In 1975, an urban development boundary (UDB) line was drawn to separate the Florida Everglades from the growing south Florida metropolitan region. Some residents are arguing that the Miami area’s population growth warrants moving the line and developers have already purchased property on the wrong-side of the line. A movie complex, a mega-mall and 16,000 new homes could soon be in the works. But is this really worth endangering the only flood grasslands in North America? This line protects “the only U.S. national park to hold three international designations as a World Heritage Site, International Biosphere Reserve, and Wetlands of International Importance.”
Miami-Dade mayor, Carlos Alvarez acknowledges the high-voltage politics surrounding the issue: “I can feel the pressure and certainly hear the pressure of the special interests wanting to move it. There’s a lot of money involved.” Fortunately, Alvarez is standing his ground in opposition to the UDB change. Miami-Dade County Commissioner Katy Sorenson and North Miami Council member Scott Galvin have also been vocal in opposition to the UDB change.
After all, the county planners have concluded there is sufficient available land for housing for the next 15 years. And, as Nancy Liebman, president of the Urban Environment League (Miami) wisely notes: “moving the [UDB] line will drain South Florida’s most valuable resource, its water supply.”
Unfortunately, two large developers–Florida-based Lennar Corp. (operated by Leonard Miller and family), and the Georgia/Texas-based Horton family are determined to get on the other side of the UDB and may have the political muscle to get their way. According to the FEC, Florida secretary of state, and OpenSecrets, Leonard Miller has donated well over $250,000 to conservative candidates and PACs over the last 15 years–including over $100,000 to the Republican Party of Florida. And over the last ten years, the Horton family has given upwards of $150,000 to a range of conservative candidates including Newt Gingrich, Dick Armey, Don Sherwood, and Trent Lott.
The ultimate fate of the Everglades may well hinge on the ability of these well-heeled special interests to identify the weakest links of local governance. The Everglades is a National Park, but the UDB is enforced by Miami-Dade County Commissioners. Finding little support with the County Commissioners, developers are now backing a proposal by the town of Florida City to “annex nearly 4,300 acres” of land beyond the UDB. (Lennar has an option to buy 1,465 of these acres pending State-level approval). The transfer from county to municipal oversight–to be hashed out at a May 17th County Commission meeting, would allow Florida City Mayor, Otis Wallace, to zone the area as he pleases. Sickened yet?
A coalition called “Hold the Line” has broadened to include citizens, environmental activists, subtropical farmers and agriculturalists, concerned parents, faith-based groups, local progressives–an impressive assembly of…well, everybody but the developers.
– John Burton