Robert Is Here fruit stand against urban development
Facing controversy, the developer that wants to build an apartment complex across from the Robert Is Here produce market won a three-month delay Thursday to soften opposition from the popular South Dade destination.
Miami’s Treo Group requested the delay, saying it wanted to work with owner Robert Moehling to address his objections to the project, which could bring more than 300 apartment units to farmland facing Robert is Here, an iconic market in Miami-Dade’s rural Redland area. Moehling showed up with about 30 supporters, and a mix of digital and hard-copy petitions with more than 15,000 names opposing the county loosening development limits on Treo’s 20-acre property.
“My community was behind me. My community came to me and said: Are you going to let this happen?” Moehling said after commissioners granted the developer’s request. “My message was going to be that I have earned a little bit of respect from our community. To not destroy our community through one or two builders putting projects and high density out in our area.”
Commissioners were set to take their first vote on the project. Now that vote is set for Oct. 30. A vote against the project would reject the application, but a vote in favor would advance the application to a state review. A second, final vote before the commission would likely come in 2020.
The Robert is Here vote offers a high-profile test of the commission’s eagerness for more development in the Redland, an agricultural region at the edge of the Everglades that’s home to most of the county’s farming industry.
There are other apartment complexes and housing developments to the east of the proposed project, but mostly farmland to the west. The Treo site is currently leased farmland, with crops of okra, green beans and squash over the years, according to Heather Moehling, head of marketing at Robert is Here and Moehling’s daughter-in-law.
Along with the county approving looser development rules for the property — a key step ahead of winning a zoning change — Treo wants to lift a 2007 deed restriction limiting development on the farmland located at West Palm Drive and Southwest 192nd Avenue. Treo proposed a land-use change that would allow up to 497 units, but agreed to a limit proposed by county zoning staff that would bring the cap down to 327 units.
The existing 2007 restriction limits construction of a residential development to a project less than half that size. Treo points to nearby subdivisions and apartments, as well as a tight housing market, to justify the larger project as a natural step for farmland within the county’s urban-development zone. The developer has agreed to make 32 of the units on the property priced in the “workforce” range, which targets buyers or renters earning about $70,000 a year.
“As the population of Miami-Dade county grows, more and more individuals will be cut off from having the opportunity to acquire residential units,” Treo wrote in its request for expedited approval of looser development limits on the 20-acre undeveloped farm. The “lack of available housing inventory will only increase the housing affordability issues that plague the County.”
The 327-unit allowance proposed by county zoning staff is still 65 percent larger than the 198-unit cap previous owners offered Miami-Dade commissioners in 2007 when the property secured a slightly looser land designation. Development plans stalled during the housing crash, and a property that sold for $5.1 million in 2006 ended up getting bought by Treo for $2.6 million in November.
Treo is a leading builder in Miami-Dade, with a city deal to develop the Regatta Harbor retail and marine complex in Miami and more than 40 buildings and projects across the county listed on its website. One of Treo’s partners in the project across from Robert is Here is developer Sergio Pino, according to the application.
Treo lobbyist and lawyer Juan Mayol, of Holland and Knight, declined an interview request outside the commission chambers. The delay gives Treo a chance to negotiate a less dense development plan, with the possibility of fewer units or other concessions to blunt the Robert Is Here opposition.
Matthew Schwartz, director of the South Florida Wildlands Association, joined the Robert Is Here crowd for Thursday’s meeting of the County Commission. He said the Treo project would make a large residential development an unwelcome landmark for people visiting the Everglades. “There’s nothing this dense” as close to the park,” Schwartz said.
Moehling said the only concessions he’s interested in is the developer agreeing to build within existing limits. “He can walk away and just do it low-density housing,” Moehling said.