wplg logo

‘You can’t buy wildlife once it’s dead’: Commission allows 550 residences on disputed Calusa golf course

Miami-Dade County commission puts an end to golf-course community

Opposition to plans to redevelop a golf course in Miami-Dade County prompted neighbors to start the Save Calusa campaign. They rented a bus to attend a zoning meeting on Wednesday in downtown Miami and witnessed commissioners vote 10-2 against their cause.

MIAMI – Opposition to plans to redevelop a golf course in Miami-Dade County prompted neighbors to start the Save Calusa campaign. They rented a bus to attend a zoning meeting on Wednesday in downtown Miami and witnessed commissioners vote 10-2 against their cause.

The Calusa Country Club closed about a decade ago. Opponents said the lot’s 577 trees are home to the Florida bonneted bat, great egrets, cattle egrets, blue herons, tricolored herons, anhinga, and a rare redhead. Ron Magill, a wildlife expert, attended the meeting.

“I am not being paid to say one word or to be here ... get the information from U.S. Fish and Wildlife from Florida Fish and Wildlife commission ... You can buy consultants, you can buy good attorneys, you can’t buy wildlife once it’s dead,” Magill told commissioners.

Late last year, commissioners lifted a covenant that would have restricted the property use to a golf course until 2067. Without the covenant, the zoning allowed for 30 new homes, but the developer wants hundreds, and commissioners voted to allow it.

Kendall Associates I LLLP, a GL Homes affiliate, purchased the lot at 9400 SW 130 Ave., for $32 million on Feb. 16. The developer submitted an application on Feb. 18 to build 550 single-family residences. In May, the developer’s arborist reported 156 trees were not candidates for preservation and a subsequent county review disputed those findings, according to an Oct. 7 county memo.

The developer hired an ecologist as a consultant who wrote a letter to county regulators promising a plan to protect the bonneted bat, which has been a federally protected endangered species since 2013, and wildlife advocates said were roosting in the trees. The developer’s plan includes a commitment to 22 acres of lakes with vegetation.

The Save Calusa activists were not having it. Clad in green, they were determined to get in the way of the redevelopment plans, but 12 out of the 13 commissioners voted and 10 sided with the developer. Commissioners Sally A. Heyman and Joe A. Martinez were the two dissenting votes.

“Traffic is a huge concern,” said Martinez, who represents West Dade’s unincorporated areas, including Country Walk, Hammocks, Kendale Lakes, Bent Tree, and Lakes of the Meadows.

Commissioner Rebeca Sosa was not at the meeting. Commissioner Raquel A. Regalado, who represents the district where the golf course is, voted to allow the 550 homes. The other commissioners who put an end to the golf-course community were Oliver G. Gilbert, III, Jean Monestime, Keon Hardemon, Eileen Higgins, Danielle Cohen Higgins, Kionne L. McGhee, Javier D. Souto, Jose “Pepe” Diaz, and René Garcia.

Amanda Prieto, a Calusa neighborhood activist, said their decision was disappointing. The Save Calusa group members said they knew it was a David and Goliath battle between residents who loved to live in a golf course community and a member of the powerful Bacardí rum family who saw a business opportunity. Prieto said many residents signed secret deals to not object to the developer’s plan.

“It’s a sad reflection on the fact that money can incentivize people to make decisions for instant gratification that lead to long-term disaster,” Magill said.

Redevelopment plan

Developer's proposed plan. (MDC)

Read the letter by the developer’s consultant

Read the DERM review memo

Related corporation links


About the Authors:

In January 2017, Hatzel Vela became the first local television journalist in the country to move to Cuba and cover the island from the inside. During his time living and working in Cuba, he covered some of the most significant stories in a post-Fidel Castro Cuba. 

The Emmy Award-winning journalist joined the Local 10 News team in 2013. She wrote for the Miami Herald for more than 9 years and won a Green Eyeshade Award.