Thursday, July 9, 2009

Request for Project Update

The following letter was sent to Fernando Albuerne, Alberto Carvalho, Ana Rivas-Logan, & Dennis Moss on Tuesday, June 23, 2009.

It has been over one year now since our last communication regarding proposed State School HHH1. This project remains of considerable concern to our community, as many of us will be directly impacted by the school. As you will recall, we alerted Miami-Dade Schools early in 2008 regarding our objection to the project. It remains our contention that constructing the school within half a mile of the current Urban Development Boundary is a violation of accepted smart growth policy. Furthermore, we contend the district has failed to engage the community in an appropriate manner since the project’s inception, and continues to be remiss in this regard.

As of our last communication, we were informed construction of the school was to proceed as planned, and to be completed by the 2009-2010 school year. Since then, the property has remained fenced and overgrown. We continue to monitor carefully the monthly school board meetings and have not seen any mention of the project on any agenda. As we have asked repeatedly in times past, our community would greatly appreciate being involved in the process, and kept informed of both developments and delays.

Following a year of relative silence, we would like to ask for an update on the current status of HHH1, along with your best estimated timeline for project completion. We remain hopeful that the current economic climate, coupled with declining population trends, will prompt reconsideration of this project in favor of higher priorities. Still, if a new high school is to be built, we recommend Miami-Dade Schools opts in favor of acting in the best interest of our community by moving the project to a more suitable location through an open and transparent public process.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Where's the School??

As of last spring, officials with the Miami-Dade Schools Facilities Planning office were still adamant--despite our objections, high school HHH1 would be built at their proposed site, and be open to receive students by the 2009-2010 school year. That deadline looms only two months away, but the 40-acre parcel in question remains gated, overgrown, and bears no signs of development.

The local community remains concerned about HHH1 yet, not surprisingly, has been afforded no information from Miami-Dade Schools on the status of the project. Efforts are underway to learn more about why this new facility will not receive this year's incoming freshmen...

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Contact Secretary Tom Pelham Today!

Anyone wishing to put in their two cents regarding the proposed location for State School HHH1 or Lennar's Parkland 2018 development is encouraged to make their feelings known to Tom Pelham, Secretary of the Florida Department of Community Affairs at:

Florida Department of Community Affairs
2555 Shumard Oak Boulevard
Tallahassee, FL 32399-2100
or by email at:

Friday, December 19, 2008

An Open Letter to Secretary Pelham of the Florida Department of Community Affairs

On December 16th, the following letter was forwarded to Secretary Pelham of the FLDCA, Commissioner Eric Smith of the FLDOE, Superintendent Alberto Carvalho of Miami-Dade Schools, and Representative Juan Zapata of District 119:

Dear Secretary Pelham,

I am writing to seek your help in resolving a difficult situation that has been unfolding in southern Miami-Dade County. Over the past year, Miami-Dade Schools has endeavored to build a new 2,500 student high school in the midst of an established community on the fringe of the county’s Urban Development Boundary (UDB). The local residents of the area maintain that the project, though representing over $60 million in public monies, has been executed without proper public engagement or regard to public sentiment. Though Miami-Dade Schools remains unresponsive, the local community has repeatedly iterated that this project is in conflict with accepted policies intended to promote both community participation and smart-growth planning.

In August of 2007, Miami-Dade Schools used the power of eminent domain to wrest 40 acres of land from private ownership. Situated on the corner of SW 160 street and SW 152 avenue, this area would become the proposed site for a new high school tentatively dubbed HHH1. At the time of its condemnation, this parcel of agricultural land was being actively cultivated. It is important to note that the property lies wholly within one mile from Miami-Dade County’s UDB.

As you are aware, the Florida legislature passed the Local Government Comprehensive Planning and Land Development Act (F.S. 163.3161) in 1985. This act mandated that all local governments adopt a framework to promote smart growth. In response, Miami-Dade County adopted their current Comprehensive Development Master Plan (CDMP). The CDMP establishes a UDB that serves to delineate areas appropriate for large-scale development in an effort to both limit sprawl, retain agricultural lands, and preserve vital natural resources outside the UDB. The CDMP not only sets forth clear recommendations regarding land use outside the UDB but, in recognizing its potential to promote urban development, also offers specific guidelines regarding improvements and developments inside the UDB.

