in land use decision-making.
Over the past three years, the national downturn in the real estate market has resulted in a dramatic slowdown in new projects. “Fortunately, we are working on some large land use plan amendments, which can be quite time-consuming,” she says. “We have also had a very diverse land development practice that goes far beyond condos and hotels. But it’s certainly nothing like the ‘rah-rah’ years of the early 2000s.”
Orshefsky has also been working with the firm’s international energy practice, which involves working with corporate clients on financial and regulatory matters. “Being able to link the public and private sectors is one of our strong suits,” she says. “From alternative energy to urban infill and LEED-certified buildings, sustainability is vital to companies, developers and tenants.”
Orshefsky is expecting South Florida’s real estate market to recover in the next few years. “Hopefully, the private equity funds will get back into action,” she says. “Because lenders and investors will be more skittish, especially for ground-up projects, developers may need to add other layers of financing to the package — something affordable housing developers have done for years. That would be a logical step in Florida’s evolving real estate market.”
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