Current designs for a Walmart shopping center on a rare tract of endangered forest in South Miami-Dade County will likely lead to the deaths of federally protected butterflies and bats, U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials told the developer Thursday.
“It basically puts the ball in their court to figure out the next move,” said agency spokesman Ken Warren.
During a three hour meeting with Ram Realty Services Chairman Peter Cummings, wildlife officials told Cummings he needed to apply for a federal permit or redesign the project, said Ashleigh Blackford, the agency’s supervisor of planning and resource conservation. The meeting caps weeks of talks triggered after the Palm Beach County developer unveiled plans in July for a 250,000-square-foot shopping center, parking lots and 408 apartments on one of the last remaining large tracts of pine rockland.
But Cummings, who has vowed to make his Coral Reef Commons project a model of conservation, said surveys completed by scientists he hired dispute the agency’s findings.
“We have detailed science from well-respected surveyors and scientists leading to a different conclusion,” he said. “We don’t believe that there is a significant likelihood of” killing any species.
The proposed project will eventually cover 137 acres, with about a third of the land split into four preserves for pine rockland, a globally imperiled forest found only in South Florida, the Bahamas and Cuba. The forest once covered much of the spiny limestone ridge between Florida City and Miami but has shrunk to just 2 percent of its historic size. It is home to a menagerie of rare species including the Florida bonneted bat and Bartram’s hairstreak butterfly.
In recent months, federal officials have moved to protect a number of species inhabiting the forest. The Bartram’s and Florida leafwing butterflies were both added to the endangered species list and three plants are being considered. The largest forest intact tract tract intact outside Everglades National Park surrounds Zoo Miami and includes the land where Coral Reef Commons is planned.
Blackford said if the “goal is to ultimately avoid” killing species, then the project needs to be redesigned.
Cummings said he is working on a way to resolve the agency’s concerns but declined to say whether he would change the design that places restaurants including a Chili’s and Chik-fil-A along Coral Reef Drive and the Walmart, an LA Fitness and apartments on either side of Southwest 124th Avenue.