Educational Element 2 (EDU-2A) of the plan sets forth recommendations regarding the construction of new schools. The county’s CDMP clearly states that new high schools should not be situated within one mile of the UDB. To work around this issue, the Miami-Dade Schools Facility Planning Office approached the Miami-Dade Zoning Department to seek an exemption. In a letter dated February 1, 2006, the Miami-Dade Planning and Zoning department cited EDU-2A in its recommendation that the site not be utilized for the purposes of constructing a high school. Of significant importance, this entire process was neither transparent nor open to public comment.

In March of 2008, against both the accepted smart growth policies of the CDMP and professional counsel from the Planning and Zoning Department, the Miami-Dade School Board awarded a preconstruction contract in the amount of $229,000 to Betancourt Castellon Associates, Inc. By early April, heavy machinery appeared to clear and fence the site. Though clearly in planning for well over two years, the local community was afforded no notice regarding the intended construction of this major facility prior to this activity. Since that time, our residents have tried tirelessly to voice numerous well-founded concerns regarding the lack of process involved in this endeavor, the improper location selected for this project, and the likely impacts it will bring.

Over the past year, the Board has been plagued by a series of high-profile issues—most notably, a serious operational budget deficit that has resulted in cuts of hundreds of jobs and salaries. Just last week, the Board voted to sue the state in an effort to recoup $34.7 million it alleges were improperly withheld. Given the realities of this dire financial situation, we properly question not only how Miami-Dade Schools would endeavor to adequately staff such a large facility, but also why the district would not choose to revisit plans for a project that the community it intends to benefit deems both unnecessary and potentially harmful.

To date, the Miami-Dade School Board has not yet awarded a construction contract for the project. Ownership over a part of the 40-acre parcel is currently in litigation, which has fortunately afforded us a rare window of opportunity. We remain hopeful that the Department of Community Affairs will exercise its powers of oversight to compel a thorough review of this project. We feel this is particularly important given Lennar’s recent application for an exemption to the CDMP to allow for the development of a nearly 1,000-acre residential development outside the UDB. Dubbed “Parkland”, the mini-city threatens to continue the practice of sprawl by foisting over 19,000 new residents on agricultural lands. The construction of HHH1 at its currently proposed location would merely present yet another improvement to infrastructure on the fringe that would serve to entice and justify such future developments.

That there remains such a palpable disconnect between our local government agencies and the communities they are meant to serve is regrettable. Poor planning and clear lack of interest in involving the public have now left all parties in an unfortunate situation. The solution, however, does not lie in pursuing construction of a flawed project. Rather, the only appropriate resolution will be reevaluating the true need for this facility, properly articulating how such a facility would be staffed and, most importantly, finding a location that does not compromise smart growth policies and promote unwanted development in the host community. We humbly request you advise Miami-Dade Schools to take such action.

cc: Juan Zapata, District 119 Florida House Representative
cc: Dr. Eric J. Smith, Florida Department of Education Commissioner
cc: Dr. Albeto Carvalho, Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Lennar's Push to Move Dade's Development Line Criticized by Two of the County's Biggest Developers

The following article appeared in the Miami Herald on Friday, October 31...


Days before a group led by home builder Lennar launches an effort to win government approval for a new suburb on Miami-Dade County's western fringe, two of Miami's most prominent developers said the project should be rejected.

On Thursday, Armando Codina, South Florida's biggest commercial builder, and Jorge Perez, the region's largest condominium developer, said now is not the time to allow construction of a 19,000-person community near the Everglades.

To build the suburb, called Parkland, Lennar must persuade county commissioners to move the Urban Development Boundary, which limits large-scale building along the western and southern edges of the county.

''For residential development, it makes no sense to move the line,'' said Flagler Development Chairman Codina, who himself has twice won approval to move the UDB for offices and industrial parks.

''There are lots of opportunities within the boundary to build residential right now . . . But all applications should be judged on their own merits,'' said Codina, who made his comments during the Urban Land Institute's annual meeting in Miami Beach.

Perez, chairman and chief executive of Related Group, took his objection a step further.

''I think it's immoral to move the boundary,'' said Perez, who has focused on building condos and restaurants in urban areas.

''The urban boundary was done with a lot of planning and thinking,'' said Perez, also speaking at the ULI meeting. ``And that type of suburban development, when it comes to issues like the aquifer, the environment, traffic, it is the wrong type of urban policy.''

