Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Ludlam Trail meeting tonite: how FECI resembles Big Sugar … by gimleteye

There is an unwritten history of Florida, in which the nascent effort to build a simple bike path/corridor in an area of Miami-Dade county least served by parkland meets up with activists trying to restore millions of acres of faded, dying Everglades.

That unwritten history, in which every small effort by citizens to protect their quality of life is met with stiff resistance by special interests, is roughly circumscribed by the willingness of developers and land speculators to use every last centimeter of property rights to inflict their "highest and best use" across the landscape wherever profit can be extracted.

It is not a history of courage. The overdevelopment and rampant sprawl that defines Florida is a story of weakness. Political weakness.

The resistance by Florida East Coast Industries to the hope by citizens to use its abandoned property as the Ludlam Trail is just one more example along these lines.

Consider the macro example; how decades of obstruction have delayed the inevitable in the Everglades -- a way to connect the source of fresh water for the Everglades, north of Lake Okeechobee, to the remnant Everglades National Park.

In the past ten years, Big Sugar has launched a series of initiatives to rezone lands in sugar production as commercial, residential, and industrial projects -- right in the heart of the Everglades Agricultural Area.

The latest: US Sugar's "Sugar Hill" plan for nearly 20,000 homes and related commercial space.

Whether US Sugar or FECI ever develops, both are willing to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on planning to obtain necessary zoning approvals. The point is to use local land use decisions to increase the value of their property.

This month, some of the most qualified scientists involved with Everglades restoration planning wrote an article that describes, for a lay audience, the imperative of creating a central flow path through the Everglades.

FECI is a one of Florida's most important land owners and developers. Its assets will play an enormous role in Florida's future growth so long as they are not claimed by rising seas, first. Like Big Sugar, FECI doesn't oppose what citizens want to do with its property, but it has no confidence that anything other than the "free market" can deliver what its shareholders deserve.

The "free market" doesn't depend on messy collaborations with citizens, who sometimes don't see eye-to-eye themselves. The "free market" lacks any balance with the real needs of living communities for open space and the public commons but defaults instead to extracting the last cent of profit before surrendering prerogative and privilege.

That's the unwritten history of the Great Destroyers, "They Know Best", and it is one that Florida land use planners and parks advocates understand perfectly well.

Restoring the Everglades: Challenges and Benefits by Davis, et al.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You hit the nail directly on the head and drove it in. This is the exact scheme developers, I mean land speculators and their lobbyists play on us and our governments time and again. Get your change of zoning locally by scared officials under threat of lawsuits or possibly bribed (yes I said it), then with your new zoning jack up the price of your crap land artificially, then either sit on it and wait for a good build out project, or if the land is truly needed for a public project extort the government at the higher artificial value. In case of the sugar lands south of Lake Okeechobee, what a joke!
These lands (100% organic muck soils) are oxidizing so fast that if big sugar doesn't do something soon they will be growing their diabetes grass on rock. And developers of those lands would be building houses on inches of black muck covering chalky white limestone. I know...I grew up there and know the muck is turning into air and nothing. Here in Miami it's the same old tune. In my community Cutler Bay, an item will be hitting our agenda shortly where a developer and lobbyists (oh and the lobbyists have cozy ties to some of our elected officials) are asking for a zoning change from residential to commercial. Why? To jack up the price per acre...that simple. This land is a thin strip along Old Cutler Rd. so difficult to build on that I can only begin to imagine the variances they will need to extort, I mean request of our elected officials. This is the same old dance and no one in government seems to have the guts or will or moral compass to finally say NO you are a shitty dance partner. That highest use is not necessarily best use for the citizens and the environment. I continue to wait in anticipation for when this rubber stamp cycle of upped zoning changes is finally stopped. But I'm not holding my breath...I unlike muck like my oxygen.