Every time Ferro Investment Group II sought to move Miami-Dade County’s urban development boundary, the land investor was rebuffed by the county commission.
Ferro withdrew its application to shift the UDB three times in the face of opposition of county planners and community activists fearing the move would contribute to more urban sprawl.
Now, Ferro Investments is back for another try.
It is the only applicant seeking to move the boundary this year to allow a commercial project on a agricultural parcel west of Kendall.
Hialeah-based Ferro Investment, led by investor Mario Ferro, wants to amend the county’s comprehensive development master plan, which regulates growth, to build an office and retail center on 9.9 acres at the corner of Southwest 167th Avenue and 104th Street.
Ferro and Becker and Poliakoff attorney Miguel Diaz De La Portilla, who represents Ferro Investment, didn’t return phone calls seeking comment.
County commissioners are to discuss Ferro’s application during Wednesday’s public meeting. The debate is likely to be similar to those that took place in 2005, 2007 and 2009, when Ferro Investment failed to gain support to move the invisible line that acts as a buffer between built up areas and the Everglades and other environmentally fragile areas.
Miami-Dade County planners argued each time that there was plenty of commercial land suitable for development inside the UDB and there was no need to move the line.
Ferro Investment’s push to move the line is the first since the Florida Legislature overhauled the state’s growth management laws early this year to speed up the permitting process.
The Department of Community Affairs, the state agency that scrutinized local governments’ land-use decisions, was dismantled. Some of the DCA’s functions were transferred to the new Florida Department of Economic Opportunity. Under the new system, the state has less power to challenge applications that may fuel urban sprawl to the detriment of a community and the environment.
“[Ferro Investment] is testing the waters to see if the changes in the state growth management will make it easier to move the line in the future,” said community activist Alan Farago, a long-time opponent of moving the boundary. “The DCA was the last line of defense because the UDB is such a politicized issue.”
Laura Reynolds, executive director of the Tropical Audubon Society in Miami, said commissioners can protect the environment without state supervision.
“Dade County has the opportunity to lead without state oversight and uphold our comprehensive master plan and invest in infill development in our corridor,” said Reynolds, whose group is leading the opposition to moving the line.
Winning over the county commission could be easier now that Katy Sorenson, a strong opponent of moving the boundary, is no longer on the panel. She consistently pressed her commission colleagues to vote against approval. To pass, the application has to be approved by nine of the 13 commission members.
Sorenson said she doesn’t believe her former colleagues will pass the latest application, either. Turning farm land into commercial development would require building infrastructure the cash-strapped county can’t afford, she said.
“It is not the right time,” said Sorenson, who did not seek re-election last year. “The costs of infrastructure are astronomical. We have so much infrastructure needs within the UDB that have to be addressed first, particularly our water and sewer lines.”
Sorenson, president and chief executive of the Good Government Initiative at the University of Miami, said taxpayers would end up paying for new roads and public services if development goes west.
“Development never pays for itself,” she said. “Always, the cost goes to the rest of the community.”
Community activist Dawn Shirreffs, the Everglades Restoration Program Manager with the National Parks Conservation Association, hope the commissioners or the mayor — who has the veto power over any decision — “will have the good sense to look at the application and realize that expanding the boundary would be irresponsible at this time.”
If approved, Ferro’s commercial project would be surrounded on three sides by farm land.
“It is a terrible way to slice up agricultural land,” said Shirreffs.
Early this year, the commission agreed to shift the boundary to benefit the Homestead-Miami Speedway. International Speedway Corp., the Daytona Beach-based operator of the facility, bought 120 acres inside the boundary to expand the venue’s seating and parking. In return, the city of Homestead, which owns the track, won approval for the shift of 120 acres of land outside of the UDB. The county staff had recommended approval of the land swap.
Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who as a commissioner opposed moving the line, didn’t veto the boundary change in Homestead.
Gimenez said he hasn’t changed his position on the issue.
“I am a proponent of holding the UDB line,” he said in a statement to the Daily Business Review. “I have always believed in examining each application on a case-by-case basis. My voting record as a commissioner and my actions as mayor are consistent and reflect this position.”
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