Miami-Dade risks bad precedent with proposal to expand urban boundary near Homestead Base | Editorial

the Miami Herald Editorial Board
·4 min read

The pressure is on Miami-Dade commissioners to expand the county’s Urban Development Boundary, the invisible line that protects environmental areas and farmland from urban sprawl.

Although county staff has concluded there’s enough industrial land within urban boundaries to fit our needs through 2040 and through 2030 in South-Central Miami-Dade, the temptation to move that line in order to create jobs might sound alluring.

A county commissioner is seeking an unusual method to develop environmentally sensitive land abutting an Everglades restoration project — land that’s in a “coastal high-hazard area” and at great risk from hurricanes and flooding.

The proposal attempts to sidestep the county’s expensive and cumbersome process through which developers can seek to move land into the Urban Development Boundary (best known as UDB). That process costs north of $350,000 and includes a jobs and traffic analysis.

Commissioner Kionne McGhee’s plan does none of that. Instead, it would simply direct the county mayor to add the parcel to the UDB — no questions asked. It would also set a bad precedent. Why would developers go through an expensive process when they can move the UDB with the stroke of a pen?

Open to debate

McGhee’s resolution was debated during a recent hearing by the commission’s Infrastructure Operations and Innovations Committee. After commissioners showed resistance to the plan, they deferred a decision until their next meeting in May.

They were right to be skeptical, and we hope they follow their gut when the issue is discussed again.

Unless a clear need can be demonstrated, the county should reject attempts move the line.

But even if McGhee’s proposal gets defeated, that won’t be the end of efforts to convert environmentally sensitive land for urban use. Developers have a separate request pending to move the UDB to develop a commercial complex off Florida’s Turnpike, north of McGhee’s district.

Although his intentions are good, McGhee’s proposal fails to pass the needs test.

He wants the land in his District 9 to become the “South Dade Industrial and Employment Zone.” The area is south of Florida’s Turnpike and runs along along Southwest 112th Avenue. It is part of what the county categorizes as an “Urban Expansion Area,” meaning it could be included in the UDB if the need arises.

McGhee promises an “industrial revolution in South Miami-Dade County” and several local residents spoke at the meeting about the desperate need for more jobs in the region. But there are no developers committed to a specific project that would validate his promise of 20,000 to 30,000 jobs.

There’s no doubt South Miami-Dade’s lack of employment is forcing residents on long commutes to central areas in the county. However, choosing between jobs and the environment seems like a false dilemma.

Land is available

There are 565 acres of vacant industrial land in McGhee’s District 9, which covers the southern-most part of the county. McGhee contends the land is not contiguous as the South Dade Industrial and Employment Zone would require and a lot of it isn’t good for development. However, it’s unclear exactly why the private sector hasn’t developed those available parcels and whether there’s a need to create new industrial areas.

McGhee did seek to compromise with environmentalists by excluding more than 600 acres from his original proposal to protect sensitive wetlands and to create a buffer for the Homestead Air Reserve Base. But the land remaining in his plan still is important because it is within the footprint of the Biscayne Bay and Southeastern Everglades Ecosystem Restoration project, according to Laura Reynolds, a representative of the Hold the Line Coalition that fights against the expansion of the UDB.

“Continuing to keep this area as farmland has great benefits for all of us countywide,” Reynolds told the Herald’s Editorial Board. “It serves critical ecosystem functions that we count on, such as natural filtration and drinking-water recharge, and acts as a natural buffer in storm events.”

Environmentalists have long said that efforts to try to develop land in South Dade are linked to the Homestead Air Reserve Base. A county proposal to use the base for civilian operations and the arrival of FedEx and Amazon warehouses to the area reignited concerns that the Air Force may one day allow cargo operations at the facility. Increased air traffic and pollution would be detrimental to Biscayne Bay and the Everglades.

Once that farmland is converted to industrial use, land owners could profit greatly from higher property values. Theirs is a reasonable expectation. But for the environment, there’s no way back.