Lack of guidelines leaves Urban Development issue unsettled
By Lou Ortiz
Miami-Dade County commissioners say the Urban Boundary Line shouldn't be etched in stone while environmentalists think it's immovable — and the county mayor's veto pen appears to support their contention.
Most agree that at the heart of the issue is the lack of set rules or guidelines on when, if ever, the line should be moved, and a failure by both parties to be sensitive to both environmental and development matters.
County Mayor Carlos Alvarez said as much this month when he vetoed a massive Lowe's project and a West Kendall office development plan that would have stepped outside the line. The mayor's veto met with an over-ride Tuesday in a 9-4 vote of commissioners.
"Given the overwhelming impact and implications of moving the UDB line, it would be irresponsible for us, as public servants, to take action without first establishing a comprehensive strategy for the inevitable future expansion of the county," the mayor said.
The line was initially implied in 1975 in the county's first Comprehensive Development Master Plan, and explicitly noted in the land use map in 1983.
The line defines where development is allowed and areas where it cannot go. The aim is to protect agricultural land, the Everglades, and wetlands, among other things.
Development is prohibited in an area roughly 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.
"Nobody knows who decided on the line," said Commissioner Jose "Pepe" Diaz. "There's a group of people who don't want to move the line. They've made it an institutional thing."
Mr. Diaz said to better cope with environmental and development issues, the current jagged and zigzagging line should be replaced with a true line running north to south in the county that bars development west of it for 10 to 20 years.
"Level the line and everybody in the world would understand," he said, "and we wouldn't have these issues."
Commissioner Dennis C. Moss agreed to an extent.
"I don't see the Urban Development Boundary Line etched in stone," he said. "If we need to move the line, we need to do it in a comprehensive way."
Mr. Moss said there should be a timetable set to move the line but not before other needs and issues are addressed, including infrastructure, population growth patterns and development trends.
"We need to have more structured guidelines on when you move the line," he said, because now "it's not done in a comprehensive manner."
Mike Pizzi, a member of Hold the Line, said the commission should stop looking at proposed developments outside the line as simply zoning matters.
"They're treating Urban Development Boundary Line proposals as regular zoning applications," said Mr. Pizzi, who is on the town council of Miami Lakes. "Once you go past that line you open up a can of worms."
But, he added, "There are really no guidelines."
Dawn Shirrefs, a community organizer for Clean Water Action, said commissioners should be more sensitive to reports about the harm proposed developments would bring outside the line.
"I have to wonder how many expert opinions they need to start following recommendations," she said. "Land use decisions become politically motivated."
In Mayor Alvarez's veto message to commissioners he said "current projections foresee a possibility of warranted expansion of the UDB some time between the years 2015 and 2025."
He also urged commissioners to "adopt a comprehensive and coherent vision for the future development of Miami-Dade County."
"The task before us is more than the evaluation of individual applications," he said. "To continue to act with provincial approach misses the bigger picture and forgoes the opportunity to plan for a greater and sustainable future."