Commissioner Suarez Proposes UDB Freeze
If Miami-Dade County Commissioner Xavier Suarez gets his way, developers won’t be able to seek permits for projects outside the county’s urban development boundary for three years. The UDB separates agricultural and environmentally sensitive land from urban sprawl.
Suarez is proposing to stop accepting applications to shift the boundary until 2015.
Developers currently can submit applications in April of every odd year. During the 2011 cycle, only one application was submitted. During the housing boom, the County Commission would typically receive multiple applications, although few were approved.
County commissioners plan to consider Suarez’s proposed ordinance Tuesday.
Suarez said the county’s comprehensive development master plan recommends expanding the boundary in 2015 in certain areas. Outside those patches of land, county planners see no need for single-family homes beyond the UDB until 2017 and multifamily development until 2027.
Laura Reynolds, executive director of the Tropical Audubon Society in Miami, applauded Suarez’s effort. “It is an opportunity for commissioners to take a strong stance on investing in infill … rather than continuing to sprawl westward,” she said. Reynolds and other environmentalists were shocked in December, when Suarez gave preliminary approval to an application to move the UDB. During his political campaign last year, he portrayed himself as a supporter of holding the line, she said.
His December vote was the critical vote that allowed the application submitted by Ferro Investment Group II to move forward. Ferro’s application is scheduled to go before the commission on March 21 for final consideration. Ferro wants to build an office and retail center on 9.9 acres at the corner of Southwest 167th Avenue and 104th Street outside the boundary. He got a lot of push back from the public,” Reynolds said. “With that pressure, he proffered this ordinance in response to the outcry.”
Land-use attorneys who represent developers aren’t very happy with the proposed ordinance.
“It would be received far better in the development community if there was a simultaneous movement by the county to study whether expansion should be permitted and, if so, where and for what purposes,” Miami attorney Stanley Price said. Price, who represents the Builders Association of South Florida, said his client plans to meet with Suarez to propose conducting the study. Price, a partner with Bilzin Sumberg Baena Price & Axelrod, said this is the right time to study the issue since there is plenty of housing to accommodate current population growth. But eventually, that’s going to change, he said. “The urban boundary is a fictitious line,” Price said. “There are areas of the county that if you step over the line you are not going to step in quicksand or wetlands.”
Miami land-use attorney Jeffrey Bercow doesn’t see a need for the proposed ordinance. “There are already tremendous safeguards built in the regulatory process related to the UDB,” said Bercow, a partner with Bercow Radell & Fernandez. “In addition, you need nine out of 13 votes” in the commission for an application to be approved. That’s “virtually impossible to get,” Bercow said.
The County Commission has approved six applications to move the line in 20 years. One approval was successfully challenged in court by environmentalists.
Bercow said the permitting process can take years so delaying the UDB expansion application date could create a housing shortage in the long term. Right now, the county has enough housing inventory through 2021, Bercow said. “If we wait until 2015 to apply, it will be 2020 before those homes are on the ground,” he said. “And the supply is dwindling.”
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