Fabiola Santiago

Fabiola Santiago: Mayor’s mega-mall push ignores impact on northwest Miami-Dade communities

Rendering of proposed American Dream mall in northwest Miami-Dade
Rendering of proposed American Dream mall in northwest Miami-Dade Courtesy

To the county powerbrokers anchored in downtown Miami, the small bedroom communities in Northwest Miami-Dade may be expendable in their quest to increase the tax base and create jobs.

But if Mayor Carlos Gimenez and the Miami-Dade County Commission are going to destroy the quality of life of residents with their push to bring a grotesque megamall and theme park to their doorstep, they ought to at least listen to the people whose lives they’re up-ending.

“There’s such gridlock already we can’t get out of our own neighborhoods,” says Patricia Collado, a paralegal, mother of a Tennessee-bound firefighter, and president of the Palm Springs North Civic Association.

This is a woman who works hard for the middle-class community she has called home for the last 27 years, an unincorporated enclave where people used to slow down, wait — and smile — while ducks crossed two-lane roads, but that is now a showcase for rattled nerves.

In the last few years, PSN has fought off annexation efforts by the cities of Miami Gardens and Miami Lakes. The expansion of Northwest 87th Avenue through the neighborhood’s west end has diverted traffic into the once quiet, residential streets. Blasting from a rock mining operation that moved just a few miles west is rattling their homes, cracking foundations.

Yet another shopping center and a charter high school are in the works for the neighborhood — although there are already eight schools within a five-mile radius and plenty of retail.

As if all that weren’t enough, here comes the overnight surprise that Gimenez has secretly brokered a deal to bring not just any mall, but the “biggest mall in America,” to land to the west of PSN and east of the rock mining operation at the intersection of Interstate 75 and Florida’s Turnpike.

No matter how sweet the politicians want to couch it, this means that a tremendous amount of traffic and noise will pour into nearby residential areas, including Miramar in Broward.

To add the proverbial insult to injury, giving just a week’s notice to residents affected, the county commission has scheduled a key vote for Tuesday to assemble land, now in state hands, for the developer.

“There’s no done deal,” Gimenez insisted Friday in an interview with me. “This vote is only on the assemblage of the land and requirements for job-creation that comes with the land. There is a process, a very public process, and not just one, and this is going to last for some time, and people will have a right to come to the county commission to let their voices be heard.”

Members of the public will get a chance to speak for two minutes each on Tuesday — but with such short notice, Collado says, many working people won’t be able to show up. If the county commission votes to approve the land deal, the next opportunity would come only in up-zoning and land use meetings after the mayor and the county commission have already put all the land necessary for a project of this magnitude in the developer’s hands.

How fair to residents is that fast-tracking? With the land deal in place, the project moves forward. Why, Gimenez was even willing to exaggerate the job potential of the project to see it happen. In a memo to commissioners, Gimenez said 25,000 jobs would be created, when in reality the contract with developer Triple Five requires only 7,500 over a 15-year-period or Triple Five has to pay fines. That’s quite a difference, but the mayor now denies he ever asserted that the project would create 25,000 jobs. He told the Herald this week that the 7,500 number is just a “floor,” and that he believes the mall will employ 25,000 people if the developers are allowed to build what they want to build.

If the commission approves Gimenez’s deal to put the state acreage in the hands of the Canada-based company, the only thing residents could do is complain loudly enough and in big numbers at every meeting to get some mitigation — things like noise walls and exit ramps dedicated to what a reader aptly calls “a gigantic boondoggle.”

But it feels as if the residential communities of Northwest Miami-Dade didn’t exist, didn’t count.

“When we opened 87th Avenue and [Gimenez] came, he didn’t even know where he was,” Collado tells me. “He doesn’t know our community. We feel defeated before we even start on this issue. We barely have a leg to stand on to fight this. The county is encroaching in our lives, but how do we defend against this? We want to raise our children in our community, but little by little, it’s changing through and through.”

Maybe Collado, and all of us who live in this area, can take heart that American Dream Miami could possibly stand as a buffer between us and the blasts from the rock mining.

Because it shakes like an earthquake around here.

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