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Miami Herald - Mar. 13, 2002

By Douglas Hanks III

Developers have paid almost $11 million for one of the last expanses of buildable land in southwest Miami-Dade County, a turning point that could test the limits of suburban growth in the county.

Lennar Corp. and Caribe Homes plan to build 514 homes on the 108 acres of farmland just south of the Tamiami Airport, an expanse of malanga fields already flanked by residential developments.

''It's the last piece there,'' said Sergio Pino, chairman of Century Builders Group, part of a group that bought the property two weeks ago and will resell it to Lennar and Caribe.

The project will leave only one or two other possibilities for building a new community of that size in the western suburbs that orbit West Kendall, unless the county agrees to expand its development boundaries.

Miami-Dade developers have been pushing for permission to build beyond Krome Avenue -- the approximate western frontier between rural and suburban zoning -- arguing South Florida's growing population will need the new homes. County planners are urging builders to focus on expanding housing closer to Miami by revitalizing urban areas.

Neighborhood activists say overbuilding in the Kendall area has already left roads clogged and services strained, pressures that will only get worse with a new wave of building.

''What used to be a peak [traffic] hour that started at seven in the morning and ended at nine now begins at 6 a.m. and ends at 11 a.m.,'' said Miles Moss, president of the Kendall Federation of Homeowner Associations. ``The evening peak is even worse.''

But the latest project reflects the allure -- and profitability -- of suburban living. Interest in the 108-acre lot at SW 157th Ave. between 136th and 152nd streets was so high that a consortium of Miami's top residential developers agreed to share the land.

Caribe Homes and Century Homes, two allied builders, bought the property with developers Michael Latterner and Wayne Rosen to forestall a bidding war, according to Caribe Homes President Charlie Martinez. The group will clear the land, install roads and sewer systems and then sell the property to Lennar and Caribe, which will each build a development there.

The property, which was owned by the off-shore Milon Corp. and maintained as a farm for tax purposes, sits about 20 blocks east of Miami-Dade's urban development boundary line, the western edge of zoning for high-density communities. Lawrence Suchman, listing agent for Milon, said Miami-Dade has approved residential zoning for the property, which already faces existing developments .

''It looks like a hole in the doughnut,'' Martinez said. ``This is one piece that was sort of left behind.''