[freedomtowernight_edited.jpg] 26th Parallel: Hold The Line

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Hold The Line

Yesterday's approval by county commissioners (via a veto override) of two projects just outside the Urban Development Line (UDB, or The Line) surely will continue to draw plenty of criticism for an apparent lack of concern for urban sprawl and environmental issues.

I see both concerns as legitimate. What I do question here is the significance of "The Line". The UDB is intended to keep sprawl from consuming the Everglades, but in reality it is an arbitrary line set by county officials which is actually a pretty good distance east of the Everglades National Park.

Let's consider the two projects approved yesterday. One is a Lowe's at Tamiami Trail and SW 137 Ave. For those of you not familiar with that area, it is a location which is pretty much built up with homes and commercial centers to the east, south and southwest. To the north and west (where the Lowe's will sit) we have a cement plant and lots and lots of environmentally disastrous melaleuca trees. Is this what we're holding the line for?

What's better for that site: endless strands of melaleuca, or a Lowe's that will serve the thousands of homes in that area? That's something the hardline Hold-the-Liners should consider.

The other site is a commercial center on Kendall Drive and SW 167 Ave. Again, an area with homes and businesses just to the east. The only difference here is that there are no melaleucas in the immediate area, just old strawberry fields.

Don't get me wrong, I am in favor of limiting sprawl as much as reasonably possible. But an unintended consequence of the arbitrary line and efforts to limit sprawl by not approving projects literally steps on the other side of the line is that we are perpetuating the old problems that sprawl brought to our area. It's not the sprawl itself that is bad, it's the lack of planning that went along with it that is damaging. What is better for people who for many good reasons choose to live in the far western suburbs: a 20-minute traffic-clogged commute to the nearest store, or a shorter drive, bike or walk to a commercial center? I think the latter option should be the desirable one.

I would be very much in a favor of an urban development line that has real meaning and purpose. One that takes into consideration the needs of the community and the needs of our environment. One that can't be simply moved at the whim of a county commissioner. The community needs to get together and agree on something that makes sense and serves everyone's interests. It's not easy, but until we do this, we're going to continue with battles over things such as building a Lowe's in a melaleuca forest.



Blogger C.L.J. said...

What's better for that site: endless strands of melaleuca, or a Lowe's that will serve the thousands of homes in that area?

The problem is that you haven't asked what would be WORSE for the area; and the answer to THAT question is the Lowe's.

Melaleuca doesn't actually damage the environment; it just blows over with a gust of wind.

Lowe's brings pollution; just the parking lot itself introduces tons of chemicals into the soil. Add the cars, you get all the crap dripping off of them washed into the surrounding soil and from there into not only the Everglads, but the Biscayne Aquifer - our water supply. Then consider all the chemicals the store will carry; what happens when they spill pesticides and paint remover and thousands of other poisons? That's right, they ALSO end up in our drinking supply.

The simple fact is that there is not one good reason to allow further development on the other side of the UDB, and dozens of reasons why we shouldn't.

8:27 AM, May 07, 2008  
Blogger nonee moose said...

Robert, it's the water. There ain't enough of it. Not to mention the fact that all the development over the years has shifter the natural flow of the glades from southwest to southeast. When do you say enough is enough? Add to that the negative effects of new diffuse development, at the cost of perhaps incenting infill and creating the critical mass necessary to make effective changes to our infrastructure. Not to mention the effect of further sagging the real estate market with added inventory.

There's alot of ways to look at it, to be sure. Few, if any, are good at this time.

11:15 AM, May 07, 2008  
Blogger Robert said...

The enviromental issues brought up are all well and good, but the issue I raise is:

When do we stop drawing some arbitrary agenda-driven line in the sand, and start to look at this from a perspective that takes into account actual and unbiased environmental data AND the reality that sprawl has already impinged on our natural areas? Melaleuca trees were planted to drain the swamp, and they propagate like crazy. In other words, they're an invasive species that has done nothing but destroy our wetlands. Putting a Lowe's just across Tamiami Trail from thousands of homes and dozens of shopping centers will hardly affect the environment any more adversely than what's already there. If it's not built there, it will likely end up somewhere inside the line. Would that really be better for the environment, or is it just OK just because it's inside the magical line?

