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Despite a no vote, controversial plan to build a warehouse on protected Miami-Dade wetlands remains in play

BBSEER wetlands.jpg
Jenny Staletovich
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WLRN
Developers want to expand the urban development boundary that protects wetlands, like these pictured here, in southern Miami-Dade County. The wetlands help protect the coast from flooding and filter polluted water.

A controversial plan to build a sprawling warehouse distribution center outside Miami-Dade County’s urban development boundary remains in play after a divided county commission first voted to reject, then defer the project on Thursday.

The flip-flopping vote is the third time the request from developers to build on wetlands and farms increasingly vulnerable to flooding from hurricanes and rising tides has been postponed.

The decision came after a nearly two and a half-hour discussion that included a presentation by Jeffrey Berkow, an attorney for developer Jose Hevia and others, on the latest scaled-down proposal.

The new plan cuts the distribution center from nearly 800 acres to 350 acres. But even at a smaller size, the project continues to draw opposition from county staff, environmentalists and others who worry about harm to water supplies, shrinking farmland and unchecked sprawl.

The first motion to send the request on to state planners for review failed after only seven commissioners voted for it. Such large land change requests that alter the county’s comprehensive plan require a super majority vote.

Commissioner Kionne McGhee then asked Berkow what changes he could propose “to make this possible.”

Berkow offered to remove about 40 acres owned by Florida, Power & Light, then asked for more time.

“I think we’re a little caught off-guard,” Berkow said, before suggesting the vote be deferred again until Oct. 6, which McGhee agreed to.

That left Commissioner Danielle Cohen-Higgins, who opposes the project in her district, confused and frustrated. “Something that has failed on a vote is the equivalent of something that has survived and that doesn’t make any logical sense to me,” she said.

Google Earth South Dade Logistics Center
Google Earth
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This Google Earth image shows the area where developers want to build a warehouse distribution center on land designated as a coastal high hazard zone because of it's flood risk.

Developers say the proposed project outside the urban boundary created to protect wetlands and farms is needed to deal with shrinking warehouse space needed for the growing county. While they don’t yet have tenants, Berkow says the need is dire.

But county planning staff have repeatedly said enough warehouse space remains inside the boundary for years to come.

The area, which sits south of the Florida Turnpike Extension between Southwest 107th and 122nd avenues, also lies in an area designated as a coastal high hazard zone because of its flood risk. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the South Florida Water Management District have eyed the area for a significant Everglades restoration project aimed at improving water conditions in Biscayne Bay and southern wetlands. That project is in the midst of planning.

Because the developer provided so few details about what would eventually be built, the water management district said it could not provide an “appropriate evaluation” of the project.

But others say it could hamper ongoing efforts to improve environmental conditions in southern Dade, which includes two national parks. The U.S. Department of Interior has raised concerns, along the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council also opposes the project over concerns about loss of wetlands that help keep the coast from fraying and improve bay water battling increased pollution. The Florida Department of Agriculture objects because it would shrink the amount of dwindling farmland.

Monroe County, Key West, Islamorada and South Miami have also passed resolutions opposing it.

Jenny Staletovich has been a journalist working in Florida for nearly 20 years.