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South Florida Builders Push To Open Up Farmland Near The Everglades For Future Growth

Beans are among the crops grown in southern Miami-Dade County.
Charles Trainor JR. /Miami Herald
Beans are among the crops grown in southern Miami-Dade County.

South Florida builders are pushing to strip protection from farmland near the Everglades - and the controversial extension of the Dolphin Expressway - to open it up to future expansion.

The land sits outside the urban development boundary,  the line drawn to protect farm fields and wetlands - and is part of an area designated for future growth.

Over the last year, a county task force met to consider expanding areas for future development through 2030 beyond the boundary. Miami-Dade targeted the areas in the 1980s that cover about 6,700 acres if the urban boundary is ever moved.

The area around the Homestead Air Force Base is the largest, but because of safety concerns most of that land cannot be developed. The second largest sits north and west of Kendall and stretches from Southwest 42nd Street to 112th Street.

Four areas have been designated for urban expansion outside the county's development boundary. Builders now want to expand one of the largest near Krome Avenue.
Credit Miami Dade County
Four areas have been designated for urban expansion outside the county's development boundary. Builders now want to expand one of the largest near Krome Avenue.

After 14 meetings, the 27-member task force that included builders, farmers, local community representatives, environmentalists, rock miners, the Miccosukee Tribe and land planners voted not to open up any more land.

“Some of the county’s most valuable agricultural land is located in the area south of 112th Street. So the county's intent is to protect that land from urbanization,” said Francisco Pines, an attorney who represents land owners west of Kendall whose land in the area has already been designated for future development.

But a faction of the task force led by the Builders Association of South Florida took issue with the final vote and issued a second minority report expected to come up at a Nov. 4 planning meeting.

“The task force did not recommend the inclusion of a meaningful amount of land,” they wrote.

Instead, the group wants land running along Krome Avenue from Southwest 60th Street to Southwest 168th Street to be designated for future development.

“This would support additional commercial, residential and employment center growth,” the group wrote.

But critics wonder about the timing, less than a year after county commissioners approved the 13-mile extension across Everglades wetlands.

“This is exactly what we predicted would happen,” said Laura Reynolds, an environmental consultant who represents the Hold the Line Coalition and is a member of the Everglades Coalition. “This is the very farmland that we should be protecting, not only so that we can have local food, but also farmland is much more valuable for aquifer recharge than if it was paved over.”

In its report, the group noted that additional roads would need to be built and the highway extension could not be used to meet traffic requirements for additional development. But traffic requirements only extend to 152nd Street, according to traffic experts who testified during a legal challenge to the highway filed by Pines’ client and Tropical Audubon.

WLRN sent questions about the report to Truly Burton, the spokeswoman for the builder’s association. Burton was unable to provide answers by Friday night.

Pines and Reynolds say expanding the area runs counter to the county’s growth rules, although not necessarily for the same reasons.

Expanding without allowing his clients to develop their land undoes the orderly progression of development envisioned in the county's comprehensive growth plan, Pines said. It also cheapens their land.

As climate change makes flooding worse, Reynolds said building suburban neighborhoods near wetlands will actually be less affordable. Affordable housing instead will likely be in multi-family units centered around mass transit, she said.

“We're facing a lot of obstacles to being able to provide that yard with a single family home,” she said. “That's going to be more and more unaffordable.”

An earlier version of this story misstated Laura Reynolds' position with the Everglades Coalition. She is a member.

Copyright 2020 WLRN 91.3 FM. To see more, visit WLRN 91.3 FM.

Jenny Staletovich has been a journalist working in Florida for nearly 20 years.