Following commission vote, Miami-Dade mayor last resort to veto expansion of Urban Development Boundary

MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. – It is now down to wire for those looking to uphold Miami-Dade’s Urban Development Boundary and protect land environmentalists say is needed for Everglades restoration and saving Biscayne Bay.

“That’s the problem with this project. It is in the wrong place at the wrong time, and it’s never going to be the right project for this area,” said Laura Reynolds with Hold the Line Coalition.

After three deferrals over the past 14 months, last week Miami-Dade’s Board of County Commissioners approved a plan by developers to expand the UDB to convert farmland in south Miami Dade into a new warehouse and commercial complex near Homestead, but the mayor can still veto the plan.

She has until Friday.

“Not this project and not now,” Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said from the dais during last Tuesday’s commission meeting. “Our planning department stand firmly opposed to this application.”

Levine Cava has been strongly against the application from the get go. She had enough support from the commission to block it, up until last week when Commissioner Raquel Regalado flipped her no vote to a yes.

“We have come a long way in saying it’s either the economy or the environment,” Regalado said.

In this new application, developers scaled back their project from 800 acres to 383.

On This Week in South Florida, Regalado told Local 10 News’ Michael Putney and Glenna Milberg that her yes vote was about securing land for preservation, reaching a deal with developers to donate two acres of environmentally sensitive land for every acre developers got for new construction.

“Instead of waiting for the federal government to decide and find money to maybe purchase this land, what I brought to my fellow Commissioners, the idea of developing 311 acres of this, but preserving twice that 622 acres,” she said.

But opponents says that sets dangerous precedent, that other developers can now preemptively buy up land the county’s already been eying for preservation.

“The cost of that land is inevitably going to go up if it is now used as a bargaining chip for developers to move our urban development boundary,” said Miami-Dade District 8 Commissioner Danielle Cohen Higgins.

In fact, Cohen Higgins did the math and brought receipts.

“With the vote today we will be increasing the land value of this 380 acres from approximately $20.5 million with one vote to $86.7 million, just by moving the Urban Development Boundary,” she said.

That means developers stand to make upwards of $66 million if this deal goes through.

At stake is the future of farming in south Miami-Dade, and plans to restore our fragile ecosystem down there.

“This is why we received letters from the federal government in this instance saying don’t move this line,” said Cohen Higgins. “We are looking at this land for Everglades and Biscayne Bay restoration. All of that was completely disregarded.”

Not just that, but the land also sits on a coastal high hazard area.

“Look no further than the impending storm that’s coming towards the state of Florida, we shouldn’t make it easier to develop in coastal high hazard areas which this project represents,” said Reynolds. “It makes it easier to develop in low lying areas, and that’s exactly the opposite direction we need to head.”

Developers say they plan to mitigate that by raising the land upwards of four feet, but haven’t addressed how they would protect abutting properties from potential flooding.

Still, developers insist this is a big win for south Miami-Dade, boasting that it would bring some 7000 jobs to the area that they would also clean up.

“The property itself is contaminated,” said Aligned Real Estate Holdings Developer Jose Hevia. “We are going to remediate that at our expense. So environment, jobs, opportunities for these disenfranchised folks who live in south Dade.”

Said Levine Cava: “There is no jobs guarantee and it’s a false claim to say that a warehouse development is better for the environment than agriculture.”

The proverbial ball is literally now in the mayor’s hands.

“The Commission can still change their mind, especially if the mayor vetoes this bad deal,” said Reynolds.

If Levine-Cava exercises her veto power and decides to block the UDB from being moved, she’d have to overcome the super majority of county commissioners who passed it.

The mayor would need to flip just one of those eight commissioners who voted yes. If the veto moves forward, that re-vote would happen at the next commission meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 15.

About the Author:

Louis Aguirre is an Emmy-award winning journalist who anchors weekday newscasts and serves as WPLG Local 10’s Environmental Advocate.