LTE

To The Editor:

In 2016 the Florida Legislature passed a law, statute 570.85 encouraging the growth of Agritourism in our state. Miami Dade County followed-up in October 2020 by passing Ordinance 20-108. For those of us who live, prosper, and love South Dade and the unique agricultural character of our area, what was initially passed by well-meaning state and county officials as a potential boon for our local farmers and community by bringing in revenue and tourists, has turned into an unequivocal nightmare.

Agritourism has come to be synonymous to many residents as “party venues”. South Dade has become the “wild-wild west” regarding the proliferation of venues that disrupt the tranquility of our community, destroy neighborhood integrity, prevent nearby residents from living in the peaceful enjoyment of their own homes, and pose significant threats to life and property. These venues can be classified into two categories, those that possess and Agricultural Certificates of Use (ACU) and those that are operating illegally. Our county is failing to protect its citizens from these public nuisances.

It is imperative that Commissioners Cohen-Higgins and McGhee, as well as the entire county commission, work with residents to develop a revised Agritourism Ordinance to address the following issues created by these venues:

• These properties create public nuisances regarding noise/amplified sound which destroy the peaceful enjoyment of neighbors’ homes and neighborhood integrity. Miami Dade Police have failed to address this issue when called, if they respond at all. They issue case numbers for the call and nothing more. The division ofRegulatory and Economic Resources (RER) should have noise complaints added to its enforcement authority. Strict decibel levels should be implemented as well as a specific perimeter of sound established, for example, no amplified sound within 100 or 500 feet of nearby residential properties.

• Fireworks of any kind should be prohibited.

• Ordinance language should be strengthened to exclude the use of the property areas that ARE NOT used for agriculture, such as homes. RER is granting ACU’S to properties of less than 10% agricultural exemptions and allowing for the entire property to be used.

• The unregulated use of alcohol places neighborhoods and the community at large in danger as potentially impaired party attendees leave these venues. The Division of Alcohol Licensing (DAL) has no protocol to address this issue. Alcohol licenses are issued to certain entities and the DAL has no way of monitoring how a license is being used by a catering service, nor do they provide enforcement of any kind. There are no assurances of who, and how much alcohol is being served, to event attendees. If a venue is going to provide alcohol, the property owners should go through the alcohol licensing process and be required to carry an appropriate amount of insurance to protect the community and the attendees.

• There is no monitoring of how portable restroom facilities are being used and how the human waste is being disposed. Properties in agricultural areas are on septic systems. This poses a serious health hazard.

• The use of off-duty police officers for non ACU’D venues should be prohibited! Miami Dade police should verify an ACU before assigning an officer. This has not always taken place, and officers have been present at illegal venues to provide “security.” Additionally, on-duty officers should be required to enforce county ordinances regarding traffic and noise as condition of the use of their services. They do not, and if other officers respond, they see their colleague on duty and it only reinforces a failure to act in the best interest of neighbors.

• ACU’s should, as part of the certificate’s conditions for issuance, specify that law and code enforcement officers should have unfettered access to the property for the purpose of inspections and code/ACU compliance.

• There are currently no consequences for violating the terms of an ACU. Rules need to be incorporated into the county ordinance regarding how many violations are permitted within a given time frame or a repetitive violation of a specific guideline. The history of violations should be considered upon renewal/revocation of an ACU. Nearby residents, whose property rights and value are impacted, should also be provided an opportunity to weigh in during the renewal process. All applications for an ACU should be noticed to nearby homeowners as well. Residents should be empowered, not excluded, from a process which will affect their quality of life.

• Illegal party venues should be placed on a watch list and coordination between RER and the police department should be encouraged so that these venues are shut down, even if it is on a weekly basis. In one instance it took over two years of neighbors complaining to RER, their elected officials, and Miami Dade Police to shut down a venue. This is unacceptable.

There are currently no legitimate consequences, for both the illegal and legal venue operators, for violating the county’s ordinances or their ACU’s. Financial penalties and immediate closure of illegal venues are going to be the only incentives for compliance. The financial profit that these venues generate, with minimal risks, has led to their proliferation in South Dade and a deterioration of the quality of life for residents who have the misfortune to live near them. The monetary gain of one property owner, for operating a business in a residential neighborhood, to the detriment to the quality life for dozens of other property owners who desire to simply live in peace in their own homes is offensive and wrong.

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