High-flying golf course development hits county turbulence
A full year after a high-power group sought the City of Miami’s only golf course beside Miami International Airport for a vast office, retail and hotel complex including a soccer stadium, the group finally got around to talking with the airport.
That was eight months after voters had OK’d talks about a lease of the city’s largest green space for a project due to be larger than landmark Brickell City Centre, on about eight times the land.
From day one even casual observers had asked how the planned mega-project’s constant traffic flows plus soccer crowds would slow drives to the airport. They’d asked about multiple office towers and at least one hotel right in flight paths. But apparently it never crossed the developers’ minds to call airport officials.
They finally did chat informally this month, but only after county Commissioner Rebeca Sosa filed a formal request to study every impact of the project on the airport, the county’s major economic engine. That, she told a commission committee last week, finally got developers to talk to Aviation Director Lester Sola.
It’s a year late, and the “very preliminary” talk, Mr. Sola said, was merely about where developers were looking to build beside the airport. “Prior to that we had no discussions either formal or informal on where this development if it were to take place would eventually be situated within the footprint of the golf course.”
That may be par for the course for the Mas brothers group and ex-soccer star David Beckham, who plans a team on the site if talks with Miami lead to a “yes” vote. They seemed to assume they have a right to the city’s only golf course in a no-bid deal at far below value.
Maybe they also assumed that the county, which gets no say in the golf course deal next door, would also be silent on the impact at our international airport.
Then came Ms. Sosa’s request, noting there’d been no study of the potential impact and saying “the county should oppose any development at Melreese which is harmful to MIA.”
That made clear that the county won’t sit silent. The committee strengthened the request to bar street closures to aid the Mas project, study impact on commercial development at the airport in its own $5 billion upgrade, and immediately get federal airport regulators involved. It passed 4-0.
Mr. Sola said that if the full commission votes yes – as it certainly should – he’ll try to finish the study in two months. A city vote, unfortunately, would come first, so the city wouldn’t know the total impact on our aviation gateway when it voted.
Ms. Sosa said the county should focus on impact not only on traffic and aviation, but also on commercial (the airport plans two office towers and a convention center right next door) and environmental impact, and “also the cost to MIA to mitigate any such impacts, because we shouldn’t pay for any impact.”
That might lead to big impact fees for Melreese development. So while the county can’t control the lease, it could be a thorn. Skies are hardly clear of county action.
As Ms. Sosa told the committee, “the airport is far too important for Miami-Dade County. We need to know if what is planned over there is going to affect not only traffic but the operations of the airport. We cannot allow something to disrupt the operations of the airport so people can decide to use other airports and to leave.”
Other impediments were noted. Mr. Sola said the planned buildings’ height and locations – now held under tight wraps – could run afoul of both county planning and zoning regulations and federal rules. The Federal Aviation Administration limits building heights in flight paths, depending how far they sit from runways. Federal rules allow no variances, he said, so when the Mas team unveils where to build what, it must clear Federal Aviation Administration rules too.
Even buildings the federal agency allows could impede the airport, Mr. Sola noted. Towers short enough to be legal could prevent MIA from using runways for major cargo and passenger flights even if smaller planes could still use them. That wouldn’t sit well in an airport handling over 45 million passengers a year.
All these points will be moot if just two city commissioners bar the Mas group from Miami’s golf course, and we’d hope that at least two would protect green space and avoid a giveaway. But county commissioners aren’t sure the city will secure its assets.
As Ms. Sosa summed it up last week, “We’re not talking about a stadium only. It’s a humongous thing that they want to do over there… We’re not experts, but you don’t have to be an expert to understand how something like this can affect the quality of life and the operations of the airport.”
Pray that the city also recognizes that.