Miami-Dade County

Builder withdraws Miami-Dade boundary expansion for mall, water park amid opposition

Miami-Dade County’s western development boundary will stay where it is for now, after a plan to expand the line to accommodate a large shopping mall, IMAX theater and water theme park was abruptly withdrawn Wednesday amid mounting pressure from detractors.

The application from Turnberry Associates, which owns Aventura Mall and the Fontainebleau hotel, cannot return before the commission until May 2015.

Wednesday’s withdrawal marked a victory — at least a temporary one — for dozens of opponents who filled the County Hall commission chambers in orange T-shirts.

“We held the line,” said Laura Reynolds, executive director of the Tropical Audubon Society. “It gave us an opportunity to remind people how important this issue is.”

The developer accepted a motion from County Commissioner Jose “Pepe” Diaz, whose district includes the proposed building site, to withdraw its application.

“I don’t feel comfortable with the application as it is now,” Diaz said. “I’m going to ask the applicant if possible, that they withdraw the application at this time.”

Turnberry attorney Jeffrey Bercow said he had met one-on-one with commissioners before the meeting and was aware of their concerns — signaling that the board might have voted to deny.

“We’re going to withdraw the application,” Bercow said.

Commissioners voted 11-0 to approve the withdrawal and agreed to refund Turnberry 25 percent of its application fee — nearly $33,800, according to the county. Vice-Chairwoman Lynda Bell and Commissioner Juan C. Zapata, whose districts also abut the development boundary, were absent.

Commissioners were scheduled to vote on applications related to the county’s comprehensive development master plan, which can only be amended every couple of years. Among Wednesday’s proposals was Turnberry’s plan to develop the entertainment complex along Northwest 41st Street just west of Florida’s Turnpike.

Because the site lies outside the county’s Urban Development Boundary, approval would have required support from two-thirds of the commissioners present. A simple majority could also have voted to “transmit” Turnberry’s application to a state agency for review.

But the development drew opposition from county administrators, planners, the local community council and an unusual coalition of environmentalists and rock-mine operators. All agreed Turnberry had not met the high threshold to move the UDB, which limits development into the county’s western and southern fringes.

Environmentalists and miners, usually at odds over the effect of development on groundwater quality, said the proposed mall and water park would be incompatible with nearby rock pits and the county’s primary reservoir of drinking water, an aquifer within the Northwest Wellfield Protection Area.

Turnberry had argued its Doral Crossings project would not fit anywhere else in Doral or Northwest Miami-Dade. But planners countered that enough land is available elsewhere within the existing boundary and also questioned the need for another mall so close to Dolphin Mall and Miami International Mall.

Some opponents had hoped commissioners would deny the proposal outright and refuse to send it along to the state — putting the elected officials in opposition on the record and making it quite difficult for the project ever to be considered again. But the developer saw the writing on the wall and bowed out instead.

Still, environmentalist Reynolds said it is key for commissioners to withstand pressure from developers when it comes to moving the boundary. Along with restoring the Everglades, keeping low-lying vacant land out west open can help recharge the groundwater supply and keep saltwater intrusion at a minimum as sea levels rise.

“We have major issues we are facing” due to climate change, Reynolds said. “Everything we do should go through that lens at this point.”

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