Miami-Dade County commissioners on Wednesday opened the door to more warehouses and offices west of Doral, agreeing to expand the Urban Development Boundary to include a 521 acre-chunk already surrounding by buildings.
They also largely rejected staff recommendations that would have protected more than 3,600 additional acres previously marked for future expansion. County planners, echoed by environmentalists, had argued that much of the land is environmentally sensitive or important to protecting the drinking-water supply — and not needed anytime soon because the county’s population growth has slowed.
Chairwoman Rebeca Sosa defended her vote to move the UDB, which was designed to limit suburban sprawl and protect the county’s agricultural lands and natural areas, calling the parcel in question “one of those extreme cases.”
“I am always against moving the UDB line” when buildable land remains inside the boundary, Sosa said.
It was the first time the commission moved the UDB since 2011, when they redrew the line to include 120 acres for business and office space by the Homestead-Miami Speedway. The buildable land inside the boundary should last the county until 2026, up from the previous estimate of 2021, according to Miami-Dade’s latest comprehensive development master plan.
Wednesday’s tract, in a so-called “donut hole” just north of the Dolphin Expressway and just west of the Florida Turnpike, was left outside the UDB in 2002 when commissioners approved the adjacent Beacon Lakes and Shoppyland Enterprises industrial and office projects.
County planners also supported the move, calling the parcel an anomaly. They recommended allowing limited industrial and office construction, given that water and sewer lines and roads already extend to the area.
Commissioners agreed to expand the UDB with an 11-1 vote, with Sosa, Vice Chairwoman Lynda Bell and Commissioners Bruno Barreiro, Esteban “Steve” Bovo, Jose “Pepe” Diaz, Sally Heyman, Barbara Jordan, Dennis Moss, Jean Monestime, Javier Souto and Juan C. Zapata in favor. Commissioner Xavier Suarez voted against. Commissioner Audrey Edmonson was absent from the vote.
A Florida agency that reviews long-term county development plans had objected to the initial expansion because of increased traffic. The county said it addressed that concern by limiting how much the multiple landowners in the area would be allowed to build.
Environmentalists, who opposed the expansion, fear it could set a precedent for other landowners to argue that they should be allowed to file similar “backfill” development applications to straighten out jagged UDB borders.
“We don’t want developers to use this as a tactic,” said Laura Reynolds, executive director of the Tropical Audubon Society.
In other growth-related actions, the commission went against three of four staff proposals to eliminate or shrink the size of three tracts just outside the UDB that have been identified since 1983 as urban expansion areas for future development.
According to the county’s regulatory and economic resources department, two of those lie in potential flood zones or hurricane evacuation areas or have been targeted for Everglades restoration projects. Policies in the county’s master plan indicate building on such lands should be avoided.
Environmentalists also urged protecting more land around a drinking-water well field south of Southwest 42nd Street and west of Krome Avenue.
Commissioners came close to siding with them, voting 6-5 in favor to keep development away from the well field. But the measure needed seven votes to pass under county rules, so it failed. Commissioners Edmonson and Souto were absent from the vote.
Commissioners also rejected the recommendation for the other two tracts east of the Homestead Air Reserve Base, citing concerns from property owners who said their land would lose value if they no longer had the future development designation.
“It does no harm to keep it the same,” Bell said.
Two major farmers and landowners said Wednesday that they their properties are collateral for bank loans. If the properties lost value, they said the farmers’ finances could be at risk.
“If the line is moved, the values of those lands affected will decrease, and we will have serious issues with banks,” said Nicolas Diaz of Manuel Diaz Farms in Homestead. “Bankruptcy will be the only option.”
An attorney for nearby Alger Farms made a similar argument.
But Col. Chris Funk, commander of the 482nd fighter wing, supported constraining future development on the two parcels by the base, citing noise from military aircraft and the potential for major accidents.
Commissioners did approve reducing one urban expansion area west of 137th Avenue between Northwest 12th Street and Southwest Eighth Street by 575 acres because it could contain future wetlands.
Several board members also questioned the county’s projections for slowed population growth, as did land-use attorneys who claimed the county has a dwindling housing supply.
The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity had said the county underestimated growth in its original projection. Mark Woerner, Miami-Dade’s planning chief, said the county adjusted its numbers to include higher immigration rates, as suggested by the state.
But even then, net population growth will still slow down between now and 2030, said Woerner, noting the county’s solid track record in predicting demographic changes. The state itself found the county’s method was sound.
Still, commissioners repeatedly questioned the projection, saying they refused to believe that Miami-Dade would not continue to see a similar influx of new residents from Latin America.
“I have a hard time subscribing to any data suggesting that we’re going to have a reduction in population growth within the next 10 to 20 years,” Monestime said.