South Florida is not going back to the natural state it was in 100 years ago. That much is a reality. Smart planning is needed to make sure that we don't strain infrastructure more than it already is. Building a Lowe's or a shopping center in an area that's already urban/suburban for all practical purposes is better than putting it in an area where people have to drive several miles to get to them. Which option is better (none of the above is not an acceptable answer)?

12:27 PM, May 07, 2008  
Blogger Jonathan said...

"Sprawl" is a loaded term. Why not call it what it is - affordable housing for working people.

If the residents of S. Florida want to have a development boundary that's fine, but they should get rid of zoning in the area that's open to development. Let stores be built near where the customers live. Let people live near their work. The crazy situations where people have to live an hour from work, or have to drive ten miles to go to the store, are often artifacts of zoning. And it's not like the local pols and zoning boards do a good job of micromanaging development.

8:02 PM, May 07, 2008  
Blogger Srcohiba said...

there's plenty of room within the UDB for development. Frankly, I think there should be a freeze on any new development. The place is too damn crowded. The quality of the water, the air, is pathetic.

As one who routinely goes to the Everglades for many years, I can tell you from personal experience that the bird populations have been dwindling. The fishing in Florida Bay has been much slower than in previous years. Enough is enough.

These developer wankers want to turn every western part of the state into Kendalls.

Hence it is always a joy when I leave and go outside the line into the wilderness, or whatevers left of it. You give these wankers and crooked commissioners their way, and they'd build homes and malls and other crap on the border of ENP and Big Cypress.

just my 3 1/2 cents

9:49 AM, May 08, 2008  
Blogger Genius of Despair said...

Here is daniel shoer roth translated from the El Nuevo Herald:


Moments before the Miami-Dade Commission traded our environmental health for more stores outside the urban boundary of the County, two opposing groups of restless residents exposed their respective sides of the coin at this reunion.

The first group mentioned the rich biodiversity of the Everglades National Park, its designation by the United Nations as patrimony of the world, water shortage due to climate change, the excessive urban sprawl…

The second group mentioned the need to build a high school on the western part of the county with fewer students per class, and a $7 million new highway to alleviate West Kendall’s traffic congestion…

Anybody might believe that the controversy about the expansion of the UDB is about a school or a highway. But that is not true.

This is how these urban projects are twisted in ways that astonish us when they get the OK from the authorities: the promoters persuade neighborhood groups by promising them public works that are the sole responsibility of county government, so that in turn they put pressure on their commissioners so that they have the perfect excuse to grant a final blessing to more urban sprawl.

This is the technique of disguise that in the Greater Miami, although it escapes the eye of the majority, is notoriously popular.

In this occasion it is a Lowe’s Home, a mega hardware store to be built at 8th Street and SW 137 Avenue, that knew how to seduce the parents concerned about their children’s education with a new school that, according to them, would offer excellent academic results.

In fact, an anonymous e-mail was circulated among parents living in the county’s southwest area promising that the future school “would compete academically with Belen…” and urged them to “convince one more commissioner to vote yes on the Lowe’s project”.

The second approval last Thursday corresponds to a 600,000 square feet commercial and office center, on the corner of SW 167 Avenue and Kendall Drive. Traffic is so terrible in this latitude that who would not have been hooked by the offer of a new highway?

“This is the level of corruption that the situation has reached”, said Patricia Wade, an environmentalist and agriculturist from the Redland. “It is no longer the petition [to move the limit], but what they [the developers] can provide to the people in order to get their support, which is not necessarily what they are requesting on their petition”.

But, watch out, once the limit is expanded for one project, there is no guarantee that developers will fulfill their promises.

At least that is what experience has shown us. In 2005, when a milestone was reached with the first time approval of the expansion of the UDB in Hialeah, one of the enticements was a treatment plant of water from the Floridan aquifer, which gave the impression that the developer was going to pay for. The City of Hialeah attempted to negotiate with the state, but last year Tallahassee rejected the $3 million requested in the budget. Who will carry the burden? Miami-Dade County.

County Commissioners are so myopic that they have come to believe that no one is paying attention to what they do, but they have on them a national magnifying glass.

On Monday, in a report that calls South Florida “Paradise Paved”, Time Magazine wrote that the Miami-Dade Commission “has for a long time been considered the builders’ most avid accomplice”.

