The ongoing development of a 400-unit, luxury apartment complex has been the source of a quarrel between residents, the county and the developer.
On Oct. 22, more than 50 Ojus residents –– specifically those living in the residential area along Northeast 26 Avenue –– voiced certain traffic concerns during a Community Zoning Appeals Board meeting in Highland Oaks Park. Ojus is an unincorporated town in Northeast Miami-Dade County.
“We, as the residents, have a tremendous amount of traffic here,” said Pat Micus, adding that a high number of traffic incidents have been reported in his neighborhood. “Now with them increasing the traffic here –– with other future development plans for the area –– is just egregious.”
Uri Man, the area vice president for Gables Residential, the development company building on the lot of land south of Northeast 203rd Street and west of Biscayne Boulevard, met with residents on Oct. 29 –– as a courtesy to residents, according to Man–– to reach a compromise, and explain the situation.
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Before Gables Residential, a previous development company owned the lot and had a project approved by the county called Aventura Crossings. The company later sold the land to Gables Residential in 2007. The Aventura Crossing project had land use variances leaving entrances and exit points to the discretion of the developer.
The previous plan, with Aventura Crossing, stated that the major entrances and exits points would be along West Dixie Highway. Under Gables Residential, those points were moved to Northeast 26th Avenue. The Aventura Crossing project was also approved under an old zoning code. Shortly after Gables Residential assumed ownership to the land, the county passed the current Ojus Urban Area District zoning code. The current project received site plan approval under the current zoning code in 2013.
Many residents including Micus say they were blindsided by Man’s new changes. “The plans that were proposed before had entrances and exits on Dixie Highway,” said Micus, adding that the Dixie Highway points made the project more feasible for residents.
Eric Silva, the county’s senior zoning chief, says the current zoning code does not say where the developer can or cannot put the access points; moreover, Man adds that, “residents were under the impression that the county could not give a developer site plan approval without consulting with them first.”
“Once this was adopted–– this new zoning district: the Ojus Urban area zoning district–– the current developer submitted a plan to us and that only required an administrative review,” Silva said. “It doesn’t need to go to a board for approval. There were no variances; they met the code, so we approved it. The code doesn’t specify whether the access is on 26th Avenue or Dixie Highway.”
What some residents are calling a back-door deal, Man and Silva are calling it miscommunication. After the meeting, Man says he and the residents were able to reach a middle ground.
“We agreed to limit access to our project from the 26th Avenue entrance to residents and guests only, and to have all traffic exits out of Dixie Highway,” Man said.
Residents including Marsha Hecht, who lives in Highland Lakes — an unincorporated community just northeast of Ojus — say this is another reason for the area to become incorporated. In a letter to the Miami Herald, Hecht says incorporation would make the area, “a city where local decisions like zoning, security and keeping and improving the quality of our neighborhood, are made by local people who have a vested interest in and who are accountable to the community they serve.”
Micus and the residents of his neighborhood disagree and say the solution lies in retaining their independence and working with county leaders and policy makers.
“We have no problems with the developer, we want to see them do this,” Micus said. “But we want have proper access to our neighborhood and keep the residential neighborhood, like it is, with residential minor streets and major traffic on Dixie Highway.”
The next community meeting is scheduled for Nov. 12. Gables Residential plans to bring forward the final changes to the development of project.