County sets workshops on urban development boundary
By Claudio Mendonça
A scarcity of land in Miami-Dade County has builders trying to go west by pushing the urban development boundary.
Later this month, proponents and opponents of western development will meet with county commissioners, who are launching a series of workshops to discuss whether the county should stretch its boundaries. A date has not been set for the next workshop, according to aides to Commissioner Dennis Moss.
"These workshops are to discuss whether boundaries should be expanded," said Jeff Bercow, an attorney with Bercow & Radell representing the Builders Association of South Florida.
Development is prohibited west of Southwest 172nd Avenue and into Southwest 157th Avenue. The development border extends to Eureka Drive in Cutler Ridge south to Southwest 137th Avenue into Homestead.
Commissioner Moss said the county is taking a cautious position on the subject and said he wants to hear all sides.
"We are under tremendous pressure in Miami. Land for construction is starting to disappear, and additional pressure is being placed to move the line," said Mr. Moss, who initiated the discussions. "But first, I want to hear the benefit of the science and take a fair look at the watershed study. We want to look at all available data to be in a position to make an intelligent decision."
Mr. Bercow said the county could push out the borders with a standalone application in 2007 to amend the urban development boundary as part of a review of the county's comprehensive master plan.
Or, an application to a concurrently planned amendment could be attached, he said. Mr. Bercow said the approval process usually takes 12 to 18 months.
Richard Horton, president of the Builders Association of South Florida said the builders association believes Miami-Dade will run out of developable land by 2011 while county planners estimate that will happen in 2018.
Mr. Horton said even if the county commission approves moving the border out, it would be three years before construction in new areas is under way.
"All we want is to take a methodical look to meet demand," said Mr. Horton. "We have 25,000 people moving into Miami-Dade every year, and something has to be done about it."
Developer Ed Easton said he does not want development to endanger the environment. In 2004, Mr. Easton purchased more than 800 acres west of the boundary.
Jamie Furgang, a biologist at the Audubon Society of Florida, said if restoration projects in the Everglades and on Florida Bay are affected by development, residents will have less drinking water available and more flooding disturbances.
"Excessive building can hurt our natural system and compromise our $51 million tourism industry - our largest economic generator," Ms. Furgang said. "If you start building, actual project structure will have to be changed."
Ms. Furgang said she would not comment on whether environmentalists would consider a scientific approach proposed by builders before a $3 million South Miami-Dade watershed study being done by the county and the state is complete.
The study is expected to evaluate growth-management areas, flooding protection, water supply, viability of agriculture and restoration of Biscayne Bay.