A plan to expand Miami-Dade’s western development boundary narrowly failed Tuesday as supporters of a commercial project fell one vote short of moving the proposal onto state regulators for review.
More county commissioners voted for the project than against, but moving the Urban Development Boundary required at least seven votes and only six commissioners landed on the yes side. Chairman Jean Monestime had left the dais for the discussion and didn’t return for the vote, even as the developer asked someone to go find him. That left the developer, Neighborhood Planning Co. LLC, with a 6-5 loss and environmentalists with another win in the long-running battle over how far west to expand the construction frontier known as the UDB.
“There is no need for the urban expansion at this time,” Mark Woerner, county planning chief, told the commission. “There is an adequate supply of land within the UDB.”
Joseph Goldstein, the developer’s lawyer and lobbyist, described the 61-acre bean farm as a wedge of rural land being encircled by the consequences of a growing county. It sits at the juncture of Krome Avenue and North Kendall Drive, two of the busiest roads in western Miami-Dade, and is bordered by a planned apartment complex. “This is not the Everglades,” Goldstein said. “But, rather, farmland being encroached upon by very significant activities.”
Knowing the political reluctance to expand the UDB — a larger project outside of the boundary called Green City was rejected last month — Neighborhood Planning offered several restrictions, including that no residences be allowed to go up on the land. The property overlaps with the county’s western wellfield protection zone, home to one of the county’s largest sources of underground drinking water. Developers pledged to ban hazardous materials from the property in order to protect the aquifer.
A group of politically connected owners backed the project, including Rodney Barreto, an owner of the Floridian Partners lobbying firm, and Sergio Pino, one of Miami-Dade’s top builders. Pino and Barreto are significant donors to commission races and Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, whose administration opposed the development proposal.
In urging commissioners to reject the proposal, the county’s planning department said developers wanted a commercial venture outside the UDB while there are still ample supplies of land inside the development zone for at least the next four years. Environmentalists who spoke against it emphasized the drinking-water supplies in question were even more vulnerable given the risk of contamination from sea-level rise. “This is an industrial site on top of our wellfield,” said Julie Dick, of the Everglades Law Center.
Goldstein said the project, a mix of retail and industrial businesses, was designed to ease congestion in the suburbs, where housing is plentiful but jobs aren’t. “Part of the solution to address the imbalance is to create employment opportunities,” he said.
Commissioner Juan C. Zapata, whose district includes the project site, asked commissioners to send the proposal on to state regulators for comment, but with a negative recommendation. It would then come back to the commission for a final vote. He criticized the proposal for seeking industrial space that’s not needed, but argued that the push by environmentalists for low-density development in the west has led to bedroom communities with grueling commutes. “There were lots of mistakes made in that area,” he said. “And we’re paying for it.”
Zapata’s proposal failed 6-5, with Monestime absent and Commissioner Sally Heyman not in attendance for the start of the meeting. Voting with Zapata were commissioners Bruno Barreiro, Esteban “Steve” Bovo, Jose “Pepe” Diaz, Barbara Jordan, and Javier Souto.