Developers, conservationists at odds over development boundary
By Samantha Joseph
Developers and conservationists again are clashing over a possible extension of Miami-Dade County's urban-development boundary.
At least two major landowners have pending proposals to build outside the current western development zone.
In February, Atlantic Civil Inc. submitted pre-application documents to the South Florida Regional Planning Council seeking approval to develop 32,000 acres near Florida City. The development boundaries could be remapped around the project.
Another proposal by D.R. Horton would create 6,000 residential units, 400,000 square feet of retail space, schools, 70 acres of parkland and 75,250 square feet of office space outside current boundaries.
Miami-Dade County commissioners last month approved a study to examine the possibility of shifting the boundary.
"Sprawl is what this is all about," said Urban Environment League president Nancy Liebman.
The league opposes construction outside the current designated zone, drawn to protect wetlands and other environmentally sensitive areas. The group maintains that a boundary change would create a dangerous precedent that would threaten the Everglades and the county's water supply.
"Once you extend the boundary line for the first developer, a second developer comes in and wants the boundary line extended for him," said Ms. Liebman, a former Miami Beach city commissioner. "If there were no restrictions, we'd pave over the Everglades.
"The reason the boundary line was drawn was to protect the environment and quality of life of the citizens, so there is no reason why that boundary line should be extended," she said.
In proposing the county's review of the boundaries, Commissioner Dennis Moss said he wants to study whether heavy development in Miami's urban center has forced out low-income residents. The study would also examine a shift of the boundary to accommodate the county's brisk population growth.
"We know that it's an issue, but we don't know the extent of it," assistant director of planning Subrata Basu said last month.
The decision to consider a boundary shift was a rare deviation for county commissioners, who for about two decades had staunchly avoided a change, according to assistant county attorney John McInnis.
The county's planning department is to perform the study and present findings and recommendations to county officials within a year.
As the study gets under way, developers continue to make plans outside the zone.
Atlantic Civil, a Miami construction company, owns a 32,000-acre parcel between Southwest 352nd Street, US 1 and Card Sound Road. If it succeeds in gaining approval, the construction firm plans to build 6,000 residential units, two schools and 390,000 square feet of office and retail space, according to spokesman Ed Swakon, president of EAS Engineering.
The company would limit development to a 980-acre spread already permitted for filling to prevent flooding, he said.
"The fact that this property already has permits to fill 980 acres suggests that the environmental concerns associated with work in that area aren't very significant," he said. "Their comments are so out of line with reality. This development will not impact the Everglades. It will not impact Biscayne Bay."
Atlantic Civil also has permits to excavate 250 acres to create a lake and will reserve 1,970 acres for environmental conservation, he said.
Another project pending outside the western boundary is Providence, by D.R. Horton, which owns a 900-acre site bounded on the south by Southwest 120th Street, on the north by Southwest 104th Street, on the west by Krome Avenue and on the east by Southwest 167th Avenue.
"We're trying to look at creating an entire town concept," said D.R. Horton attorney Miguel De Grandy.
Providence would be a two-part development, he said. Work on Phase 1 would start by 2010, with the second stage slotted for 2010-15, Mr. De Grandy said.
"This project is about creating a community," Mr. De Grandy said. "We have looked at it, and we do not believe this property has any jurisdictional wetlands whatsoever."
D.R. Horton and Atlantic Civil cite heavy demand for housing in Miami-Dade as driving forces behind their plans.
"That's the big excuse, that they're running out of space," said Ms. Liebman. "There's plenty of space that can be developed."
She said developers have overlooked options where they might convert old inner-city buildings into residential projects. Opportunities for developing vacant land along railroad tracks are often bypassed, she said, along with other urban-infill possibilities.
"It's just a matter of being a little more creative," Ms. Liebman said. "There is land all around the county that can be developed."