On Jan. 17, U.S. Magistrate Judge William Turnoff recommended that a petition seeking a temporary injunction against Coral Reef Commons, a proposed mixed-use community in South Dade, be denied. Work on the site has been stopped since Dec. 8 and will not resume until a further order of the court allows us to do so. In the interim, we remain committed to the pledge we made to neighbors nearly four years ago: “to make the project a paragon for building on environmentally sensitive land.”
Lost in most of the reporting and social media regarding the proposed community is the fact that we are preserving and enhancing 106 acres of habitat, creating significant tax base — more that $3 million annually — and generating more than 575+ permanent, full-time jobs, all without public financing. According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the Habitat Conservation Plan will cause a net increase in conservation value of the property.
Here is some context for what has transpired: In 2011, Ram Realty Services entered into an agreement with the University of Miami to purchase 137 acres, then known as the South Campus. In the 70 years since it was originally developed as a blimp station during World War II, the property has been used for a variety of purposes and been allowed to deteriorate. In September 2013, following eight public hearings, Ram received all necessary comprehensive plan and zoning approvals from Miami-Dade County. No appeals were filed on any of the permits or zoning approvals; on July 3, 2014, Ram acquired the land for the first phase of the development.
Twelve days later, we received a letter from the Fish and Wildlife Service warning that the project might affect a recently listed endangered species. Although we had the necessary permits and had mobilized to start development, we decided against doing so. Instead, we met with Fish and Wildlife and agreed to a survey and testing protocol to determine whether “take” of endangered species was likely or could be avoided. We believe that the surveys’ results supported our contention that we would not commit “take” and that an Incidental Take Permit was not necessary. The Fish and Wildlife did not agree and recommended that we prepare a Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) and apply for an Incidental Take Permit (ITP).
In May 2015, after conducting further study in accordance with Fish and Wildlife protocols, we completed a draft HCP and submitted an ITP application. During the past two and a half years, significant improvements have been made, largely as a result of regulatory review and public input. The headline changes: an increase in preserve area from 43 acres to 106 acres (half onsite and half nearby) and a 75,000-square-foot reduction in commercial development. That’s just a summary of the extensive benefits associated with the plan.
In the summer of 2014, just weeks after receiving the letter from Fish and Wildlife, I appeared before the Kendall Federation of Homeowner Associations to present our development plan and answer questions. I vowed to make the project a paragon for building on environmentally sensitive land.
We have a 40-year track record of successful and responsible development. Success for us is measured not only by financial standards, but by positive community impact, too. Success also means finishing what we start. We have started this project and intend to finish it, in accordance with our rights and obligations and as the paragon we promised a number of years ago.
Peter D. Cummings is the founder of Ram Realty Services.