South Florida environmentalists are expected to voice opposition at Palmetto Bay council chambers on Monday night, where the council is scheduled to vote on a 22-acre rezoning package that will allow for single-family homes on privately owned forest land now peppered with hardwood hammock and pine rockland habitats.
The rezoning request comes at the request of the Palmetto Bay Village Center, the company that owns 80 acres in bayfront property at the southern tip of Palmetto Bay.
According to the rezoning proposal, a little over 20 acres will be for single-family homes. A little over an acre, at the northern tip of the parcel, will be zoned to allow for a fire station – something the village badly needs to fill a coverage gap in its eastern quadrant.
Tropical Audubon Society executive director Laura Reynolds says she’s fine with rezoning less than two acres for a fire station — but not 20 to develop housing where trees now grow.
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“It seems like there’s an all-out assault on endangered land. We really need to reevaluate how we proceed with development. We should be looking at infill development … redevelop areas rather than take on new, virgin forest communities,” said Reynolds, who will be speaking at Monday’s meeting.
But Scott Silver, a partner in the development company, says that this isn’t a case of greedy, environmentally insensitive South Florida development. This rezoning won’t allow for strip malls or high-rises, he says, but only single-family homes, and no more than two per acre. The land-use amendment also includes language that would require any development to cluster homes to maximize the preservation of tree canopies.
And, he adds, this rezoning doesn’t remove any regulatory power that the county’s environmental division, DERM, will have over projects on the site.
“Anything that identifies as pine rockland or hardwood hammock … and DERM will review this, we will not build in that area. We will build around it, next to it, somehow cluster the homes. That’s built into the ordinance,” Silver said.
Silver also notes that he tried to get those 22 acres, along with 15 others on the property, sold to the county’s endangered lands program. After negotiating for two years, negotiations broke down, he says.
The property, once the home of Burger King’s headquarters, already houses an office complex in its center, and 40 of its acres were rezoned in 2008 from office park to mixed-used to allow for townhomes, residences for seniors, and more retail space.
The 22 acres in question, which line Old Cutler Road on the west edge of the property, have since the early 1980s carried zoning designations that typically allow for trending development — that’s development according to usage trends on surrounding properties. But in 2005, when the village adopted its first comprehensive plan, it gave those acres a land-use designation of parks and recreation.
According to village zoning staff, in an analysis recommending the proposal, the zoning designation still in place should allow for development — but the parks and recreation land-use designation would likely block it. With this vote, both the land-use and zoning designations would be converted to village mixed-use designations.
When Burger King purchased the property, a covenant was put in place specifically regarding foliage on the boundary fronting Old Cutler Road. The covenant, which is attached to the staff analysis, reads: “The owners will continue to maintain native vegetation on the portion of their property located adjacent to Old Cutler Road … with the intent to obscure any visibility of the office building from Old Cutler Road.”