Letters to the Editor

Smart development can save pine rocklands

The Miami Herald March 5 editorial, Paving the pinelands, mischaracterizes the ownership and intent for land adjacent to Zoo Miami. The Miami-Dade County Commission tabled any action on declaring the area as blighted, which would have opened the way for a public-private partnership to develop a theme park.

Coral Reef Commons, on the other hand, is located on adjacent privately owned land and does not require public financing. This master-planned mixed-use project, which includes multifamily residential and a variety of civic and commercial uses (yes, including Walmart) has received all zoning approvals and does not rely on the change in designation to proceed.

The development of Coral Reef Commons is the last, best hope for preservation of a major portion of the habitat.

As it currently sits, the area is severely degraded.

Calling it pristine pine rockland isn’t accurate; every objective person that has walked the site agrees. It hasn’t been pristine for more than 70 years, since the U.S. government razed the area to build a blimp base during World War II. It is overrun by exotic non-native species that are choking out the native flora, particularly the croton plant that provides habitat for the endangered Bartram’s scrub-hairstreak butterfly.

Rather than engage in knee-jerk reactions to unfounded claims, conservationists and the Herald should look to the commitment Ram has made to restore and preserve close to 50 percent of the site.

The new mixed-use community will be developed on a portion of the property that is most degraded — the site of an abandoned incinerator, shells of gutted buildings that once housed labs, abandoned trash piles, roads and monkey cages.

Equally important, the preservation plan will be funded and maintained in perpetuity by the developer and tax revenue generated by the project itself. This is a real opportunity to have a comprehensive and economically viable plan to protect and enhance what we all love about South Florida.

Ram is working collaboratively with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and this month will submit a Habitat Conservation Plan to provide a sustainable conservation strategy. Without an approved plan and a funding mechanism, the area will continue to degrade until the native flora and fauna are gone.

Having development and conservation coexist is a time-tested, successful approach that allows for meeting both the population needs and the preservation of the environment.

Look no further than the Simpson Park Hammock in Miami’s Brickell Avenue area. Outside the hammock, residents and visitors have no idea of the treasure that exists there — 7.8 acres of tropical hardwood hammock that is home to 15 endangered and nine threatened plant species.

Environmentalists want someone to buy the land to restore it, and that is exactly what we are doing.

Peter D. Cummings, chairman, Ram Realty Services, Miami