Miami-Dade County

Out west, developers want the chance to go big for traffic’s sake

Tropical Audubon Society director Laura Reynolds.
Tropical Audubon Society director Laura Reynolds. Miami Herald File

The developers behind “Green City” know their plan looks big: nearly 10,000 homes west of Miami-Dade’s development boundary, along with a sports and health complex, hotels, schools and more than 900,000-square-feet of offices.

But that’s the main selling point for the 860-acre development on the far reaches of West Kendall— build something with enough uses that residents won’t have to clog the highways by commuting east.

“Our proposal is to create a town center on the western side of the county,” said Mario Garcia-Serra, a lawyer and lobbyist for Green City, which is slated to be built out during the next two decades. “Part of the reason people are frustrated with growth and congestion in Miami-Dade County is the lack of longer-range planning.”

Green City’s request to move the county’s Urban Development Boundary about a mile west marks the start of another skirmish between environmentalists and developers. This one is seen as an uphill quest; the administration of Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez is reportedly cool on the plan, and the hometown county commissioner, Juan C. Zapata, also opposes it. “We certainly know the challenge that’s before us,” Garcia-Serra said.

Environmental groups have their guard up, and are vowing to beat back both Green City and a smaller industrial project proposed outside the UDB just south of Green City. They’re the two candidates for western expansion as commissioners consider whether to move the UDB later this year, part of a regular cycle of proposals to rethink established limits on growth.

“It’s put there for a reason,” Tropical Audubon Society director Laura Reynolds said of the UDB.

The Green City site mostly consists of row crops growing tomatoes, beans and squash. It also wraps around a county-owned well field that provides drinking water for thousands. Green City promises to insulate the wedge of land from pollution risk, but Reynolds argues the land is best left as is.

“Having 50,000 acres of agriculture is super-important when you talk about reducing your carbon footprint so you can grow food here,” Reynolds said. “And it’s important for recharging your aquifer — just having that open land that’s not paved over.”

The Green City proposal rests on Miami-Dade leaders concluding they need more housing stock to service a growing population. Developers acknowledge there’s more land east that can be developed, but say nobody can find a parcel in the western area large enough to provide new homes cheaply.

Developers promise a gradual build-out of 550 residential units a year for Green City to create a kind of urban center needed to convert a bedroom community to someplace where people can live and work. “This project is not motivated by a boom time rush to build suburban sprawl type housing,” reads Green City’s application. “It is a well-planned effort to address the County’s housing needs over a 20-year period of time.”

The Green City site sits within an area the county has designated for growth after 2020 should leaders decide to expand the UDB. Green City wants an accelerated timetable, citing a stronger-than-expected real estate rebound and Miami’s status as one of the least affordable housing markets in the country.

Developers promise a dense town center, with 40 units per acre in the downtown area and buildings up to 15 stories tall. A top employer in the development would be a “Sport and Health Village” aimed at training professional sports teams, with related medical and educational facilities and a pair of stadiums with 10,000 seats in all.

Though mostly row crops now, the site sits within walking distance of a Walmart on Kendall Drive and directly across from several dense subdivisions along SW 167th Avenue thick with terra-cotta roofs and attached garages. Moving the UDB would extend it to Krome Avenue, a north-south highway in the midst of a significant widening effort.

Green City said about 200 units would be reserved for affordable housing, which is available to households making no more than 80 percent of the median income. Developers also are touting Green City as a transit hub, though there are no rail lines that connect with it. Plans call for a regional bus facility and transit stipends for low-income workers. The application notes Baptist has a hospital nearby, and that Green City will provide a natural spot for those workers to live.

Another sensitive point is the possible expansion of SR 836 by the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority. Alternatives proposed by the toll authority would bring the highway by Green City, adding to environmentalists’ contention that a longer 836 will lead to more sprawl.

The main developer behind the project is the Cordoba family of Key Biscayne, which has been assembling much of the site since the 1990s, Garcia-Serra said. Other land owners in the proposed Green City site are the Miccosukee Indian tribe, according to county records.

Garcia-Serra, a partner at the Gunster law firm in Miami, said staff under Gimenez’s planning department don’t seem inclined to agree that the housing market justifies moving the UDB to accommodate Green City. Mark Woerner , the county’s assistant planning director, said no conclusions have been reached. “We’re at the beginning of the process,” he said.

Gimenez is being briefed this week on the application, but a source close to the mayor said early signs are he won’t endorse it. Zapata, who faces reelection in 2016 but hasn’t begun raising money, said he will oppose the proposal once it comes before the commission later this year.

“I think the idea is fascinating,” he said of Green City. “But I don’t think it’s doable.”

Richard Grosso, an environmental advocate and law professor at Nova Southeastern University, argued moving the line for one project tends to make it easier for even more more growth.

“If we put a new development out there, that simply begets another development,” he said. “Oh, now we need a Winn-Dixie.”