Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Urban Development Boundary: When is a legal covenant, a promise to be broken at will? by gimleteye

The promise of the Urban Development Boundary is that it would provide some friction slowing the spread of cancerous suburban sprawl to the edge of the beleaguered Everglades. I don't use the term "cancerous", lightly. Sprawl and the devastation of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression go hand-in-hand. The one could not have occurred without the other.

Local land use policies incorporating the Urban Development Boundary at the fringe of Miami-Dade were created decades ago to protect farmland, open space and the Everglades. A generation of leaders, including then county commissioner Harvey Ruvin, embraced the notion that government can balance economic development with a sustainable environment. It was a high principle that was chipped away, year after year, by low politics and greed.

Until the Republican-led Florida legislature gutted the Growth Management Act this spring, approved by incurious, indifferent Gov. Rick Scott, the Florida Department of Community Affairs provided pressure against local county government from doing what powerful lobbyist/law firms and their speculator clients wanted: strip malls, commercial centers, and platted subdivisions wherever and whenever they could find bank financing.

Judging from the Florida landscape, they got what they wanted. But in Miami-Dade County, for civic activists the presence of the Urban Development Boundary and the fact of the friction against stupid growth it provided was like the tattered flag above Fort Sumter in 1814: "O say can you see, by the dawn's early light ..."

Yesterday's vote by the unreformable majority of the Miami Dade County Commission fulfilled what we predicted here at Eyeonmiami for years: that once state authority for land use policy was removed, the friction inhibiting cancerous sprawl would dissolve like a cube of sugar in a silver pot of hot coffee.

Yesterday's event was monumental. It sent a signal to the speculators that anything goes. Make a covenant, break a covenant.

Mark Woerner, planning chief for Miami Dade County, shrugged to The Miami Herald, "Things change." He meant that statistics used by staff showed a future deficit of housing stock in the specific area of Kendall that includes the Brown property. But everyone knows the county real estate market is a full bore disaster; if there was ever a moment to take a policy position on the the low density scatter sprawl that wrecked the quality of life of Miami Dade County and much of Florida, this was it.

The immediate result of yesterday's vote is "to transmit" the application by the developer to what remains of the DCA: an office in a broom closet at the end of some hallway in Tallahassee. The application will be returned with a stamp of approval: a big smiley face.

To say that things change is disingenuous. The county commission has always been about removing the friction that inhibits big campaign contributors from the speculator community. Nevertheless, things do change. Because the legislature and Gov. Rick Scott used "jobs" as a rationale, growth management is finished. And for county commissioners -- except for Dennis Moss -- the logic goes something like this: if you are going to be in a race to the bottom, you might as well win.


Geniusofdespair said...

I am awaiting the Video Tape of this fiasco. I think this is a sign of what is to come -- sorry kids. We are lucky to have Dennis Moss on the County Commission. Braman, forget about him and concentrate on Pepe.

Anonymous said...

Mark Woerner is feeling the push as are others. County workers know that they must conform or they are out.

Anonymous said...

When the Brown application was originally approved by the real DCA, I didn't like it, and I guess they thought they put enough restrictions within the approval. I was at that hearing. I knew this would come back because someone with the applicant told me so. They were laughing when it was approved subject to the covenant.

A little over 10 years ago, I repeatedly attended zoning hearing after zoning hearing warning them that paving over farmland, without infrastructure and jobs was just insane (shortened version). Not many listened.

The real development interest is now doing what I would call more infill - more rental units. The Herald finally caught up with this more than two year old trend (talk about being really behind on development issues).

What I call wanna be developers have now over paid for land no one wants to live on because they've lived through the mess. No matter what the commission does, like they did yesterday, the prices paid for the Ag land years ago are never going to be recouped, no matter how many single family homes they build in the middle of no where.

This whole thing is such a stupid mess. There's no integrity left on the BCC, except Moss, which in itself is just weird considering during the boom, he supported so many applications. I'm glad he is now the lone ranger and will support his re election.

Gimenez is to blame too. He's too tied with the development interests and has approved applications outside the UDB when he was on the BCC. However, it still goes back to Martinez is worse and that's just something so unpalatable.

I enjoyed Evan's comments in your piece yesterday. He was our last great hope of integrity down here. I miss him and don't blame him from swimming away from a sinking ship.

Anonymous said...

Brown was never approved by the DCA. Brown/County won out at a Administrative hearing -- judge ruled not the DCA.

Anonymous said...

Mark Woerner, the planning chief for Miami-Dade County who endorsed this move, is another appointee of Mayor Gimenez who was hired without a job announcement or a competitive recruitment process.

How is Carlos 2.0's cronyism working out for you now?

Anonymous said...

Last anon, sorry, let me clarifying what I wrote. I was at the BCC - CDMP App hearing for the Brown application. It came back to them after transmittal, from the DCA, with a recommendation of approval due to its odd shape (or something like that). The BCC approved the Brown application, based on the DCA opinion (and the fact the wanted to approve the application!) I don't recall the administrative hearing after this BCC hearing.

Norris said...

Blame Gimenez. He endorsed this. If Gimenez and his staff had recommended against this, it wouldn't have passed.

Anonymous said...

Mark Woerner has been in his current capacity for well over a decade, probably longer. He was not an "appointee" of the Mayor.

He is well regarded in the planning community and a consumate professional.

I have disagreed with him on a number of occasions when I thought the agency should be doing more to fight sprawl, but rarely. His leadership of Metropolitan Planning has done our community a great service by focusing on new urbanism and near-transit development. His crew has taken a beating from the lobbyist corps over the years for their position on the UDB.

I disagreed with the Department's position on this application but that doesn't mean I will disparage him or his character.

Anonymous said...

To the last anon, in fact, Mark Woerner was appointed by Mayor Gimenez. The new Herald article states that he is the "Assistant Planning Director." In October 2011 (just prior to the merger of Planning with other departments), Woerner was identified as a "Chief of the Metropolitan Planning Section." Woerner certainly wasn't an Assistant Department Director a decade ago so your information is flawed.

Woerner's promotion to Assistant Director was done without a job announcement or competitive interviews. He is what people would refer to as a "crony."