A contentious debate sprung up at the Miami-Dade County Planning Advisory Board meeting Monday as the board weighed in on whether or not to allow a commercial retail development inside rural Horse Country.
Horse Country, a two square mile area between Southwest 40th Street and Southwest 72nd Street along the Florida Turnpike, has been preserved as agricultural land since the 1970s. Miami-Dade County has more than 60,000 acres of agricultural land, but Horse Country is unique in being one of the most concentrated rural spaces within the county.
The potential development would be on the western edge of Horse Country, at the corner of Southwest 125th Street and Miller Drive. In order for any developer to build, the board must approve changing the area’s zoning from agricultural to business and office.
Residents, community organizations, and board members remain strongly divided on the issue. Roughly 50 supporters wearing T-shirts reading “Horse Country Residents United” and “West Kendall Neighbors for Equality” attended the meeting.
Supporters of the development say there is not enough commercial retailer options nearby, and the development will benefit the community by creating jobs.
“As a Horse Country resident, it is frustrating that my family, friends and neighbors have been forced to travel outside of our community for our commercial and retail needs,” explained Ray Gonzalez. Gonzalez said the developer’s promise to keep the commercial building compatible with the surrounding rural area prompted him to become an equity partner in the development.
Opponents to the development, however, argue that a commercial development inherently threatens Horse Country’s rural character, and that there are plenty of stores in the surrounding urban area. The Bird Kendall Homeowners Association, as well as other residents, spoke out against the application.
Board members who live in Horse Country were also drawn into the debate. Horacio Huembes argued that the development will be an important asset for the community, and can be built without harming the rural environment. But Reginald Clyne worries that approving the development will allow commercial buildings to overtake Horse Country.
“This is a narrow strip of green in a sea of development, and we have to protect it,” Clyne said.
In an 8-5 vote, the Miami-Dade planning advisory board moved to transmit the application with no recommendation. The issue will be heard by the Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners in November.
The community is currently holding charrette meetings concerning the development, and expects information from the charrette to be available in January 2016.