In rural Redland, on the frontier of the Everglades National Park, big white letters that read “ROBERT IS HERE” have welcomed visitors for nearly six decades into a cornucopia of South Miami-Dade’s local and exotic fruits and vegetables.
However, the fruit stand's identity as a provider of the area’s agricultural products to be consumed surrounded by quiet fields is at risk, said owner Robert Moehling and his family.
“Here he is, sixty years deep in a family business supporting a family of six and 60 employees. That’s saying something, that’s the American Dream,” said Robert Moehling Jr. of his father. “It’s going to be stomped out a little bit having the farmland across from us sold off and maybe be high density apartments. You know, it kind of loses the ambiance.”
A proposed zoning change that would change the designation of the twenty acres of agricultural land directly across from the iconic fruit from low-density to medium-density land for building high occupancy apartments is currently being reviewed by the Board of County Commissioners.
The TREO Group, LLC, a real estate investment firm from Miami, filed an application with the Miami-Dade County Department of Regulatory and Economic Resources to facilitate development of 497 residential multi-family units on the site, according to public documents.
Moehling, who began his business when he was six years old by selling cucumbers, fears that the whole community will lose its agricultural identity if the development project becomes a reality.
“It’s not Robert is Here standing to lose, it’s the community will lose,” Moehling said. “You never know what you’re gonna lose until it’s gone.”
Moehling described the proposal as ‘insanity’. Him and his family are urging the county to decline the zoning request due to the lack of necessary infrastructure like public transportation, proper roads, schools, hospitals, and available jobs in the Redland area for mass residential development.
At its first public hearing on July 2nd, the South Bay Community Council vote on the proposal tied. Seven members out of ten in the Planning Advisory Board voted against the proposal in its second public hearing on July 8th.
Robert is Here and the proposed development are located on the southwest fringe of the Urban Development Boundary, in a primarily rural region. Moehling believes that if the zoning is approved, there would be a chain reaction of development that would perpetually change the area.
“This is a 20 acre piece they’re looking at,” he said. “Right next to it is another 20 zoned the same way for low density. They’re going to want to change that. Then there’s 66 acres next to that.”
The development may be in the county’s interest because of potential tax revenue but the risks to the region are too high, Moehling said.
“We have a national park seven miles from here and over a million visitors a year are gonna pass through here seeing what used to be agriculture and open space and see high density apartment living,” he added.
The zoning proposal is being disputed by Robert is Here through a physical and digital petition, which has already gained about 13,000 signatures.
Moehling Jr. said his father and his family are eager to take on the challenge.
“It’s a big standoff,” he said. “it’s a big political statement: if they can do it here in front of Robert is Here fruit stand, it can happen anywhere in the farmlands around here.”
Robert is Here is counting on grassroots support from the fans they’ve gathered over decades of providing families with a culturally diverse place to enjoy milkshakes and see their petting zoo.
On their Instagram account, which boasts 13,400 followers, their post asking for initial support received almost 5,000 likes. It also received 2,300 shares on Facebook. They have invited loyal customers to attend upcoming public hearings and voice their support.
“We have a cult-like following on our social media so we knew we could make some noise with that,” said Moehling Jr. “We’re not just going to take it lying down. We’re going to be a stick in the mud and fight for what’s right.”
The county commission is set to have a public hearing on the issue this Thursday at the County Commission Chamber.