The prestigious magazine mentions with first and last names Jose "Pepe" Diaz, ‘who is under federal investigation for allegedly receiving gifts from developers whose plans he'd voted for. (He denies any wrongdoing.)”

Another, according to Time, is Natacha Seijas, ‘who at one commission meeting voiced her dislike of manatees … and faced a recall vote in 2006 (which she defeated) due to public complaints that she also was too cozy with developers”.

Other Commissioners in favor of “the school and the highway” were Joe Martinez, Audrey Edmonson, Rebeca Sosa, Dorrin Rolle, Bruno Barreiro, Barbara Jordan and Javier Souto.

How lucky they were that their names did not appeared in Time!

9:05 PM, May 08, 2008  
Blogger Genius of Despair said...

Nov. 27th blog on the LINE by Gimleteye:

The vote to "transmit" Lowe's and other applications was an important step, but not a victory--since there are higher thresholds the proposed developments must cross. Unfortunately common sense isn't one of them.

It is really the utter disregard and absence of substantive dialogue at the county commission that brings to mind "Night of the Living Dead" and the classic quote by Commissioner Katy Sorenson that the applicants to move the Urban Development Boundary have come back again "like zombies".

There was Joe Martinez leaning over a paper map proffered by the developer on the dais like Captain Queeg, scrutinizing the all important "school" that has attached flimsily to the proposed zoning change. It was a staged act in anticipation of other staged acts, all in service of putting more suburban sprawl into wetlands and open space buffering the Everglades.

It is too bad, really a shame, that the Miami Herald has given up on analysis-- sort of shrugged and walked away from the story. So Eyeonmiami will fill the gap for you.

What the application by Lowe’s represents, beyond the matter of shopping for light bulbs conveniently, is the pulverization of regional consideration as a determining factor in zoning decisions by local government.

Miami is a place where universities sponsor regional think tanks, land use innovators, and some of the brightest minds in community planning anywhere on the planet: but that doesn’t make a dent among the majority of county commissioners.

What the Miami Dade County Commission has presided over, mainly, is the triumph of parochialism: the Balkanization of South Florida’s most politically influential county.

At a recent County Charter Review Commission meeting, land use attorney Miguel De Grandy articulated the principle. He defended single member districts against the call for greater sensitivity to regional considerations by the county commission. He practically blessed parochial districts as a tenet of the US Constitution and the manifest desire of the Founding Fathers.

Parochialism rules.

The Growth Machine cannot embrace a regional perspective, if by embracing it means releasing the chokehold that land speculators, land use lawyers, and developers have over zoning and permitting decisions.

What the Growth Machine needs is control of those decisions, and keeping 13 county commissioners marching in step is easy work when parochial politics define the boundaries of acceptable behavior.

The pipeline must always be filled, even when it is filled with the dregs of mortgage fraud, liar loans, worthless securitization of underlying debt and glue gun housing.

Need a new highway interchange? Let developers pay for it, in exchange for moving just a little closer to the Everglades. "It's what my constituents want." And the more constituents closer to the Urban Development Boundary, the more pressure to move it the next time, and the time after that.

You could almost hear advice to Pepe Diaz, the district county commissioner, from the developers, bankers, and lobbyists: explaining how to gain fellow commissioners' support.

Say that you “know your district”. Emphasize that you are in favor of quality of life, “for your district”. We’ll take care of the rest.

“The rest” would be the steps necessary to put pressure at the right places in Tallahassee for state approval of zoning changes in farmland, open space or wetlands.

The rest would be, the glaring fact that water resources don’t and will not exist to support moving the UDB for many years, notwithstanding the much-heralded water use permit from the state.

The rest, would be what Pepe Diaz and many others on the county commission aspire to: to be near the centers of power and wealth, whether in Washington, DC, Baja Mexico, Puerto Rico, or the Bahamas.

The rest would be delivered far from public view in Miami. The rest would have to do with different order of influence and horse-trading, like the shoving between an ambitious House Speaker from Miami and Governor Charlie Crist.

Pepe plays his role: advocate for his district. It’s not hard because it’s true: he’s served as a councilman and mayor in Sweetwater, and as county commissioner.

He built support advocating for much tougher flood control—never mind that the Everglades were there before his district was and flooded most of the time.

