Final panel report to suggest urban boundary line study
By Lou Ortiz
It has been three decades since Miami-Dade County drew a zigzagging line that bars development in the western fringes of the county, which has frustrated builders, commissioners and the mayor.
But the county's Charter Review Task Force hopes to end the tug-of-war over the Urban Development Boundary line when the 21-member panel submits its final report on Jan. 29.
On an 11-5 vote on Jan. 9 the task force came up with recommendations that it hopes will be adopted by the county commission.
Part of the proposal involves the use of an outside independent group to study where the line should be now and reexamining the issue every five years to determine whether the line should be moved.
Until the group's report is completed and approved by the commission, the task force recommended that any decision to move the line should be approved by a three-fourth's vote of the commission, amounting to 10 of the 13 commissioners.
If only a simple majority of commissioners agrees to extend the boundary, the matter would be taken to voters to decide.
"There is a huge groundswell in this community about development," said Charter task force chairman Victor Diaz, who led the discussion on the line at the panel's meeting on Jan. 9.
He said the commission has a responsibility to protect the county's natural resources, but there may come a time when residents want to expand or retract the line.
A result of the way decisions potentially affecting the line are handled now many are left "voiceless" when the county debates projects that may fall outside the line because the focus is on those communities that will be immediately impacted by the proposed development.
For example, Mr. Diaz said, the line is secondary to: "I want a Home Depot."
The line was initially implied in 1975 in the county's first Comprehensive Development Master Plan and explicitly noted in the land use map in 1983.
The line defines where development is allowed and areas where it cannot go. The aim is to protect agricultural land, the Everglades and wetlands, among other things.
Development is prohibited in an area roughly west of Southwest 172nd Avenue and into Southwest 157th Avenue. The development border extends to Eureka Drive in Cutler Ridge south to Southwest 137th Avenue into Homestead.
"Some bureaucrat… decided where the line was going to be," Commissioner Carlos A. Gimenez, a member of the task force, told the panel.
"One day we may want to move the line," he said. "The whole line has to be looked at periodically."
Miami attorney Jorge Lopez agreed. He also said: "There are places where this line needs to be clarified. We need a comprehensive analysis to define where this line should be."
In December, Mayor Alvarez told the county commission to adopt a comprehensive and "coherent vision for the future development of Miami-Dade County."
He said that "current projections foresee a possibility of warranted expansion of the UDB some time between the years 2015 and 2025."
At the January task force meeting, attorney Elizabeth Hernandez said the issue on whether to move the line should continue to rest with the current commission process.
She said the commissioners were elected by residents to represent them and make the kinds of decisions the task force wants to change.
Ms. Hernandez added that the county administration's staff reviews all development applications and advises commissioners before they act. So, in a sense, the task force recommendations were "disrespectful to [the county's] professional staff," she said.
Former Miami mayor and county commissioners Maurice Ferre, who voted for the recommendations, said the commission may very well ignore the task force on the issue.
Nonetheless, he said, "we have to send a message."