Wednesday morning, June 19th, started at 7 AM on an articulated (double length) bus at Southwest 244th Street, a leg of the Rapid Transit System. With school out, there seemed to be plenty of seating until the last pick-up in Cutler Bay that left about 12 riders standing. I got off at Shorty’s BBQ to continue the trip on the Metro-Rail. Total travel time to downtown Miami was 63 minutes.
When entering the Commissioners chambers, it was apparent by the number of citizens wearing “red shirts” that something big was on the agenda. Saving the best for last, the ordinance relating to the Miami-Dade Comprehensive Development Master Plan providing disposition of standard application No.5 located on the south side of SW 184th street, between SW 136th court and SW 132 place was up for appeal by Lennar Homes. This appeal was to increase the density for development, to the objections of neighbors of that area who live in “estate” homes on ½ acre to 2 ½ acre sites.
The standard protocol was followed allowing each citizen who registered two minutes to voice their objections. Of the “red shirt”
wearers, about 16 gave a list of details, then voiced their disapprovals. Originally, high rise dwellings were proposed by Lennar but they were granted 2 ½ units per acre on the 16-acre parcel which amounted to 40 homes. This seemed to be a harmonious plan for the existing neighborhood but now the
developer doubled their request to 80 sites or five single family homes per acre.
Citizens argued that this proposal was not consistent with the neighborhood and that the traffic in the area was already out of control taking up to 45 minutes to travel 2 ½ miles to the Turnpike. Cited was the 3 ½ mile distance to the corridor (transportation system), inadequate roads, unacceptable police response time plus dangerous walking and bike riding conditions.
The Lennar representatives took to the microphone for the next 20 minutes stating that their proposal was a responsible development, considering they had cut their request from 213 units, not the approved figure of 170, to 80 units for the 16 acres involved. It was noted by Lennar that “if limited to 40 units the sales prices would range from $550,000 to $600,000
per unit while if allowed, the 80-units sales price would drop to between $350,000 and $400,000 per unit.” This implied more affordable, but not affordable housing.
There were many statements made by Lennar those in attendance considered lies or exaggerations. The present system does not allow for rebuttals or cross examinations which seemed unjust to most present.
Now, it was up to the vote of the Commissioners. Since this property is in District 8, Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava was given first
opportunity to speak expressing that “this area was on the fringe of the farming community.” She continued repeating the argument that “the proposed density increase was not harmonious with other housing in the area.” Therefore, she voted no, followed with additional support from Commissioners Moss and Suarez.
Commissioner Heyman, first to support the increased development stated “Lennar’s new, proposed density was far less then what it was at previously.” She continued, “responsible development, if left as is at 40,
is affordable.” Other Commissioners echoed the term “affordable housing,” as a reason for higher density. Commissioner Diaz made it apparent by stating, “those in other districts are use to crowded conditions. We must look at the county as a whole. No area is different.”
When the dust settled, the three no votes were overuled by seven yes votes. Thus the motion was rendered in favor of Lennar for the higher density development.
If one thing was apparent from the statements and votes of a majority of Commissioners representing districts outside of South Dade, is the fact that higher density should be allowed to produce more affordable housing in South Dade. It seems population growth and transportation woes will be driven south into Districts 8 and 9. This is contrary to the statements made by Commissioner Suarez in a recent Facebook video on residents having the right to determine what development should be allowed in their area.
There is more to this story as an interview was held with several of the “red shirters” a few days later. Their questions- Why weren’t we given an opportunity to challenge Lennar’s false statements? How does the affordable housing argument to increase the density apply if the selling price of these 80 homes starts above the $350,000 range? Why weren’t we allowed to state that the Lennar team used density figures north of 184th street, the end of the buffer zone between high and low density? What's next for the
properties that abut this new development? Will they too fall to high
In March of 2019 citizen Modesto Blanco spoke with Lennar’s Carlos Rodriguez. According to Modesto the Lennar spokesman stated, “You are only one neighbor and Cava is only one commissioner.” Blanco continued, “He implied that Lennar would take a chance in front of all the commissioners rather then cut the number below 80.”
Yvette Bishop joined in, “Lennar is only in the business of making money. We collected over 250 signatures from residents in the area. All protested this density increase. Guess our objections fell on deaf ears.” Modesto said, “Lennar’s attorney, Hugo Arza, opened his dialogue about past meetings with the community that never existed. All conversation with Lennar terminated when we told him we would fight the proposed 80-unit figure. No counter offers were proposed by him” Alicia Arellano noted, “I just wanted to add another comment. Back in 2010, when we were fighting Somerset Academy, this commission said that they realized it was a mistake to put Somerset on 134th Avenue because of the traffic disaster. They promised us that they would not do anything further to destroy our community. Commissioner Martinez referenced that promise when he voted in our favor at the November hearing. Somerset Academy puts anywhere between 400-900 cars twice a day at the intersection of 184th and 134th Avenue. Not only did they not hear us, but they went back on their own word with this development.”