Rouse project seen as catalyst for western Kendall city
By Sherri C. Ranta
The face of western Miami-Dade County is likely to change within a decade with completion by 2008 of Kendall Town Center, a 158-acre mixed-use office, retail, medical and community project by the Rouse Co.
Proponents see the project so large it needed a state-approved Development of Regional Impact order as a step forward for the predominantly residential community west of the Florida Turnpike, an area bounded by Everglades National Park.
The project is about a half mile from the county's urban development boundary to limit urban sprawl.
County planners told the Miami-Dade County Commission the town center development will put pressure on commissioners to push the boundary west, closer to the Everglades.
Many residents and homeowner associations in western Kendall support the Kendall Town Center, said Miami-Dade County Commissioner Joe Martinez, who represents District 11, the area where the project will rise. Construction is expected to begin next year.
West Kendall residents, he said, must travel east for employment, recreation and major shopping outlets the nearest being Town & Country Mall 3 miles away, east of the Florida Turnpike.
Kendall Town Center plans call for a mixed-use development of 1.3 million square feet of retail space; 400,000 square feet of office space, a 200,000-square-foot medical center, a 200,000-square-foot senior assisted-living facility, a 200,000-square-foot hotel, a 50,000-square-foot movie theater with up to 12 screens, a 50,000-square-foot community center, 10 acres of public land and lakes, and a 1-acre bus terminal.
The state's development order requires the developer to fund about $12 million in roadway improvements such as street widening, realignments and intersection upgrades.
West Kendall Community Council Chairman Hector Varela said he believes the development will lead to the birth of a city called West Kendall. The project will create a downtown area for western Kendall, he said, drawing the community together.
The project is expected to generate lots of tax money for the county, he said.
"They take from us. We don't get anything back," Mr. Varela said.
County and public school property taxes to be generated by the project are estimated at more than $3.9 million annually. The figure is only expected to increase.
Commissioner Martinez agreed that incorporation is on the minds of residents in his district. He said he expects some moves toward incorporation within five years.
The district, he said, is the most densely populated in the county and yet has no municipalities.
"I'm not opposed to it, whatsoever," Mr. Martinez said.
The difficulties, he said, become who and what areas want to incorporate. At least four or five factions, primarily homeowner groups, would like to incorporate to the exclusion of other areas, he said.
Mr. Martinez said he plans to introduce a resolution March 8 to establish a boundary committee composed of community residents to look at possible incorporation boundaries in District 11.
Although the size of the Kendall Town Center is regional in nature, and opponents say it will create more traffic congestion, county and state planning officials say the project is expected to serve residents primarily west of the Florida Turnpike. It is not expected to draw significant traffic from east of the turnpike, they said.
State and county studies show the project will create a reverse flow of traffic to the west. While the number of vehicles from Kendall Town Center heading west will hit about 4,700 during peak evening hours, the studies said, the time residents take on each trip is expected to decrease.
Proponents say the mixed-use development is a welcome alternative to more residential growth in an area where schools are over-crowded. Before rezoning, codes allowed low-density development at the site at six units an acre.
Mr. Martinez said development would probably have been higher. Other residential developments in the area have at least eight units to an acre, he said.
Rouse Development Director Ann Pope said the planned retail space is about equal to retail space at Dadeland Mall on Kendall Drive although the overall size, 158 acres, is much larger than Dadeland's 71 acres.
"I think this project will give our community our own identity and really create a meaningful town center for the area and improve the quality of life here," she said.
Ms. Pope, a resident of West Kendall, says the project is expected to create a community meeting place where families can shop, play and meet their neighbors.
"We identified this site six or seven years ago. We've had this in mind for quite some time."
The West Kendall area is the fastest growing in Miami-Dade County, she said.
In addition to retail space, Rouse is in final negotiations with Baptist Hospital for a Baptist-run urgent care facility at the site. Miami-Dade Police are also considering a community work station at the town center.
Chamber South, representing about 1,800 businesses in Kendall, South Dade and South Miami, supports the development, said President Donna Masson.
"We think it's real good planning for that community," she said. "It's a unique project, it will be a town center, not just another strip mall or outparcel."
County Commissioner Katy Sorenson said she believes there is always pressure to extend development westward.
"This commission and future commissions will always have to be diligent about protecting" the urban development boundary, she said.
The line protects the Everglades, she said, and contains urban sprawl, which puts enormous pressure on infrastructures such as water and sewer systems, police and fire rescue, schools and roads.
"The focus in the last few years has been eastward-ho," Ms. Sorenson said. "We need to fill in what we have."