One of the last remnants of Miami-Dade’s pine rockland forest, which is home to more than 20 protected species of animals and plants, will be reduced to two small preserves while the rest is converted into a large Walmart-anchored development. A 2017 lawsuit challenging the decision to clear out most of the forest was defeated last week, allowing the development to be built.
Activists have been trying to save the shrinking forest for years, and this type of ecosystem only exists in south Miami-Dade. The forest once covered most of the 55-mile-long rock ridge between Miami and Homestead, but today only about 2% survives due to development. Endangered species such as the Miami tiger beetle and the bright Florida Leafwing butterfly call this habitat home.
The University of Miami, which received the land as a donation from the federal government in the 1980s and 90s, sold a portion to Peter Cummings, founder of Ram Realty Services, for $22 million in 2013. Since then, Cummings’s plan to build a mall and apartments in the area has angered environmentalists. A Miami-Dade circuit judge dismissed the 2017 lawsuit by two activists, Belen Valladares and Ross Hancock, who argued that the original 2013 rezoning hearing regarding the development failed to describe the huge commercial scope of the project.
Much of the land has already been cleared, and the outline of a strip mall foundation can be seen from the site’s entrance. The previously mentioned activists may be considering an appeal of the court decision.