Construction of Kendall project delayed by lawsuit
By Sherri C. Ranta
Construction of the planned 160-acre Kendall Town Center, to include Baptist Health South Florida hospital and a 24-screen Muvico movie theater, is on hold because of legal challenges.
Developer Jeff Berkowitz filed an appeal and a lawsuit citing flawed traffic studies and government procedures to reverse the Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners' June decision to approve the project that would front Kendall Drive between Southwest 158th and 162nd avenues.
The action will prevent General Growth Properties from moving forward with construction, said company executive Edward A. Ely, but the company will continue preliminary engineering work necessary to widen Kendall Drive from Southwest 150th to 162nd avenues. The county also has required the company to make improvements to several other streets in the area.
General Properties bought Rouse Co., the original developer of Kendall Town Center, and most of its properties in November.
The suit questions the county's standards for plan changes and inconsistencies with the comprehensive plan. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Feb. 24 on a request to dismiss most claims in the lawsuit, said Craig Coller, assistant county attorney.
The appeal and lawsuit contain similar challenges, he said, with regard to traffic concurrency requirements, changes to the comprehensive plan and variances granted. He said it isn't known when a court will rule on the actions.
Mr. Berkowitz, president of commercial developer Berkowitz Development Co., and West Kendall resident Valentine Fisher initiated the legal actions.
"Our primary issue is traffic-related," Mr. Berkowitz said. "Rouse did two things - they used 5-year-old traffic studies and only studied morning and evening traffic, when the theater and entertainment center would not be doing any business."
He said the county approved a bus stop with 24 parking spaces rather than require Rouse to fully comply with traffic regulations.
"A Muvico theater will compete with my business," he said, "but this is not about competition. It's about everybody playing by the same set of rules. Let them study it properly."
Mr. Berkowitz is a key developer in Kendall Village Center, a retail-commercial center on Kendall Drive at Florida's Turnpike, where he is developing a 16-screen Regal Cinema. Kendall Village Center is about 4 miles from the Kendall Town Center project.
Mr. Fisher is a resident of Southwest 96th Street, Mr. Berkowitz said, who objects to the hospital being built near his home. Originally, the hospital was to front Kendall Avenue and a smaller movie theater was planned, Mr. Berkowitz said.
Kendall Town Center is expected to include a 120-room Hampton Inn hotel, a 125-unit apartment building for seniors and several retail, restaurant and office components.
Recent studies have suggested that a planned rapid-transit line to western Kendall probably will not be built due to a shortage of funds from the county's half-cent sales tax, said Miles Moss of the Citizens' Independent Transportation Trust, the group that oversees spending of the tax, and a member of an area homeowners association. That means new development would only worsen traffic congestion in the area, he said.
"The sentiment of the community is that everyone wants to see a hospital," he said, "but there is also the sentiment that traffic is just becoming horrendous."