Judge nixes approval of Miami-Dade UDB expansion for industrial megaproject

County approved Coral Rock Development, Aligned Real Estate’s proposal on Nov. 1, 2022, after the Oct. 27, 2022 deadline

Judge Nixes Coral Rock, Aligned’s Project Outside Miami UDB
Coral Rock Development’s David Brown, Michael Wohl, Stephen Blumenthal and Victor Brown and Aligned Real Estate Holdings’ Jose Hevia (Coral Rock Development, Prime Marina Group, 2nd Judicial Circuit of Florida, Getty)

A judge dealt a major blow to two developers’ plans for an industrial megaproject outside Miami-Dade County’s Urban Development Boundary. 

Leon County Circuit Court Judge Lee Marsh ruled that the county missed a deadline to approve a Comprehensive Development Master Plan amendment, essentially nullifying the application. Miami-Dade commissioners took up the amendment, which would have allowed for the project, five times until they voted in favor on Nov. 1, 2022, after the legally mandated deadline of Oct. 27, 2022. 

“The statute includes specific deadlines that must be enforced, and the department must have the authority to enforce them. Otherwise, the statutory deadlines would have no significance and would be rendered mere surplusage,” Marsh wrote in the order issued on Friday. 

The decision marks the latest chapter in the controversial proposal for the 5.9 million-square-foot South Dade Logistics and Technology District on the southeast corner of the Florida Turnpike and Southwest 122nd Avenue in an unincorporated area of southeast Miami-Dade. 

The Urban Development Boundary, or UDB, is a greenbelt separating the developed portion of the county from wetlands and farmland. It is meant to stop construction sprawl west toward the Everglades and east toward Biscayne National Park, including over land needed for Everglades preservation. 

Coral Gables-based Coral Rock and Miami-based Aligned Real Estate have wanted to build the project since at least 2021, arguing it would be an economic boon for the largely residential south Miami-Dade area, and it would be environmentally beneficial by cleaning up farmland discharges before they run off into the bay. 

Coral Rock is led by David and Victor Brown, Michael Wohl and Stephen Blumenthal. Aligned is led by Jose Hevia. 

The developers and their attorneys didn’t immediately return a request for comment, including on if they plan to appeal the order or re-file their application to Miami-Dade.  

Project opponents led by environmental groups have decried the expansion of the UDB, arguing a portion of South Dade Logistics would rise on a “coastal high hazard area” at risk of flooding and would foil plans to buffer the county from sea-level rise. The development site, which is two miles from Biscayne National Park and near the C-102 canal, includes land that could be used for a Biscayne Bay and Everglades rehabilitation initiative, or the Biscayne Bay Southeastern Everglades Ecosystem Restoration Plan. 

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County commissioners first approved the development regulations amendment in 2021, but delayed a necessary second vote on May 19, June 1, Sept. 22 and Oct. 18 of 2022. At most of these meetings, Coral Rock and Aligned offered concessions to make the project more palatable to commissioners, prompting additional elected officials to flip from “no” to “yes” votes and gaining the needed support on the dais. The developers cut the project size from the originally proposed 9.3 million square feet on 793 acres, vowed for South Dade Logistics employees to receive a living wage, and agreed to purchase and donate to the county 311 acres of environmentally endangered land away from the development site. 

After commissioners approved the project, the state last year alerted the developers that the approval came after the due date. In response, Miami-Dade and entities tied to Coral Rock and Aligned sued the Florida Department of Commerce in May. They argued that they had met the statutory deadline of Oct. 27, 2022, by first holding the second public hearing on the project on May 19, 2022. 

Marsh, the judge, countered that the law clearly states that not only must the second public hearing be held, but the project must also be approved prior to the deadline.

A Miami-Dade attorney declined to comment.  

Nita Lewis, who owns a home near the development site, intervened on the side of the state and was supported by environmental group Hold the Line Coalition. 

Environmentalists celebrated the judge’s order. The development site “is a critical piece of the puzzle for the success of the Biscayne Bay Southeastern Everglades Ecosystem Restoration Plan and provides significant benefits to the project,” Laura Reynolds, science director for Hold the Line Coalition and BBSEER project team member, said in a news release. “Losing it to development would have been a blow to the overall health of Biscayne Bay.”   

Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava also opposed the project and vetoed the Nov. 1, 2022, approval on Nov. 10, 2022. Commissioners overrode her veto five days later. 

If Coral Rock and Aligned decide to re-file their application, they may face another long, uphill battle to get approval. Some of the Miami-Dade commissioners who previously voted in favor of the project are no longer on the dais after they were term-limited. 

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