A new task force will study one of the most contentious issues facing Miami-Dade: the imaginary line separating the county’s housing developments and shopping centers from the Everglades.
Mayor Carlos Gimenez recently formed a panel to study pockets of land just outside the official Urban Development Boundary, the line that forms the western and southern frontiers between permissive building rules and low-growth restrictions. On the one side of the UDB: suburban housing developments and shopping centers. On the other: farmland and large-lot houses.
Gimenez is appointing environmentalists and developers to the task force, which will only look at areas designed to be brought into the UDB zone if Miami-Dade ever chooses to move the line. The panel could recommend adding more area to the designated growth zones or create new ones, shrink existing boundaries or even eliminate some altogether.
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In general, we like the idea of opening up more avenues to construction and cheaper housing. But we want to see a well-thought-out plan for transportation.
Alex Lastra, president of the Latin Builders Association
Recommendations from the task force aren’t expected until next year, but the start of the review process has slow-growth activists rallying for another fight.
“I have been involved in trying to hold the line in Miami Dade since 2005 and we have won some and lost some of these battles,” Laura Reynolds, a longtime environmentalist now representing the Friends of the Everglades, wrote in an email Thursday to members of the Hold the Line Coalition. “So let’s revamp and recommit to this very important issue.”
Gimenez has publicly supported keeping the UDB intact, and in the memo said, “the County remains committed to promoting infill development to reduce pressure to extend the UDB.” But he has sounded supportive of a plan to extend the Dolphin Expressway past the line and into Kendall. That route would take the toll road past the UDB and could increase pressure to allow development to extend to the new expressway.
The battle between environmentalists and the building industry over moving the UDB stretches over decades. Miami-Dade’s latest revisiting of the issue comes during a regular review of the county’s growth policies — a blueprint known as the Comprehensive Development Master Plan, which includes the UDB.
I have been involved in trying to hold the line in Miami Dade since 2005 and we have won some and lost some of these battles.
Laura Reynolds, environmentalist
Miami-Dade reviews its development plan every seven years, and the cycle arrives amid unprecedented political attention to the perils of climate change on Miami-Dade, including the aquifer that feeds wells in the western reaches of the county. Add in growing complaints about traffic and a push for more affordable housing, and the UDB issue could spark a broad look at how the county should triage its challenges.
“In general, we like the idea of opening up more avenues to construction and cheaper housing,” said Alex Lastra, president of the Latin Builders Association. “But we want to see a well-thought-out plan for transportation.”
Gimenez asked the Latin Builders Association and the Friends of the Everglades to serve on the 18-member task force, which is charged with studying the areas that are the first candidates for UDB expansion. The panel is a mix of conflicting interests, including: the Tropical Audubon Society and the Sierra Club; the Florida Home Builders Association and a representative of the rock-mining industry; homeowners groups and a group representing farmers.
The group isn’t charged with recommending whether the UDB should move. But Gimenez asked the panel to offer new criteria for how Miami-Dade should consider requests to move the line into the designated areas. Known as Urban Expansion Areas or UEAs, the pockets of land were established in the 1990s and remain mostly unchanged, according to a May 16 county memo.
The county’s planning staff recommended eliminating some of the expansion areas in 2013, during the last review process, but county commissioners mostly rejected the idea. Property owners in one of the areas, outside of the Homestead Air Reserve Base, said losing the growth designation would unwind loan agreements pegged to future value of the land. Commissioners did agree to eliminate 575 acres from one expansion area in order to protect wetlands.
Jerry Bell, the county’s assistant director of Regulatory and Economic Resources, said reviewing the UEAs are a key element to looking at future growth — including the fate of the UDB.
“They’re the areas where, if it was warranted, you could potentially move the Urban Development Boundary,” he said. “We kind of wanted to use this opportunity to take a big-picture look at the plan as a whole. The boundary is a part of the plan.”
Miami-Dade has scheduled six town halls in June for its scheduled review of the county’s Comprehensive Development Master Plan, a growth blueprint that includes the Urban Development Boundary. The meetings are:
▪ Tuesday, June 6, 6 p.m.: Kendall Village Center, 8625 SW 124th Ave., Miami
▪ Wednesday, June 7, 6 p.m.: Ruben Dario Middle School, 350 NW 97th Ave., Miami
▪ Thursday, June 8, 6 p.m.: African Heritage Cultural Arts Center, 6161 NW 22nd Avenue Miami, 6 p.m.
▪ Saturday, June 10, 10 a.m.: Norman and Jean Reach Park, 7895 NW 176th St., Miami
▪ Tuesday, June 13, 6:30 p.m.: Highland Oaks Park, 20300 NE 24th Ave., Miami
▪ Saturday, June 17, 10 a.m.: South Dade Regional Library, 10750 SW 211st St., Cutler Bay