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5/31/02 - Miami Herald

County OK's development nearer Glades - Environmentalists decry move

By Joe Mozingo

The Miami-Dade County Commission approved a massive industrial warehouse project on a degraded wetland near the turnpike on Thursday, pushing the western limit for urban development toward the Everglades for the first time in nearly a decade.

Despite a hail of criticism from environmentalists, who said the project would compromise the Everglades restoration plan and threaten the county's water supply, commissioners voted 11 to 2 to allow developer Armando Codina to build a 436-acre complex on a swampy parcel west of Doral.

The vote was a major victory for Codina, who spent two years pushing the project through the bureaucratic hurdles inherent in revising the county's master plan, as was required. He fought at least two previous recommendations by county staff to reject the application. He met individually with commissioners numerous times and hired a team of six lawyers and lobbyists.

The Beacon Lakes project will feature 6.6 million square feet of warehouse space and 225,000 square feet of office and retail space.

''This will be done right,'' Codina told commissioners after the vote. ``We will be sensitive to all the issues.''

High among those issues: concerns that approving one application outside the urban zone would set a precedent for other builders hoping to tap open land in the west.


''This is a huge public policy decision for us to make,'' said Commissioner Katy Sorenson, who voted against it. ``In a sense, it's historic. When we do this, the floodgates will open, and there will be one application after another.''

Just after the Beacon Lakes vote, commissioners approved another development that would alter the Urban Development Boundary -- the line meant to prevent sprawl moving toward the Everglades. The 135-acre project by Shoppyland Enterprises piggy-backed on the Beacon Lakes project and would sit in the same quadrant.

But 11 commissioners agreed with Codina's argument that the land on which he plans to build is unique, and thus the action sets no precedent.

To the west of the parcel is a fat-rendering plant, a rock-mining complex and a prison. All were built before zoning in the area was changed to prohibit such uses. A quarry sits to the north.

Florida's Turnpike flanks the eastern border. And a neighborhood and the proposed extension of State Road 836 border the south.

''This is truly the hole in the doughnut,'' said Codina's attorney, Joe Goldstein.


Commissioner José ''Pepe'' Cancio, who represents the district, said the warehouse project would clean up a fetid piece of land that has become an illegal dump and shanty town. More important, it would muffle the effects of rock-blasting for neighbors, he said.

''This is going to be a buffer between residents and the rock-mining industry,'' Cancio said.

But environmentalists blasted the decision. Richard Grosso, an attorney representing the Sierra Club and Friends of the Everglades, said developing near the Everglades and right next to the Northwest Wellfield, where 45 percent of the county's water supply resides, is reckless.

Grosso said that the $8 billion Everglades restoration plan calls for inundating the Everglades with more water, which brings the likelihood that adjacent areas will be flooded.

Building this project nearby -- even on a parcel that looks more like a junkyard than a wetland -- could limit water managers' ability to restore historic water flows, he said.

''It's become a high priority for one politically connected developer and now we're going to change our whole growth plan. That really troubles me,'' Grosso said.

Codina, as well as county staff, say all concerns about the flooding potential caused by increased runoff from the project have been addressed. The project will include a 43-acre lake.

He still needs to get permits from the county's Department of Environmental Resources Management, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the South Florida Water Management District, which initially expressed deep reservations. But the district's staff now say it is feasible to create an adequate hydrological barrier to prevent runoff from polluting the groundwater.

Commissioners voting in favor of the project were Cancio, Dorrin Rolle, Gwen Margolis, Betty Ferguson, Bruno Barreiro, Barbara Carey-Shuler, Joe Martinez, Jimmy Morales, Natacha Seijas, Javier Souto, and Rebeca Sosa. Against the project were Sorenson and Dennis Moss.


The developer is politically active with commissioners.

He has raised funds for Seijas and Sorenson. He invited Martinez and Barreiro to a $25,000 per couple fundraiser at his home last week with President Bush. The commissioners attended free of charge. And Codina and his businesses have supported the campaigns of Morales, Carey-Shuler, Moss, Seijas and Sorenson.

The lobbyists working on his behalf for Beacon Lakes were Goldstein, Eston ''Dusty'' Melton, Sergio Pereira, Esther Monzon-Aguirre, Robert Holland and Juan Mayol.

Codina called his activism and fundraising irrelevant and said the merits of the project were the decisive factors in the vote.

He said the project would create 9,700 high-paying jobs, $5.8 million in ad valorem taxes to the county every year and $4.6 million to the school district. County staff, who originally recommended rejecting the project, assured the commission that all the necessary road improvements would be paid for by the developer.

''This project has been scrutinized by 20 different agencies,'' said his attorney, Goldstein. ``And after that review, we are coming to you with solid recommendations for approval.''