Save Calusa nonprofit sues Miami-Dade over golf course redevelopment

Neighbors again raised issues with zoning meeting notice, environmental reviews

Miami-Dade County hit with lawsuit over West Kendall resi project approval
9400 South 130th Avenue, site plans for the development and excerpts from the suit (Google Maps, Ballbe & Associates, Dade County Courts)

A grassroots residents organization sued Miami-Dade County to overturn a vote that paved the way for the development of a residential complex on the long shuttered Calusa Country Club golf course property.

Nonprofit Save Calusa and its leader, Amanda Prieto, are asking the court to void the county commission’s approval rezoning the 169-acre property at 9400 South 130th Avenue in an unincorporated part of the county. Sunrise-based GL Homes plans to build a 550-house gated community on the West Kendall property.

The suit, filed on Monday in Miami-Dade Circuit Court, echoes the allegations in an ethics complaint Prieto filed in November against the county that the Nov. 17 zoning vote was improperly noticed. In November, David Winker, the attorney who filed the ethics complaint, said that a lawsuit would be filed.

The suit also alleges the county is not meeting its own environmental policies and failed to consider reports showing protected, threatened or rare species use the land as nesting ground. Save Calusa and Prieto are asking the court to prohibit the county from issuing project permits until environmental studies are finished.

Miami-Dade declined to comment on the lawsuit, saying it does not discuss pending litigation. But it previously has insisted that it has complied with all meeting notice requirements.

In Miami-Dade County, meetings must be advertised in a newspaper 14 days in advance.
The Calusa hearing was canceled and moved to Nov. 17 from Oct. 20. A second newspaper ad was not required, but the county issued a courtesy e-notice to those registered to receive alerts about Calusa. The suit claims the second notice was past the deadline and contained incorrect information.

The county has countered there were no inaccuracies and that one of the e-notices was sent on Oct. 19, well before the meeting.

GL Homes, which is not being sued, said in a statement that the chamber at the Nov. 17 hearing was full, “indicating that the community was well aware that the item was coming up for a vote.”

As for the environmental claims? A report by Miami-Dade staff concluded the property is a feeding habitat for threatened or endangered species but said there is no rookery, or a bird nesting colony, according to the complaint. But a county Department of Environmental Resources Management record says the developer’s own report indicated there is a rookery, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission added a Calusa nesting site for a threatened bird colony to its map of imperiled wading birds, the suit alleges.

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Environmental concerns are a hot-button issue with opponents. The county cited GL Homes $510 on Dec. 16 for failure to secure a permit to remove a specimen tree. 

GL Homes said in an emailed statement that this was done by mistake by an employee who did not know about the restrictions and had responded to a homeowner’s request to remove a tree behind the house. GL self-reported the violation and put in strict controls to prevent this, according to the statement.

Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava declined Save Calusa’s push to veto the Nov. 17 zoning vote but she imposed stricter environmental reviews: the county’s environmental resources department is required to complete its own reviews and oversee GL Homes’ surveys. Permits can only be issued after an environmental review associated with the scope of the requested permit is finished.

The suit is the latest in the Calusa neighborhood’s fight against the project. A land covenant protecting the land until 2067 could only be lifted if 75 percent of homeowners directly surrounding the course, or “ringlot” owners, voted to do so. This threshold was surpassed in 2019 when these owners accepted a $300,000 payment from the previous golf course owner.

Facundo Bacardi, a member of the rum empire family, had been pushing to lift the development restriction since he bought the course in 2003 for $2.3 million. It closed in 2011 following hurricane damage. GL Homes bought the property in February for $32 million, with Bacardi owning a stake in the future project venture.

Many residents of the Calusa neighborhood, which spans 2,074 homes, say they bought their property there partly because of the promise the golf course would not be developed, which they argue would put further strain on traffic and overcrowded local schools.

GL Homes said in its statement that the county is the one best suited to address issues over its own noticing procedures. “After falling short in their challenge to our zoning application, the opponents are looking to delay development through litigation,” the company said.

Winker, who is representing Save Calusa in its lawsuit, countered that the case amounts to residents fighting “special deals for special people (hammered out) behind closed doors.”

“This case has touched a cord because it is so obvious that elected officials did their best to shut out resident input,” he said, “and are not acting in the best interests of residents, resiliency, the environment and our future.”

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