Miami-Dade County

Developer says rare pine rockland not for sale

Amy Werba, at center, marches with others as the Miami Rocklands Preservation Coalition and other groups rally to protest a Walmart and an amusement park planned for protected pine rockland near Zoo Miami in January.
Amy Werba, at center, marches with others as the Miami Rocklands Preservation Coalition and other groups rally to protest a Walmart and an amusement park planned for protected pine rockland near Zoo Miami in January. Miami Herald Staff

Not everything has a price, after all.

A Palm Beach County developer building a Walmart-anchored shopping center on a rare patch of Miami-Dade County pine rockland said Monday he won’t sell the land to the county for conservation after Mayor Carlos Gimenez announced plans Friday to pursue the purchase.

“The Coral Reef Commons property is not for sale,” Peter Cummings said in a statement.

Cummings, who emailed that he was in Rwanda on Friday trekking through mountain jungles to visit with the gorillas of Virunga National Park, said in the statement he planned to develop the land “as permitted,” which would include a habitat conservation plan now being worked out with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Cumming’s company, Ram, became the subject of protests and online petitions last year after it revealed plans to build the Walmart, along with an LA Fitness, restaurants and apartments on about 88 acres Ram purchased from the University of Miami for $22 million. The land is part of the last, largest intact tract of pine rockland outside Everglades National Park, a sliver of forest that once covered about 185,000 acres between Florida City and Miami.

Cummings argues the rockland is no longer viable forest, in part because it is overrun by exotic species, and that his plan provides a sustainable strategy for saving some portions of the forest.

“Calling it pristine pine rockland isn’t accurate,” Cummings said in a Saturday letter to Miami Herald editors, written before news of the county purchase plans. “Having development and conservation coexist is a time-tested, successful approach.”

But botanists say as long as the limestone forest floor remains intact, the forest can be easily restored by removing invasive plants. They also say far more rare native plants exist on the property than previously thought and even more plants than in the protected pine rockland inside Everglades National Park. A recent count tallied 55 plants on the Richmond tract not found inside the park, said botanist George Gann.

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