He claims to be a “supporter” of Everglades restoration. But that would only be true if restoration is defined as primarily serving the needs of cities.

Parochialism is a flexible servant. (And yesterday, the interests of parochial harmony kept Natacha Seijas quiet in her seat, despite the appeals to her sympathy--apparently--for the cause of adapting to climate change.)

The application by Lowe’s, a major public corporation, is not about a hardware store “within a three mile radius of retail opportunity”. In two previous attempts, the company had failed to persuade the county commissioners to move the Urban Development Boundary beyond the 16 acres it already owns inside the UDB to an adjacent 30 plus acres it owns outside the UDB.

This particular application has come before the county commission twice before and was turned down each time. In 2005, the denial was during a hyperventilating boom in construction, employing traffic planners, engineers, and legions of lobbyists. So what changed?

Now is a "better" time to move the UDB?

No. The best reason to hold the line on the Urban Development Boundary scarcely crossed the lips of the county commissioners. Silencio: today's S&P/Casey Shiller housing index shows Miami very nearly number one in the nation in housing price declines, quarter over yearly-quarter. Not a word.

The decline in Miami housing prices is more than twice the national average. Commercial construction is not far behind. But none of economic reality mattered a bit.

Florida may be in the midst of its own historic drought, but common sense is far away as Australia or India or South Africa.

The application to move the UDB by Lowe’s is about a large, well-funded corporation tasked with building a constituency for more of products by mobilizing residents for further incursions against the Urban Development Boundary in the future.

If it was really about another Lowe’s, then long ago the corporation would have started to build a store on its 16 acres of adjacent land WITHIN the Urban Development Boundary. That's right: Lowe's owns 16 acres--more than enough to put a new store--immediately next to its property outside the UDB.

Lowe's and the Growth Machine it represents seek to move the UDB line on PRINCIPLE.

In 2005 it was Lennar, in Florida City outside the UDB, trying to zone a small city into wetlands critical for restoration of Biscayne Bay. But that was then. In the meantime, Lennar’s stock value has disappeared in a puff.

It’s Lowe’s turn. (And Parkland, the proposed major development way out west surrounded by politically connected land speculators.)

There are several phenomena worth note in the outcome of the vote to adopt and transmit (a technical term that means to conditionally approve moving the UDB, pending an evaluation by the state of Florida) the Lowe’s application.

The first, how the African American county commissioners representing inner city, poor neighborhoods all fell into line behind Diaz, in favor of adopt and transmit (they could have voted only to transmit, without recommendation) except for Dennis Moss.

Parochialism works especially well in the inner city districts of incumbent county commissioners—who are not elected so much as anointed by a political status quo.

Diaz’ message, delivered with sincerity, is one heartily embraced by the majority of others: that if you leave my district alone, I’ll support whatever you do in yours.

Another phenomenon, is how the county commissioners representing poor districts will always support zoning measures at the fringe: expansions of required services that actually hurt their own constituents because existing department budgets are stretched and eventually require increased taxes.

Another amazement: that at a time of extreme budget crises, because of falling revenues from housing and construction—after two previous, failed attempts to pass it through —that this time the county commission approved adoption and transmittal to Tallahassee (by a 7-6 vote).

The key, apparently, admitted by Commissioner Diaz, is that the application is not “about” Lowe’s at all: it is really about a new school promised by the corporation on part of property it owns outside the UDB.

In other words, a regional issue—the integrity of the Urban Development Boundary (for a host of reasons—the Everglades, climate change, transportation, consistency with state comprehensive land use planning) is sacrificed for a parochial one, a “charter school”: a pattern that reinforces in exact shape, form and content the intent of the Growth Machine, where risk is always socialized and profit is always private.

If, at a time of economic budget crisis—as we are now experiencing in municipal and county governments across the state-- a regional perspective cannot prevail at the County Commission—then it never will.

Since the mainstream media doesn’t deal with substantive matters, it is hard to see how anything will change in Miami-Dade County: perhaps paying county commissioners a living wage will help. But it might not.

Parochialism was on fully display during the public hearings on four applications to move the Urban Development Boundary. How the state of Florida responds will be interesting.

The final public hearing for the applications to move the Urban Development Boundary will be held in April, 2008.

9:13 PM, May 08, 2008  

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