Miami-Dade County’s new political landscape faces a familiar controversy in the coming weeks: whether to “hold the line” on urban expansion or allow millions of square feet of new development to take over existing farmland.
A push by developers to expand Miami-Dade’s Urban Development Boundary for a project near the Homestead Air Reserve Base is making its way to a county commission where six of the 13 members are newcomers.
The administration of the county’s new mayor, Daniella Levine Cava, is urging the commission to reject the application by developers Stephen Blumenthal, Jose Hevia and others for what would be Miami-Dade’s largest industrial park — a 9-million-square-foot complex south of the Florida Turnpike, by Southwest 286th Street.
“If approved as filed, the application would encourage the proliferation of urban sprawl,” read an Aug. 13 report from Miami-Dade’s Regulatory and Economic Resources Department, which houses the land-planning and zoning divisions.
After winning a vote before a community planning board, the proposed South Dade Logistics and Technology District industrial park faces a hearing before the countywide Planning Advisory Board on Wednesday, Aug. 25, at 10 a.m. in the Stephen P. Clark Center at 111 NW 1st St., Miami. After that, the proposal heads to the county commission for a preliminary vote that’s expected on Sept. 9. If it passes then, a final commission vote would follow a state review of the proposal.
Backers call the industrial center and the projected 8,000 jobs there a lifestyle changer for South Miami-Dade, since it would provide the suburban region with an employment center and spare workers from long commutes to find decent-paying employment in the northern part of the county.
“It is time for this area to get jobs, and allow people to have quality of life,” resident Lourdes Rodriguez, wearing a white Bring the Jobs! T-shirt, said at a planning board meeting Monday night dedicated to the proposed project. “It’s not enough to just say: go north for an hour.”
That session before the South Bay Community Council ended in a unanimous vote in favor of expanding the development boundary to allow for construction of the new complex.
“I travel in the traffic every single day,” council member Christina Farias said. “I definitely look forward to this project.”
The county report states the project would bring industrial space that the southern portion of the county doesn’t need, since there’s enough within the development zone to last through 2040.
The nearly 800-acre site is designed to be a distribution hub for Home Depot and other retailers supplying the fast-growing South Miami-Dade, and would double the region’s existing supply of industrial space.
Commissioners last moved the Urban Development Boundary in 2013, when they approved expanding to include about 500 acres near Doral that were already surrounded by buildings in what planners considered a “donut hole” of development restrictions that needed to be eliminated.
The Urban Development Boundary, often called the “UDB,” represents a growth barrier separating land allowed for dense housing and commercial uses, including shopping centers and warehouse districts, and rural land reserved for farming and houses with significant land between them. It’s also considered a protection tool for the Everglades and the agriculture industry.
Miami-Dade’s growth rules call for the UDB to expand once the county runs out of land inside it for homes and commercial projects. The proposed project sits on land designated as an area slated for expansion of the UDB once the county is ready for more development sites.
While county planners say land inventory for single-family homes is running out within the development zone, they predict the southern part of Miami-Dade won’t need new acreage for commercial projects through 2040. Should the proposed project get built, planners say the region would have more than a 100-year supply of industrial land.
Advocates behind the project, which includes plans for a 150-room hotel, argue the county’s analysis ignores the need for more employment centers in South Miami-Dade and relies too much on commuting patterns that residents in the area dislike.
“Our focus here is on local conditions,” said Andrew Dolkart, an economic consultant working for the developers. “South Miami-Dade residents are stuck with long commutes because so much of the county’s decent-paying jobs are in the north but affordable housing is easier to find in the south. Most people live where they can find something they can afford.”
A developer presentation showed the 800-acre project producing Miami-Dade’s largest industrial park, compared to about 600 acres at the Sawgrass Corporate Park and nearly 500 acres at Beacon Lakes.
Environmental groups are leading the fight against the project, warning it will disrupt efforts to prevent harmful groundwater run-off into Biscayne Bay from adjoining canals that are already a source of fertilizer pollution from the tree farms that are there now.
“The project could doom efforts to fix a canal system “causing havoc on the quality of these ecosystems,” the Everglades Coalition said in an Aug. 23 letter.
They’re also warning the land is too low for a major new industrial complex and will be enveloped by rising sea levels. That’s a problem developers say they’re addressing by elevating streets and buildings, with some floors set to be built nine feet above the ground.
The county report warned “neighboring properties could face flooding risks from the applicant’s elevation,” worsening the threat from sea level rise in an area already designated a Coastal High Hazard area. That was the complaint from Mark Hall, who lives near the farms that would be converted to an industrial park under the proposal.
“We need that land to absorb all the water that comes down with the rain,” Hall told the South Bay council.