The developers' remarks come as Lennar and a group of prominent business leaders partnering in the Parkland project are set to begin public hearings Monday to win county approval for an expansion of the UDB.

''It's a shame that two developers would be so quick to react without having seen the merits of the project,'' said Jose Cancela, who heads up communications for the Parkland builders. ``Especially Armando, who has been the recipient of UDB moves on more than one occasion.

``As for Jorge, I would say he is highly motivated to make that statement because of the glut of condos that he is stuck with right now.''

The Parkland group is seeking government approval to put nearly 7,000 homes, shops, offices, a hospital and schools on 961 acres west of Kendall-Tamiami Executive Airport. The rectangular patch of agricultural land west of the UDB runs from Southwest 162nd Avenue to Krome Avenue and Southwest 136th Street to Southwest 152nd Street.

Miami-Dade County's Department of Planning and Zoning already has recommended that county commissioners deny the boundary change, saying there is plenty of room to build within the UDB and that the project is contrary to county policy encouraging infill and urban redevelopment.

Lennar, one of the nation's largest home builders, and its partners contend that Parkland is an example of smart planning, with schools and offices within walking distance of homes and eco-friendly construction.

Among those partnering with Lennar on the project are Century Homebuilders President Sergio Pino, commercial builder Edward Easton, lobbying firm chief and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Chairman Rodney Barreto, Sedano's supermarket President Agustin Herran and U.S. Century Bank Chairman Ramon Rasco.
If approved, the project would be the biggest change to the UDB for a residential project in two decades. The developers hope to start delivering homes in 2014, after the credit crunch has eased and the current outsized inventory of unsold homes in Miami-Dade has shrunk.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Help Hold The Line

Over the next few weeks, Lennar will once again endeavor to acquire an exemption to the Urban Development Boundary (UDB) to allow for the development of Parkland 2014. This mini-city is to be built west of Country Walk and in violation of the county's current Comprehensive Development Master Plan (CDMP).

This project shares a reciprocal relationship with proposed high school HHH1. If constructed prior to the approval of Parkland 2012, the proximity of the new facility (and the requisite area improvements) would serve to buttress Lennar's claims that their residents could be accommodated by local county infrastructure. If Parkland 2014 is approved, the anticipated influx of new residents will almost surely demand construction of the new high school at its current location. Unfortunately, new residents will likely be accommodated to the detriment of students in our present community.

The very threat of Parkland 2012 underscores the importance of demanding that Miami-Dade Schools comply with then UDB and locate a new facility at a site in accordance with the CDMP.

Residents interested in upcoming hearings on Parkland 2012 are invited to attend one or all of the following upcoming forums:

West Kendall Community Council (11)
Date: November 2, 2008
Time: 6:30 P.M.
Location: Jorge Mas Canosa Middle School Auditorium
Address: 15735 SW 144 ST

Hearing of the Planning Advisory Board (PAB)
Date: November 19, 2008
Time: 9:30 A.M.
Location: County Commission Chamber
Address: 111 NW 1st ST

Board of County Commissioners Hearing
Date: December 18, 2008
Time: 9:30 A.M.
Location: County Commission Chamber
Address: 111 NW 1st ST

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Herald Gets It Right-- Again


Posted on Tue, Aug. 26, 2008

In a year when Miami-Dade County must trim crucial services because of budget shortfalls and changes in state law that cut property taxes, the County Commission should tighten the belt, too.

One of the more aggravating expenditures is defending the county against legal challenges. While some legal costs are necessary, others are not. One example of the latter is when the commission approves something that it knows will bring credible opposition. Such is the case with the votes to move the Urban Development Boundary for construction of commercial enterprises.

The commission voted to expand the UDB even though its own planning staff recommended against it, saying there is plenty of room for development inside the UDB. The state Department of Community Affairs also frowned on UDB expansion and gave the projects a thumbs-down. That may prompt opponents to file a legal challenge.

Commissioner Katy Sorenson wants the commission to rescind its votes to move the UDB at this time, averting a costly court challenge. Commissioner Natacha Seijas, as Governmental Operations and Environmental Committee chairwoman, has final say over whether this proposal procedurally moves forward. In fairness, though Ms. Seijas voted to move the UDB, she should give the entire commission a chance to decide on the plan.

Do commissioners want to commit public dollars to defend a plan that encroaches on the Everglades -- all on behalf of private businesses that want to do the encroaching? That's a poor use of public funds.