Everyone should experience your city and county elected officials at work. Today is a most excellent day for it, at the Stephen P. Clark Government Center downtown, as county commissioners will vote on three applications to move the Urban Development Boundary. What you will see, is how developers control your government. Most controversial votes are so well massaged by lobbyists before they ever come up, that the outcome is never in doubt. It is usually that way with the UDB. But this time, the State of Florida has told the county commission in no uncertain terms that the applications should be rejected. If they are approved, I expect Mayor Carlos Alvarez to veto all of them: the drama today is not if the applications are approved but if the supermajority that is required will be enough to override a mayoral veto. Five "no" votes are needed to deny the applications. We'll see if the county commissioners have learned anything about accepting responsibility or whether they will cry that it all the State's fault. You really should take the time to go to County Hall if you can afford to: it's far more informative than watching the proceedings on TV or the web.
Today's Miami Herald editorial board stepped forward with a very good editorial. You can almost sense the exhaustion of the Herald, dealing yet again with the unreformable majority (my words). Click, read more, for the full editorial and for the editorial published by the Herald earlier this week, written by Richard Grosso-- the top land use and environmental lawyer in the State of Florida.
Should you want some advice on how to frame your comments in the time allotted for input by the public this morning, you could begin with the last three words from the Herald editorial: "the public good".
Posted on Thu, Apr. 24, 2008
No good reason to expand the UDB
The fates of three projects proposed outside the Urban Development Boundary are before the Miami-Dade County Commission today. The answer to all three should be a no-brainer: No, no and no.
The Florida Department of Community Affairs has told the commission to reject the three projects to avoid added demands on the county's water supply and on public services. The South Florida Water Management District also recommended denying the three based on very real concerns about the water supply. The county and the district agreed a while back that the county will create alternate water sources in order to keep drawing from the Biscayne Aquifer.
No grounds for approval
Developing those new water sources will take a decade or more, which is why the district opposes new development in the western area of the county now. The county's own planners and growth experts have recommended No on the projects, too.
Despite all these sound reasons, it is likely that a County Commission majority will vote for approval. If this proves true, we have to ask: Why? On what grounds would commissioners base Yes votes? What public policy would be served by approving a Lowe's home center, a commercial and office park and a residential community, all located outside the UDB between Southwest Eighth and 112th streets?
What exactly would yet another office park bring to Kendall that it doesn't already have (as in -- traffic, traffic and more traffic)? How would yet another residential subdivision pay for itself -- for wider roads to accommodate more commuting homeowners, for more classrooms from a cash-strapped school district, for more crossing guards for the students coming from those new homes?
What would one more do-it-yourself home center bring to the community? Will it generate enough in sales taxes to cover the need for more traffic signals, the demand for police and fire protection? No.
Finally, what is the public good in allowing development outside the UDB? If the commission approves these developments, the precedent will pave the way for other developers to argue for the same treatment. Truth be told, there is no public good in expanding the UDB now. None whatsoever.
There are, however, good public-policy reasons to reject the projects. A safe, adequate water supply is so remote that it would be inexcusable to develop the county's only large expanse of open space. Mandatory budget cuts are squeezing county services, so now is not the time to allow growth that will further strain them. Commissioners should say ''No'' today, thereby upholding policies that they devised for the public good.
Reject requests to move the UDB
Posted on Tue, Apr. 22, 2008 By RICHARD GROSSO
On Thursday, the Miami-Dade County Commission will consider three requests to change its laws and move its urban development boundary (UDB) west into 180 acres of farms and wetlands. The county sent these proposals to the state late last year for information and comments, and the state's report told the county clearly that these proposed changes to its comprehensive plan would violate state law. County planning staff also strongly recommends denial. The commission should deny each of these amendments.
For almost 30 years, the UDB has been the central feature of the county's plan for ensuring that development in the wrong places doesn't require current taxpayers to subsidize fiscally unsound development, doom its important agricultural industry, preclude the crucial restoration of Biscayne Bay and the Everglades, and tip an already diminishing quality of life over the edge.
The reasons are clear:
• The monumental costs to taxpayers to build and maintain infrastructure like schools and roads farther west.
• Billions of dollars in existing infrastructure deficits.
• Already nightmarish traffic.
• The adverse impacts of urban development on farming and Everglades restoration.
• The worst drought in history taxing our water supply.
• An existing housing glut -- the result in no small part of past ill-advised land use decisions.
The county should maintain its current plan and stop the bleeding. It should affirm a long-term commitment to maintaining the urban boundary and heed the finding, in its own recent study, that county taxpayers would save $8 billion if the UDB were maintained until at least 2025.
In 2006, developers and their lobbyists responded to the broad-based Hold The Line coalition with claims of a housing boom that required new land-use approvals. But 10 of 11 proposals to move the line were denied or withdrawn, for many reasons -- virtually all of which are even stronger today, particularly a debilitating housing glut.
The current applications would require taxpayer subsidy of new infrastructure and increase crowding at a time of painful budget cuts that are hitting the neediest the hardest. Some would destroy wetlands; others farmland. Two requests were rejected in prior years. The new promises to help build (but not maintain and staff) roads and schools raise long-term recurring costs and increase the likelihood of even more neighboring developments.
None of these new developments is needed. County planners have documented an existing supply of land to meet projected growth needs for at least 15 years. Maintaining the UDB would increase the chances of a payoff from the county's major investments in community redevelopment areas and modern transit systems. Moving the line would hurt those efforts.
Don't waste public resources
Many other local governments in Florida are moving toward much stricter curbs against sprawl. Coupled with serious problems in housing markets, infrastructure deficits and unfunded backlogs, this is the time for the county to reaffirm its long-term commitment to maintaining the urban boundary.
There is no need, given the current situation, to waste any public resources on the further state-level analysis of these proposals, which would only confirm what everyone already knows: Miami-Dade should maintain the current UDB, save taxpayer money and protect the public interest.
Richard Grosso is general counsel of Everglades Law Center.