Holding the Line Against Development in South Florida

Miami, Florida

On the other side of the 18 Mile Stretch, where the lifeline of the Florida Keys – U.S. 1 – meets Card Sound Road, a new city is planned on several thousand acres now mostly zoned for rock mining.

Much depends on the public response to this ill-advised development on lands long identified for purchase by government agencies.

Florida City is now attempting to annex this slice of unincorporated Miami-Dade, claiming to only want zoning for one unit in five acres. The owner has already submitted plans to the state for much, much more: thousands of homes and associated commercial space.

If Miami-Dade county commissioners allow the annexation to proceed and later vote to move the Urban Development Boundary, tract homes will sprout in rows near the narrow ribbon of tarmac that Keys residents use to evacuate in the case of hurricanes.

Property owners and land speculators may feel like it is no one’s business what happens in their corner of the world, but the Florida Keys learned the hard way that geography matters.

At the top of the Keys, the land in question is within the “footprint” of the portion of Everglades restoration that includes the C-111 Canal. That’s the first canal in Miami Dade, at the far end of the 18 Mile Stretch.

In rainy season, to keep sugar fields and Miami-Dade urban dwellers dry, the South Florida Water Management District opens C-111 and allows effluent to pour from that canal into Barnes Sound where the heaving puke causes massive die-offs of sea grass and marine life, flowing into Northeast Florida Bay.

Everglades plans include “spreading” this dirty water into wetlands to reverse some of the environmental damage that has cost the Keys dearly. But if homes are built in the area, raising water levels could be impossible and carry enormous costs.

The result will be what Miami-Dade allowed to occur in the 8.5 Square Mile Area where property owners exacted a multi-decade delay on investments in infrastructure needed to restore the eastern edge of the Everglades, raising the cost to taxpayers by hundreds of millions of dollars.

The Florida Keys live the price for allowing growth to supercede sound planning to protect the economy and natural resources that businesses depend on. There is no end to the contortions of common sense that money can buy.

The Keys have their own recent example: how a suggested, phased-evacuation plan in the event of a hurricane, instead of leave-as-you-will, would reduce drive times out of the Keys-providing the rationale for lifting barriers to more construction and development. In other words, citizens who spurn government on its best days can be relied on to obediently wait until government tells them it is their turn to evacuate when a hurricane is bearing down.

Miami-based Lennar Corporation, one of the nation’s large homebuilders, plans to generate hundreds of millions of dollars in sales once the current owner converts the economic potential of this property through local county zoning and permitting processes.

No doubt an army of lobbyists will produce drawings, counter-studies, and promises for how the tax revenue from this development will be used to offset public costs of restoration: all will be well if just one more tract housing development is allowed to pour from the saucer of the Everglades into the cooling teapot of industry, profits, and tax base.

The Florida Keys is not just the classic American story of local control, states and federal rights struggling to accommodate land use, endangered species, clean water, and ecosystems, it also suggests the consent of the governed is marred by collective bi-polar disorder: government is malevolent, government is necessary, government robs people of liberties, government must protect the common good-back and forth the arguments go like a tennis ball across the net in a game whose audience is exhausted to death or to indifference-the disease of democracy.

Too frail to participate in the constitutional convention of 1787, Benjamin Franklin offered dim support for our Constitution.

Franklin said famously — everything he said was famous — “I believe farther that this is likely to be well administered for a Course of Years and can only end in Despotism as other Forms have done before it, when the People shall become so corrupted as to need Despotic Government, being incapable of any other.”

The Urban Environment League of Greater Miami is helping to organize the campaign to Hold the Line on changes to the Urban Development Boundary by the Miami-Dade county commission. It would be a good idea, if you value the Florida Keys, to lend support to the campaign. Its website address is www.udbline.com.

ALAN FARAGO is a special contributor to the opinion page of the Orlando Sentinel, where he writes on the environment and politics. >From 1988 to 1992, he lived in Key West where he was involved in many environmental issues. As director of Everglades Defense Council, Inc., he is involved in the Hold The Line campaign in Miami-Dade county. He can be reached alanfarago@yahoo.com.









Alan Farago is president of Friends of the Everglades and can be reached at afarago@bellsouth.net