Smack in the middle of a densely populated neighborhood in West Kendall lie nearly 230 acres that are physically in Miami-Dade County, but soon may fall out of the county’s control.
Since 2001, the land in suburban Kendale Lakes has belonged to the Miccosukee Golf & Country Club. Two years later, the Miccosukees asked the federal government to designate it tribal trust land — a change that would strip the county of its existing regulatory authority and do away with a zoning restriction prohibiting development.
This summer, the U.S. Department of the Interior granted the Miccosukee’s request.
Now the county is appealing the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ decision, saying the federal government did not give due weight to concerns on matters including drainage, zoning and public safety that would be affected by having a slice of a sovereign Indian nation in the heart of a residential neighborhood.
In its appeal, the county called the decision “unreasonable and also erroneous,” arguing that the Bureau did not consider the objections Miami-Dade first raised in 2003 — including the possibility that the property could some day house a casino.
Topping Miami-Dade’s concerns: the county’s inability, under the new trust designation, to enforce an existing, 99-year zoning restriction known as a covenant from 1972 that requires the property to remain a golf course.
The covenant requires that any zoning change have the consent of three-quarters of neighbors and a majority of county commissioners. The county, in its appeal filed last month, opposed lifting that restriction.
The federal government’s decision, issued in July by Randall Trickey, acting director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ eastern region, repeatedly says the Miccosukee have no plans to change the use of the property. The tribe, Trickey wrote, plans to continue to bring guests of its gaming resort, which is five miles away, to Kendale Lakes to play golf.
In a statement to The Miami Herald, Miccosukee Chairman Colley Billie touted the change in the golf course’s designation but did not elaborate on the tribe’s plans for the property.
“Placing the Miccosukee Golf Course in trust for the Tribe will continue to benefit all South Floridians by generating more family-style recreation as well as much-needed jobs and other forms of economic development for our communities,” he said.
Through a spokeswoman, the county administration declined to comment, citing the pending appeal.
The possibility of turning the golf course into a casino was raised by former County Manager George Burgess in a 2003 memo listing objections to the trust designation.
“If the Tribe decides to incorporate a casino on the property or change the use, the County can expect a substantial increase in traffic and calls for service in the area on and around the property,” he wrote. “The cost of servicing the local area would increase and the burden of funding police service would fall upon the taxpayers of Miami-Dade County.”
In his decision, Trickey said that the concern about potential gambling on the property is “without foundation.”
“My analysis of the Tribe’s request reveals that the proposed acquisition is not for gaming purposes,” he wrote.