September 1, 2014

Development

Pushing the Boundaries

Miami-Dade considers letting development creep closer to the Everglades.

David Villano | 8/1/2004
Throughout the southern reaches of Miami-Dade, tract homes are sprouting faster than the tomatoes, pole beans and other vegetables that long have dominated the life and landscape of the area. The county's southern communities, mostly unincorporated, have become its fastest-growing, with the area's population expected to boom by some 250% by 2025.

With land values skyrocketing, home builders want to push beyond the vast agricultural lands and other undeveloped remote parcels. In recent months, developers have unveiled plans for two major housing developments outside the county's Urban Development Boundary (UDB) -- the line separating developable lands from the Everglades and other environmentally sensitive areas. Such proposals must be approved by the county commission.

In the West Kendall area, a Georgia-based home builder is proposing 1,655 homes, 8,874 apartments and 650,000 feet of retail space. Meanwhile, Atlantic Civil Inc. has plans for what amounts to a new city south of Florida City at the gateway to the Florida Keys. The site includes land deemed by some as vital to the Everglades restoration project. The project calls for 6,000 homes, a school, a 250-room hotel and 400,000 square feet of commercial space that would add 18,000 full-time residents.

Although some county officials have expressed concerns over the plans, commissioners are exploring the possibility of shifting the normally sacrosanct UDB. In May, the County Commission instructed staff to study the impact of moving the boundary farther west and south to satisfy demand for more housing. The study will take about a year, says Chuck Blowers, research chief at Miami-Dade's Department of Planning and Zoning.

Since 1988, the county has moved the boundary four times to accommodate development proposals. Proponents of the shift argue that Miami-Dade needs the space for some 25,000 residents arriving each year.

While Blowers says the study is merely an advisory document, environmental groups accuse county officials of capitulating to the demands of home builders and their lobbyists.

"I think (county commissioners) are feeling overwhelmed by the applications to build outside the UDB," says Nancy Liebman, president of the Urban Environment League, a group advocating environmental preservation and sustainable growth strategies for Miami-Dade. "But this isn't the answer. The county needs to find creative ways to handle growth -- using infill, existing building stock -- but not in ways that affect the Everglades and add to our existing abundance of sprawl."

Tags: Miami-Dade, Environment

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