Miami-Dade could lose millions by not budging on urban development boundary line issue
By Risa Polansky
Should Miami-Dade County fight the state over commissioners' decisions to allow new projects outside the urban development boundary, it could cost more than just time and attorneys' fees: funds for roads, water and sewer systems, and even storm and hurricane protection could be withheld.
Against the advice ofcounty staff, commissioners voted in April to allow a Lowe's home improvement store and a commercial project outside the imaginary line meant to serve as a buffer between dense development and the Everglades.
They later voted to override a veto by Mayor Carlos Alvarez.
Then the state weighed in.
The Florida Department of Community Affairs in July declared the county's decisions out of compliance with state and regional policies.
Comprehensive Planning Chief Mike McDaniel in his report listed one "recommended remedial action": reversing the commission-approved amendments to the county's Future Land Use Map.
Commissioner Katy Sorenson has been pushing to do just that, warning colleagues that a battle with the state could cost Miami-Dade.
"In a tough budget year, not only have we made a bad development decision, but now we're making a bad financial decision," she said.
She hoped the county's Governmental Operations and Environment Committee would vote last week to reverse the decisions and submitted legislation to that tune, but committee Chair Natacha Seijas did not include the item on the agenda.
Ms. Seijas did not return calls requesting an explanation.
Leaving the decisions in place and going through long administrative hearings with the state "could affect other state funding," Ms. Sorenson said.
is true, in fact," said attorney Andrew Dickman, a former urban planner. "There's
a very large array of state monies that could be withheld… they (the county)
have the possibility of losing millions, billions, of dollars if they can't come
to terms with what the state is requiring."
Florida statues say that, if the administrative hearings between the county and state escalate as high as the Florida Cabinet — called the "Administration Commission" in this role — and that commission agrees the county's moves are non-compliant, the commission "may direct state agencies not to provide funds to increase the capacity of roads, bridges, or water and sewer systems."
The officials may also take the county out of the running for some revenue sharing, as well as some grants for community and recreation development.
Funds for storm and hurricane protection could also be held back, statutes say.
Now, there are "plenty of opportunities for the county to fall in line," Mr. Dickman said — and most governments don't fight the state all the way to the Administration Commission.
"It very rarely, I'll tell you, goes the distance," he said. "A local government will rarely ultimately go that far where they basically brush off the state... there's so much pressure on them to receive funds."
But even if the battle doesn't escalate to the level of losing state monies, the county attorneys involved in the administrative hearings "could be otherwise engaged," Ms. Sorenson said. "We have plenty of other work to do."
Mr. Dickman said the same.
"If the county digs their heels into the ground and decides they're not going to move, they're certainly putting themselves at risk — but at minimum, the county will incur quite a bit of legal fees."
The City of Miami could be in the same boat.
Commissioners voted in May to remove marine industry protections from the Miami River element of its Comprehensive Land Use Plan, striking the word "port."
The state Department of Community Affairs in July came out against the move, asking the city to provide "specific strategies to preserve recreational and commercial working waterfronts… the strategies must be based on meaningful and predictable standards."