Miami residents urge mayor’s veto to save Calusa green spaces

To be or not to be another West Kendall gated community: That was the question the Miami-Dade County Commissioners asked themselves at their zoning hearing on March 17th.

But after commissioners voted 10 to 2 to approve the 550 homes plan on the 168 acre Calusa Country Club golf course, numerous opposed development residents are acting in favor of the hearing in matching green “Save Calusa” T-shirts participated, not defeated. You are aggressively promoting a last-ditch effort to save the wild, overgrown land from development: an email campaign urging Mayor Daniella Levine Cava to veto the commission’s vote.

So far, Save Calusa leader Amanda Prieto tells the New Times, more than 2,500 people have emailed Levine Cava “respectfully asking for a mayor’s veto” after commissioners approved the development “Without properly addressing local residents ‘concerns about green spaces, wildlife, wildlife habitats, and local residents’ input into the planned development.”

The most high-profile resident of Kendall against the development is longtime ZooMiami spokesman and outspoken conservationist Ron Magill, a resident of West Kendall, who applied for leave to attend the hearing last Wednesday as a private individual and close the Calusa colony defend the home of the critically endangered crested bat and endangered three-colored heron.

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During the public commentary, residents were given one minute each to speak. “We need to make room for more people, but where does that end? Big developers can afford lawyers and consultants. Get wildlife experts, not paid consultants,” Magill pleaded from the podium, pointing a finger at the podium.

When the commissioners interrupted him after 60 seconds, he was outraged. “You can buy advisors but not wildlife when they’re dead,” he said when he was led away.

“It’s not over!” Magill tells the New Times, alluding to the mayor veto campaign. “People just succumbed to the idea that ‘it is what it is’ – and we have to stop, we have to change that. Maybe I’m naive and risk myself and burn a lot of quotes.” – Don’t quote bridges with powerful people – and I don’t care. You have to have some kind of moral ethic about what is being done. “

click to enlarge The Calusa Colony - PHOTO BY DAVID HORN

The Calusa Colony

Photo by David Horn

The fate of those 168 acres in West Kendall has been on the scales for more than a decade. In 2003, Facundo Bacardí, chairman of one of the largest family-owned liquor brands in the world, bought Calusa Country Club for $ 2.7 million – a bargain deal, largely thanks to a 99-year contract covering every development on the property by 2067.

The golf course and its clubhouse were damaged during Hurricanes Katrina and Wilma in 2005. It was never repaired and the facility closed six years later.

And there was a loophole in the federal government: it could be wiped out if 75 percent of the 146 homeowners whose land surrounds the golf course were to forego it.

In 2011, Bacardí offered to pay homeowners $ 50,000 apiece to break the agreement. When he couldn’t convince 75 percent of them, he sued in court and lost. He then arranged individual settlements of more than $ 300,000 with 123 homeowners – about 84 percent – creating a deep community gap between homeowners in the ring (who all signed a nondisclosure agreement in exchange for payments) and their neighbors, the developers wanted to keep was created. the end.

In October 2020, the commissioners voted to release the 99-year-old alliance. In February, Bacardí sold the property to home builder GL Homes for $ 32 million and retained a 35 percent stake in each development. Bacardí and GL Homes are now planning to build 550 houses on the property.

The commissioners rejected claims by local residents that the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission should conduct further environmental studies to protect endangered wildlife such as bats and herons, and voted to change the current zoning of parks and recreation areas into high-density residential areas to change.

“It’s very simple: everyone who is for it makes money with it,” says lawyer David Winker, a resident of the city of Miami, who represents the Save Calusa crowd pro bono. “Anyone who opposes it – including me – we don’t get paid.”

click to enlarge Local residents opposed to the development attended the zoning hearing on Wednesday in a sea of ​​consensus

Local residents who opposed the development attended the zoning hearing on Wednesday in a sea of ​​matching green shirts “Save Calusa”.

Photo courtesy Amanda Prieto

Although the Miami-Dade County’s Department of Environmental Resource Management has approved the project, Magill says his position as a county employee at ZooMiami would not deter him from speaking out against the project, which he believes are directly in the Contradicts its lifelong mission of species protection. For years, says Magill, he has observed flocks of herons and other wading birds on his daily walks in Florida that rested in the Calusa colony.

“I was surprised that the [county] supports this, but I will not be a hypocrite, “says Magill.” I will not let anyone tell me how to think about wildlife or how to stick to the county line. We have to withstand these kinds of things. I don’t want to look at my grandchildren and say, ‘There used to be tri-colored herons here.’ ”

In the vote last Wednesday, District 7 Commissioner Raquel Regalado voted to bring development to her district. Commissioners Joe Martinez and Sally Heyman were the only opposition votes. Martinez, who represents a nearby district, expressed concerns that the development would create unwanted traffic and overcrowding. Commissioner Rebecca Sosa, who voted against breaking the alliance last October, did not attend the meeting.

When Levine Cava was serving as a commissioner in District 8, she, too, voted against breaking the covenant. Although most commissioners shift their vote to the home commissioner, a mayor’s veto would require a two-thirds majority to overturn and could sway some commissioners, including Sosa and Danielle Cohen Higgins, who was appointed to replace Levine Cava last November.

“It’s easy to say that you are for the environment when you are Daniella [Levine Cava]”says Winker.” It’s hard to say no to developers when they wave money in your face. It’s hard to stand up for these principles. ”

Mayor’s spokeswoman Natalia Jaramillo told the New Times that Levine Cava would not read or attend “written or other communications” about the zoning hearing with media and residents under the so-called Jennings Rule and “exercising the veto” may, or the applicant.

“The Mayor is keen to make the best possible decision on this motion,” Jarmillo wrote in a statement emailed, “and will carefully consider all evidence presented during the public hearing, within the framework of the law.”

Meanwhile, Winker tells the New Times that he is filing a complaint with the Miami-Dade County Commission on Ethics and Public Trust, alleging that Wednesday’s meeting violated a district ordinance that requires a newspaper ad to include announcements from public hearings with the “date, time, and location of the hearing.” Although a notice appeared in the Miami Herald informing residents of the October 20 hearing, Winker said no notice of the Wednesday meeting was released.

The district code states that “failure to provide the required notification … makes any hearing on the motion subject to appeal.”

When all else fails, notes Amanda Prieto, leader of Save Calusa, an education researcher and mother, “The day the bulldozers come, we just say there is only one way.”

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