In Miami-Dade County, fights coming over farms, parties and new suburban houses

Will changes in Miami-Dade County regulations cause more farmland loss or ease the troubles of an endangered agriculture industry?

County commissioners are considering two proposals to rewrite rules governing rural construction and what kind of side businesses farms can operate on their properties. The separate items up for final votes on Tuesday are the latest clash over housing prices, sprawl and how strictly to regulate commercial operations in rural Miami-Dade.

READ MORE: What’s the Urban Development Boundary, and what does it mean for Miami-Dade County?

Here’s a look at the two proposals:

Changes to rules for expanding Urban Development Boundary

The Urban Development Boundary (UDB) prevents developers from creating new suburban housing and commercial complexes in the southern and western areas of Miami-Dade that are currently mostly farmland and wetlands.

A proposal by Commissioner Anthony Rodriguez would launch a potential rule change on how the county scores requests to move the UDB to accommodate new housing.

Backed by the development industry, Rodriguez wants the county to propose a change to the Comprehensive Development Master Plan, a state-required set of land rules, to reduce the number of jobs required for projects that mix commercial with residential buildings on land sitting outside UDB.

His resolution described the proposed changes as encouraging “high-quality developments that will increase the County’s supply of housing for working families.”

Critics from the Hold the Line Coalition, which typically resists UDB expansions, say the change from 1.5 jobs for every housing unit to one job would work against county policy encouraging new services and employment centers near new residential communities.

“People are going to have get on the road and drive,” said Laura Reynolds, director of the Hold the Line group. “You can’t just build homes. You have to have a balance.“

Lifting regulations on rural businesses

A proposal to eliminate some permitting requirements for agricultural lands has divided the rural population in the county’s southern Redland farming belt.

The proposal by Commissioner Kionne McGhee lifts the requirements for property owners in land zoned for agriculture to obtain a business permit known as a “certificate of use” before launching side businesses on their property, such as food trucks, event space, wagon rides, petting zoos and wineries and breweries without restaurants.

Farmland owners call it a way to eliminate red tape to boost “agritourism” that will supplement crop income without exempting farms from the zoning and business regulations that govern how the commercial additions operate.

“This agritourism legislation is our lifeline,” said Maribel Lemus, an owner at Gateway Farms, said at an Oct. 11 hearing where the measure advanced in a narrow vote. “It keeps our farmland productive. It assures a steady income for our farmers.”

People living in the area call the legislation a backdoor to legalizing party spots that draw big crowds but have no connection to farming.

“We have a right to quiet and peacefulness,” said Ray Schooley, a homeowner near agricultural land off of Southwest 137th Avenue. “The issue is a lot of them aren’t being good neighbors.”