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Florida Judge Will Decide The Future Of Pine Rockland Development

In a Miami-Dade courtroom, Judge Spencer Eig heard arguments Thursday both for and against a controversial development planned on an environmentally rare Pine Rocklands habitat in South Miami-Dade, near Zoo Miami.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has designated the 2,700 acres a "critical habitat" for two endangered plants, but this isn't the first time it has been the site of a proposed large development. In 2015, the land was slated to become a theme park and water park, Miami Wilds, through a partnership with 20th Century Fox. The project was later dismissed amid environmental concerns.

Now, a 51-acre development called Coral Reef Commons is on its way into the land. The project, which was slated to break ground in 2014, has been stalled due to environmental concerns.

The plan includes a 55-acre section focused on conservation, but residents and environmental activists are worried the large development will do harm. 

In an effort to stop the project, those in opposition claimed in court Thursday that notices sent to neighboring residents were deceptive. If found true, that could lead the project to be dismissed immediately. 

According to Florida law, a mailed notice and layman's notice must depict an accurate representation of the development and be delivered to neighboring residents.

Credit Adrianne Gonzalez / WLRN News
Attorney Kent Harrison Robbins representing the opponents of the developing on Pine Rocklands in South Miami-Dade

Though both notices sent by the development team did state the application is for a "limited apartment house," a "liquor package store," a "non variance for less parking," and a "new educational facility," Kent Harrison Robbins P.A., representing the opponents, claims they failed to accurately notify the public of the magnitude of the proposed development. 

"Destroying all this environmentally sensitive land, and they [the defendents] couldn't put in two more sentence and let the population know?" said Robbins. "This was intentional, Judge."

In a rebuttal, the defendants argued opponents missed their objection window, typically 30 days after notice.

Credit Adrianne Gonzalez / WLRN News
Al Sunshine et al v. Miami-Dade County, et al 11th Circuit Case No.: 17-24282 CA 31

George LeMieux, corporate attorney on the case representing Coral Reef Retail, argued the development's opponents missed the opportunity of lawful discussion. 

"The plaintiffs have sat on their rights for four years," said LeMieux. "Due process is owed to my client as well and they have the right to move forward in the development of this project."

Acitivists worry the development will leave the remaining Pine Rockland area vulnerable.

Judge Eig has is set to review the case before making a decision in the near future.

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