Miami Herald | EDITORIAL

Smart growth, meet dumb move


OUR OPINION: Miami-Dade commissioners’ unwise approval of expanding urban boundary will cost taxpayers more

There’s enough buildable land within Miami-Dade County’s Urban Development Boundary to satisfy projected growth needs until 2026, says county planning chief Mark Woerner. That projection is new — the initial date was 2021, but county planners, backed by state experts, say population growth will continue at lower rates through 2030.

That projection has a lot of ramifications for Miami-Dade, many could be negative. But not to the Miami-Dade Commission, which moved the UDB recently and refused to protect 3,600 more acres earmarked for development, jeopardizing the county water supply and land that would better serve the Everglades than local builders.

The commission approved a 521-acre parcel for development west of the Florida Turnpike and north of the Dolphin Expressway. The land is surrounded by commercial buildings — a so-called “doughnut hole” left out of the UDB when the commission approved the Beacon Lakes and Shoppyland Enterprises office and industrial projects in 2002. Using the fig leaf that the 521 acres are sitting in the middle of development already, the commission, in an 11-1 vote, made the tract available for more warehouses and office buildings. That’s not smart growth.

On the surface, this might seem to make sense. But it’s only reasonable because of earlier, often controversial, commission decisions pushing the boundary west against staff recommendations. Almost every time the commission expands the UDB it sets a new precedent for future “reasonable” moves west allowing development on “backfill” or adjacent land. The argument being “there’s development next door, so why not on my land, too?”

Incrementally, the commission is chipping away at land set aside in the comprehensive development master plan to preserve the county’s agricultural economy and to keep construction away from well fields and protect the Everglades.

Commissioners’ votes on other staff land-use recommendations mostly reflect a gung-ho westward expansion mindset. They rejected proposals to eliminate or reduce development on three tracts just outside the UDB in Southwest Miami-Dade, earmarked in 1983 as future expansion areas for growth. The county’s regulatory and economic resources agency says that the parcels are in a potential flood-zone or hurricane-evacuation area or are targeted for Everglades restoration projects or well-field protection. The master plan wisely says that such lands shouldn’t be developed.

But commissioners didn’t buy it. They almost agreed to protect more land around a drinking-water well field west of Krome Avenue, but couldn’t muster the votes. Only one proposal got the nod: the commission reduced possible development in an area west of 137th Avenue by 575 acres for its wetlands potential.

In expanding the UDB again (the last time was in 2011) and refusing to pull some parcels out of future development mode, commissioners unwisely ignored county planners’ reasoning that slowed population growth in Miami-Dade has reduced demand for new development. Even with more newcomers from, say, Latin America in the future, planners project net population growth will slow for nearly two decades.

Instead of ignoring the messenger, commissioners should seek ways to offset the negative economic effects that fewer new residents could trigger. Let’s focus on bringing more diverse industries and investments to Miami-Dade — not adopt a “if we build it, they will come” attitude.

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