The town of Cutler Bay has imposed a six-month moratorium on development to study the impact of sea level rise.
Since mid-July, all properties east of Old Cutler Road have been under the moratorium, impacting about half the city. The town has been researching environmental regulations aimed at addressing sea level rise and ensuring sustainable development in the future, according to the unanimously approved ordinance initiating the moratorium.
“We want to look at, if and when we have new developments, what can we do to protect more of the natural environment?” said town manager Rafael Casals.
As part of the moratorium, the town will also study traffic and mobility, along with landscape standards and designs. Construction and renovations on single-family homes will not be affected by the environmental component of the moratorium, nor will ongoing or already approved development projects.
Cutler Bay encompasses a host of coastal wetlands habitat overseen by various regulatory agencies, including the Miami-Dade Department of Environmental Management (DERM). While much of that land is already protected from development, the town’s goal is to make sure those critical areas remain healthy.
“Coastal wetlands and mangroves provide a buffer for storm surge, they are sort of like the first line of defense,” said Lisa Spadafina, chief of DERM’s Natural Resources Division. “These areas really do provide some significant protection to the developed areas in the county.”
Protecting sensitive wetlands from storm water runoff is one key, Casals said. As part of that, there have been discussions to reintroduce natural landscaping to minimize the need for fertilizer or irrigation in those areas. New road berms and canals may be built as buffers. The Corradino Group has been contracted to help study new regulations to implement, the town manager said.
While municipal leaders are confident that the moratorium is in the best interests of the town, real estate growth has slowed in Cutler Bay, according to Realtor Rebecca Carmona.
“Whenever you halt any type of development, we have found that this also impacts real estate,” Carmona said. “People will slow their purchases and think twice.”
“There is a lot of opportunity for growth in Cutler Bay and for real estate purposes they should continue to allow that growth to happen,” Carmona said.
Councilman Roger Coriat, whose entire district has been affected by the moratorium, said he has not faced pushback from constituents or developers. He said that many people, like himself, recalled evacuating from the area during Hurricane Irma in 2017 along with thousands of other residents.
“Most of Cutler Bay is in a flood zone,” said Coria. “The most crucial issue for us is to build resiliency on our eastern edge facing Biscayne Bay.”
The moratorium appears to be the first of its kind in Miami-Dade County, and Cutler Bay has led the region in other areas as well with its Green Master Plan. As of Oct. 1, Cutler Bay became the first municipality in Broward, Miami-Dade and Monroe counties to receive a 30 percent discount on its flood insurance premiums for residents. It is only the third in the state to do so.
Residents were required to build one foot above the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s requirements, according to the town manager. The town also improved its drainage system and preserved additional open space for flood hazard areas, among other initiatives. Now, Cutler Bay has earned a Class 4 in FEMA’s and the National Flood Insurance Program’s Community Rating System, allowing a total savings of approximately $1,800,000 for the town, according to a press release.
Cutler Bay is also the focus of larger and more long-term regional restoration efforts from state and federal agencies. The Army Corps of Engineers listed it as one of the most vulnerable areas in South Florida, and has been researching the area for its ongoing environmental risk management study.
“We have 45,000-plus residents in Cutler Bay,” Coriat said. “And they should be able to live safely and securely in the face of what’s coming our way in the decades to come.”