“Embarrassment” to Miami-Dade: Vote on project outside UDB deferred again

Developers Stephen Blumenthal and Jose Hevia tried to sway commissioners with a last-minute offer to donate over 300 acres of environmentally endangered land.

From left: Coral Rock Development’s Stephen Blumenthal and Aligned Real Estate Holdings’ Jose Hevia with a rendering of the planned industrial complex outside UDB (Coral Rock, Aligned Real Estate Development)
From left: Coral Rock Development’s Stephen Blumenthal and Aligned Real Estate Holdings’ Jose Hevia with a rendering of the planned industrial complex outside UDB (Coral Rock, Aligned Real Estate Development)

In a push to get their controversial industrial complex approved, developers Stephen Blumenthal and Jose Hevia offered a series of last-minute concessions for their proposal.

It wasn’t enough to earn them the green light, but it did get them another whack at it.

The Miami-Dade County Commission voted on Tuesday to defer — for the fourth time — a decision on Blumenthal and Hevia’s bid to build the South Dade Logistics & Technology District outside the Urban Development Boundary. The border is a greenbelt around the county that protects farmland and wetlands, as well as the Everglades and Biscayne Bay from encroachment from development.

The next vote will be on Nov. 1.

Blumenthal, principal of Coral Gables-based Coral Rock Development, and Hevia, president of Miami-based Aligned Real Estate Holdings, want to build the 6 million-square-foot project on 379 acres on the southeast corner of the Florida Turnpike and Southwest 122nd Avenue in unincorporated Miami-Dade. The developers originally planned 9.3 million square feet on 793 acres, but downsized the project in late summer to try to make it more palatable.

At Tuesday’s meeting, they offered to do more: Workers at South Dade Logistics will be paid a living wage, said Pedro Gassant, an attorney for the developers. And the developers will purchase and donate to the county roughly 311 acres of environmentally endangered land away from the South Dade Logistics site. The land to be donated will be part of the properties Miami-Dade has already put on a wishlist to purchase and preserve through its Environmentally Endangered Lands Program (EEL).

Commissioner Danielle Cohen Higgins called the last-minute EEL donation offer an “intentional distraction” and a “manufactured opportunity” by the developers to throw off the county and secure another vote deferral of their project.

“This sounds like you all are just saying anything to push this across the finish line,” she said. “Having a fourth deferral, I think, is an embarrassment to Miami-Dade County.”

After Gassant made the offers, county attorneys scrambled to figure out how they would work out legally. For one, Miami-Dade can’t enforce the living wage vow because Blumenthal and Hevia’s project would rise on a privately owned site and not on county land, Miami-Dade’s attorney said. Issues also could arise with enforcing the EEL donation commitment with future owners of South Dade Logistics if the developers opt to sell the project.

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The proposal has highlighted the controversy of building outside the UDB in Miami-Dade. The developers and their supporters argue South Dade Logistics will be an economic boon for the area, offering jobs in the technology field. But environmentalists have pushed back, saying the county has enough industrial development land inside the UDB, and the project site is vital for Everglades restoration and farming needs.

Commissioners previously deferred a vote on May 19, June 1 and Sept. 22.

Blumenthal and Hevia have the support of seven commissioners, but need an eighth to capitulate to secure the required two-thirds vote to move the UDB. (Usually, they would need nine ‘yes’ votes, but the math changed when commissioner Joe Martinez was suspended from office after he was arrested over corruption charges.)

Commissioner Raquel Regalado, who so far has been part of the ‘no’ camp on the dais, expressed interest in the EEL donation. The purchases of these lands so far have been funded by taxpayers, she said.

“What’s being offered, if it had been offered in the application originally, it would have been a very different conversation,” she said.

South Dade Logistics’ developers have argued that their project actually would be better for the environment than leaving the land as is. The site now could be developed with a packing house that would be connected to septic tanks, which could lead to environmental pollution, Gassant, the developers’ attorney, told commissioners.

In another issue, owners of farmland on the site are dealing with high water levels because of sea level rise, said commissioner Rebeca Sosa, who is part of the ‘yes’ camp on the dais. Precluding the development would stand in the way of the farmers selling the land that soon might not be farmable, she said.

Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, whose administration has recommended denial of the project, disagreed. The proposal implies a “future demise of agriculture,” and that is premature, she said. The EEL donation proffer is good, but not enough.

“It doesn’t address the many concerns about this application,” she said. “So I do not see this as a quid pro quo.”