Mdc Wetlands High Res

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

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 reserve and Biscayne Bay is being challenged by a nearby homeowner.

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

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

“If we don’t meet even the basic floor of the laws that are supposed to protect us from that type of destruction, or that type of development in inappropriate areas, we have a long way to go and we are going to have a lot of problems in the future ,” she said.

Aligned Real Estate Holdings, a group of developers who applied to move the border to make room for the warehouses last year, declined to comment on Thursday through a spokesperson.

Aligned originally proposed a much larger project at nearly 800 hectares, but scaled back to around 400 hectares after fail repeatedly win approval. They said the project is needed outside the boundary drawn in the 1980s to protect wetlands and farms because too little warehouse space exists within the boundary — a claim that county staff rejected.

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

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

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

In the petition asking an administrative law judge to rule on the case, Lewis’ attorneys, including Richard Grosso and Paul Schwiep, argue that the application does not meet several thresholds required by the county’s growth plan to move the boundary not, such as:

  • It ignores rules to limit sprawl and also shrinks valuable agricultural land in an area that provincial farm officials say has the richest soil in the country.
  • They say provincial agricultural officials say it can disrupt drainage on surrounding land and make it impossible to farm.
  • That could interfere with Everglades restoration efforts to improve water conditions in Biscayne Bay and control flooding, other goals spelled out in the county’s 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-bathroom home she has lived in for nearly 40 years.

“She is concerned that this approval will essentially threaten her community and her home,” Carpenter said. “She’s concerned about increases in traffic, flooding, negative impact on resilience efforts, and, of course, further jeopardizing Biscayne Bay.”

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