Mayor vetoes Urban Development Boundary expansion, halting development project plans

Hold the Line Coalition // Contributed Graphic

Standing against the majority of the Board of County Commissioners, Mayor Daniella Levine Cava announced her veto of a more than 370 acre expansion of the Urban Development Boundary (UDB) on Thursday, Nov. 10.

“I must veto this legislation so that we can continue building a strong, resilient foundation for future economic growth,” Levine Cava said in a public statement released on Nov. 10. “Moving the Urban Development Boundary will have a detrimental impact on residents countywide for generations to come.”

After sitting on the commissioners’ desks for over a year, the development was approved in an 8-4 vote, despite avid disapproval from institutions across the state.

“Every single agency that has reviewed this, from the county level to the state to the federal level — The Department of the Interior, DERM, Florida DEP, Southwest Florida Water Management District, the Army Corps of Engineers, Senator Marco Rubio — there is bipartisan opposition to this,” Josh Sproat, a representative from the Hold the Line Coalition said.

Established in 1983 to prevent urban sprawl and limit development in environmentally sensitive areas, the UDB has not been adjusted since 2013. Last year, a group of developers sought out 800 acres of farmland beyond the UDB to create the South Dade Logistics and Technology District (SDLTD), an area predominantly composed of commercial warehouses.

After four hearings and delays on approval amidst much criticism from environmental groups, the proposed district size was revised down to approximately 370 acres and included a provision that two acres of Environmentally Endangered Land (EEL) would be bought on behalf of Miami-Dade County (MDC) for every acre developed.

This update swayed Commissioner Raquel Regalado to vote in favor of SDLTD securing the commissioner votes necessary to approve the project and expand the UBD. Levine Cava though was still unable to overlook the potential environmental risks, resulting in her veto.

“It jeopardizes our efforts to restore the Everglades and Biscayne Bay and protect our clean drinking water supply. It encourages development in areas at risk of storm surge, putting more properties at risk in the future, especially concerning in light of the devastation we just witnessed following Hurricane lan,” Levine Cava said in her public statement.

Framed commonly as a trade-off between necessary development and job creation in Miami and environmental protection, the developers of SDLTD believed their adjustments were enough to satisfy both values. They have reported that the development would create 7,000 jobs and clear up traffic congestion in the south of MDC.

“Today, Mayor Levine-Cava chose to kill hope for thousands of South Dade residents. It is very unfortunate that the Mayor chose to veto thousands of good-paying jobs, environmental remediation that will help clean up Biscayne Bay and the guaranteed preservation of 622 acres of environmentally sensitive lands,” a spokesperson said on behalf of SDLTD to NBC Miami.

The proposal does not die with Levine Cava’s veto, however. The Board of County Commissioners have the opportunity to overturn the veto with a two-thirds majority vote, requiring eight of the twelve commissioners to vote in favor of the expansion.

Eight votes were already secured for the initial passing of the project, but Hold the Line Coalition – one of the main forces working against expanding the UBD – remains hopeful a commissioner will switch their position.

“We think it’s possible that when looking at all the facts and the science and avoiding the narrative that’s been put forth that one or two of these commissioners may have second thoughts,” Sproat said.

University of Miami professor of ecosystem science and policy and PEER lawyer working with Hold the Line Coalition, Theresa Pinto, highlights that the SDLTD would have serious consequences on the fragile Miami ecosystem.

“The expansion of the boundary, and specifically this development, would increase flooding to adjacent properties, increase saltwater intrusion in the Biscayne Aquifer, harm local wildlife, decrease the health of Biscayne Bay, and preclude the site from use in environmental restoration projects ,” she said citing a technical report drafted by the Hold the Line Coalition.

Proponents of SDLTD countered the value the land holds stating its arsenic level above approved levels making the land inaccessible without the acclaimed environmental gains.

“At the end of the day, what is important is that the people are not misled, because if it was environmentally sensitive land none of us could go into it, because the federal government would have secured it or we should have done it,” Commission Chairperson Jose Diaz said in the commissioner meeting on Nov. 1, voting in favor of the development.

Sproat counterted this though, saying that the information was “cherry picked” and isolated as a pollutant to make the area seem more dangerous than it truly is. He further cited the link between arsenic level and agriculture, which typically spikes the levels in an area.

Pinto suggests that rather than looking to land outside the UBD, developers focus on land that is already available to them.

“In the South Miami region alone, there is 500 acres of land that has already been slated for commercial and industrial development; land that would not harm restoration of the Everglades or Biscayne Bay. In the Miami-Dade metropolitan area, there is over half a billion sq. ft. of vacant or underused PUBLIC land that could be developed as well,” Pinto said.

Others in the community question SDLTD’s promises of job creation and believe their commitment to buying EEL for the county does not compensate for the disruption the development will cause.

“I would say that if you’re going to bring any number of jobs into the county, you should be very concerned about those employees having housing,” said UM urban design and architecture professor Elizabeth M. Plater-Zyberk.

“If those jobs are going to serve people who live in that area, then that would be a good outcome. But what guarantee is there of that? And at what cost? You know, at what cost to the environment, and to the government to keep them safe?” Plater-Zyberk said.

The overturning hearing will be held at 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 15.