Rouse Gets Initial Clearance For West Kendall Project
By Candice Ventra
County officials have tentatively approved a zoning change in West Kendall to make way for a 160-acre, mixed-use town center project by the Rouse Co.
The Miami-Dade County Commission has given initial approval, pending the project’s review as a development of regional impact, to allow the Kendall Town Center to be built at Kendall Drive and Southwest 157th Avenue. The area is currently zoned for residential development.
The county’s staff does not support the change.
"It’s a very large commercial project and would make large amounts of vehicular traffic," said Robert Usherson, chief of the metropolitan planning section of the Department of Planning & Zoning.
Guillermo Olmedillo, director of planning & zoning, said his staff would like Rouse’s engineers to propose a solid traffic plan.
The state’s Community Affairs Department is also reviewing the project and the potential for traffic congestion once Kendall Town Center is completed. Ken Metcalf, spokesperson for the department, said the projected impact on area roads may require Rouse to provide mitigation for the anticipated traffic.
Ann Pope, project development director for Rouse, said the company’s engineers think the area can support any traffic the project would bring. The traffic caused by West Kendall residents that usually goes outside of the area to shop should decrease, she said.
Ms. Pope said she is a longtime resident of West Kendall.
"If we want to take in a movie or go to a nice restaurant we have to travel at least 7 miles out of the area," Ms. Pope said. "Residents said they wanted a community center with a medical center and shops."
The rezoning for the Kendall Town Center will be back before the Miami-Dade County Commission in February when commissioners will have to consider the project’s status as a development of regional impact.
"They are in a sufficiency review," Mr. Metcalf said regarding Rouse’s proposal to the state as a DRI. "Their application is being reviewed to determine if it includes all the information required."
Once the state application is declared sufficient, he said, Rouse officials will have to work with local government agencies to determine how to alleviate any concerns about traffic and other infrastructure.
The Kendall Town Center, Ms. Pope said, is envisioned to include 1.3 million square feet of retail space. Executives from Burdines, Sears and Dillard’s have signed letters of confirmation to become anchor stores. The company is also in talks with Macy’s, Ms. Pope said.
Developers also plan 400,000 square feet of office space, a 200,000-square-foot medical center and a 200,000-square-foot, senior-assisted living facility.
Baptist Hospital executives, she said, have been negotiating with Rouse officials to operate the project’s medical center. The project also calls for an 80,000-square-foot movie complex and a 220-room, 200,000-square-foot hotel.
One acre will be set aside for a Metrobus terminal, Ms. Pope said. Another 10 acres will be for open space and landscaping, she said.
"This will get us closer to creating a more livable community in West Kendall," Ms. Pope said.
If approved, she said, the project would begin construction is 2001 and all phases should be finished by 2008.
Rouse officials estimate the economic impact to be $13 million in tax revenues. They project the town center would create 4,760 permanent jobs.
West Kendall residents last week spoke both for and against the town center to Miami-Dade county commissioners. Those speaking against said the project would increase traffic in the area and take away business from West Kendall-based mom-and-pop stores.
Gary Held, who identified himself as a concerned resident with a master’s degree in urban planning, wanted to know how Rouse officials would mitigate the anticipated traffic congestion.
"It’s hard to turn down a Rouse project when it comes in your neighborhood," Mr. Held said. "But too much of a good thing is bad for you."
He said the West Kendall area has a "fragile economy" with several mom-and-pop stores struggling to stay strong. Large anchor stores such as those Rouse proposes, Mr. Held said, will eventually drive small stores out of business.
The Baltimore-based Rouse Co. developed Bayside Marketplace and has been in the mixed-use construction business for about 50 years They’ve also created facilities in places such as Phoenix, Portland and Nevada.
The company is building the Village of Merrick Park a mixed-use project on 16 to 20 acres of land at LeJeune Road and San Lorenzo Avenue in Coral Gables.
That project will include 60,000 square feet of retail space and 30,000 of office space. Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom have agreed to be anchor stores. It is set to be finished by fall ’02.
Commissioners last week gave unanimous approval to Rouse’s town center application, which was strongly supported by then-commissioner Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, whose district included West Kendall. The commissioner resigned to run unsuccessfully for mayor.
The former commissioner said the Rouse project would improve the West Kendall bedroom community, which is under-served by retail and over-populated.
"This is an application that offers a glimmer of hope," Mr. de la Portilla said. "There is a need for this type of development there."