Rare Miami Rain Forest To Be Bulldozed To Make Room For Walmart Development

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Southeast Region / CC-BY-2.0 / Flickr

Activists have lost the legal fight to protect a rare Miami forest from being made into a Walmart development.

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.

Read more here.

Comments (1)
No. 1-1

Donna Shalala and Peter Cummings started this whole mess back on May 3rd, 2006 when the County formally received the request to change zoning from UM and Ram. The current UM President, Julio Frenk has done nothing rectify the situation. UM has stated that they will honor their contract and sell the rest of the land to Ram. In the meantime, UM and Ram should be forced to pay taxes to the County on the property since the use is no longer academic and Ram is not tax exempt.

It was under UM President Edward T. Foote II that the UM South Campus was built on the site in 1984 when the Federal Government gave UM a 30 year lease to use the site for academic purposes. UM studied primates on the property and used radioactive isotopes on the primates, then buried the radioactive waste, including primate carcasses in 12 trenches that they dug on the property. In case you were wondering, Phase 2 of the new apartments sits on the site the trenches were dug on.

It was under UM President Donna Shalala when they got caught by the Army Corps of Engineers who cleaned up the property and UM paid a mid-six figure fine while not admitting any guilt of what they had done. When the 30 lease was about to expire, Shalala told the County she would build an Academic Village on the site, yet she was already working with Ram to sell them the land well below market value to make a huge $22 million plus profit for UM.

The County only sent Zoning Notices to 1,679 resident address in a half mile radius of the north side of the property. According to the 2010 Census, 15,047 people live in the Three Lakes Census Designated Place directly north of the site. A half a mile is the MINIMUM radius Zoning uses, back in 1997 when the County proposed a Water Park the radius was One Mile all around the Zoo property. So, UM and Ram wanted the least number of people that will be directly affected by Coral Reef Commons to know about it in the first place.

The Zoning Notice published in The Miami Herald on August 22, 2013 on page 5SE is very vague UM was requesting a “special exemption to permit a liquor package store to be spaced less than required from a public school”. What? Why does UM need a liquor store so close to a public school? UM also asked for “less parking spaces” than required and to get a variance on signage and landscaping requirements. Those Walmart signs are just too big.

At NO TIME during the early process for any of this was it detailed what exactly was being built. Among the documents presented was a drawing called “Tract 1”. It was of a 158,584 Sq foot “Big Box” store, but was not labeled “Walmart” anywhere. Although there were telltale signs that it was a Walmart with “TLE Customer Service Area” noted in the top right corner. TLE is a Walmart acronym for Tire Lube Express. There was also the Store Number 6397 on the drawing. Walmart Super Center Number 5912 was one of the most recent Walmart stores built in Miami-Dade County in Cutler Ridge, just under 3 miles away from this new Walmart.

In fact, NOBODY outside UM or Ram knows that this is a new Walmart until The Herald breaks the story in November of 2013 after this mess has been blindly rubber stamped approved by the County. In March, 2014 several hundred people protest and march along the site on Coral Reef Drive and the fight to save the Pine Rocklands begins to grow.

A few months ago, the same environmental groups met with Commissioner Dennis Moss and representatives from Ram to get the Miami-Dade School Board give up the option to build a new High School on the site. If the School Board did give up the school, the developer would give up a small out parcel they planned to develop and it would have saved more of the existing Pine Rocklands and allowed a larger contiguous tract of Pine Rockland to remain intact. The School Board has declined comment all along, but the fact that the connector road and the out parcel are being plowed over says that a new High School is coming to the site when there are already two High Schools within 3 miles of the site. Pack ‘em, rack ‘em, stack ‘em, that’s the Dade County way.

It’s very sad to see that the people we elect to protect our environment and our quality of life in Miami-Dade County do absolutely nothing to do just that. A land swap deal could have been made, but wasn’t. I personally, along with many other environmental activists spoke before the Miami-Dade County Commission on numerous occasions. We sent letter, e-mails, made phone calls and in the end, we were ignored. A significant part of our local history is now gone all due to the greed of a Palm Beach County developer and a former UM President failure.

#SaveItDontPaveIt #CoralReefCommons #OurCounty #PeopleMakingPlaces #LetThatSinkIn