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Miami-Dade resident files legal challenge to block contentious wetlands boundary move

BBSEER wetlands.jpg
North Carolina State University
A Miami-Dade County resident has filed a legal challenge to block moving the boundary that protects wetlands to make way for a warehouse logistics center just over a mile from Biscayne Bay.

A controversial vote to move Miami-Dade County’s urban development boundary to make way for a warehouse logistics center about a mile from a mangrove preserve and Biscayne Bay is being challenged by a nearby homeowner.

Nita Lewis, an associate chemistry professor at the University of Miami, filed a petition asking for a state administrative hearing. Lewis argues the move is inconsistent with the county’s growth plan, which calls for keeping development out of hazardous coastal areas — where risks and costs to the public are higher — and directing it to safer areas.

“The fact that this is in a coastal high hazard zone and it was still approved literally weeks after we saw the devastation that Ian caused is really upsetting,” said Everglades Law Center attorney Elizabeth Fata Carpenter, who is representing Lewis.

“If we're not even meeting the basic floor of the laws that we have to protect against that type of destruction, or that type of development in improper areas, we've got a long way to go and we're going to have a lot more problems in the future," she said.

Aligned Real Estate Holdings, a group of developers that applied to move the boundary to make way for the warehouses last year, declined to comment Thursday through a spokesman.

Aligned originally proposed a much bigger project on nearly 800 acres, but scaled it back to about 400 acres after repeatedly failing to win approval. They said the project was needed beyond the boundary drawn in the 1980s to protect wetlands and farms because too little warehouse space exists inside the boundary — a claim that county staff rejected.

On their fifth try, Aligned persuaded all but four commissioners by offering to buy and donate about 620 acres of wetlands to make up for the lost green space. But most of the land they identified is already targeted for conservation or in protected areas, making it unequal to the impact caused by the logistics center, said Mayor Daniella Levine Cava.

“Moving the UDB when the application does not demonstrate need has significant consequences on our environment and future resilience, impacts that aren’t mitigated simply by protecting land elsewhere — especially when that land is unlikely to be developed in the first place,” she wrote.

Levine Cava vetoed the county commission vote, which commissioners then overturned.

In the petition asking for an administrative law judge to decide the case, Lewis’s attorneys, including Richard Grosso and Paul Schwiep, argue the application fails to meet multiple thresholds required by the county growth plan to move the boundary, such as:

  • It ignores rules to limit sprawl and also shrinks valuable farmland in an area that county farm officials say has the richest soil in the county.
  • They say county agriculture officials say it could disrupt drainage on surrounding land and make it impossible to farm.
  • It could interfere with Everglades restoration work to improve water conditions in Biscayne Bay and control flooding, other goals spelled out in the county growth plan.

Throughout the year-long review of the application, Lewis repeatedly raised objections, worrying that the project could worsen flooding around the three-bedroom, two bath house she’s lived in for nearly 40 years.
“She's concerned that this approval will essentially threaten her community and her home,” Carpenter said. “She's concerned about increases in traffic, flooding, negative impacts to resiliency efforts, and, of course, further endanger Biscayne Bay.”

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