MIAMI-DADE – The State Administrative Tribunal is expected to hear an appeal in April from a predominantly black neighborhood in unincorporated Miami-Dade County against a plan to build warehouses in their midst.
Homeowners have filed an administrative challenge to a decision by the County Commission to approve a change in the Master Plan that would rezone the site of the former Westview Golf and Country Club from parks and recreation to industrial.
The residents have also filed a civil lawsuit in Circuit Court seeking an injunction to block the proposed development by Rosal Westview LLC, new owners of the nearly 200-acre property on Northwest 119th Street
between Northwest 22nd and 27th avenues.
The company says it will build on a quarter of the eight million square feet of space and of that 400,000 square feet will be retail. Another 1.6 million square feet will be used for a business park and retail.
Neighboring homeowners have strongly opposed the plan, insisting that the warehouses expected to be built on the land will be detrimental to their health, safety and property values. They have picked up a powerful ally, the Miami-Dade Branch of the NAACP, whose president, veteran civil rights activist Adora Obi Nweze, sees the project as part of a pattern of destroying thriving black middle-class communities.
“We are very concerned about the number of black neighborhoods being affected,” Nweze said. “We are watching the movement.”
The NAACP is supporting the position of homeowners that no warehouses be built in their community.
A longtime resident of the Westview area, Congresswoman Federica Wilson, D-Fla., said in a statement that her neighbors “should be wary of any proposal that could fundamentally change” the neighborhood.
“The developer was able to secure the change in the zoning laws that he sought,” Wilson said, in spite of what she called an “impasse” between the residents and Rosal Westview.
Wilson called on those responsible for any changes in the Master Plan to make sure that the neighborhood’s standard of living is protected and it also “benefits from the financial gains that accompany” those changes.
State Rep. Cynthia Stafford, D-Miami, whose district includes Westview, is also wary of the proposed zoning change. “I would be very concerned if a warehouse was going to be built near my home,” she said. Serious problems occur “when you change the character of a neighborhood,” she said.
Stafford’s biggest concern is the impact the project would have on the homeowners’ right to “peace and enjoyment” in their community.
Worry over the environmental impact is shared by residents, the NAACP and Ronald E. Frazier, a longtime architect and planner.
Frazier said that planners and developers can “draw a pretty picture on a plan” but that does not always match the reality of the project implemented.
Frazier said that while Rosal Westview’s plan calls for buffering and other measures to mitigate the project’s negative impact on residents, “that does not stop carbon dioxide, the volume of traffic noise or the glare of security lights.”
Frazier, who does not live in the Westview area, said he was contacted by homeowners because of his background in urban planning. He disapproves of the zoning change for the area to industrial.
“My professional opinion is that this is the worst instance of incompatible land use and zoning that I have ever seen,” he said.
He acknowledged that he has had no contact with the developers or their representatives and was basing his opinion on the documentation and plans associated with the amendment, as well as decades of work in the field. The developers, he said, “have to admit it’s an incompatible use.”
County Commissioner Jean Monestime, who voted in favor of the amendment and whose district includes Westview, and Rosal Westview LLC argue that the plan makes good business sense, bringing the promise of economic development to about 200 acres of empty land. Longtime homeowners, however, object to the proposed project and its plan to bring warehouses, semi-trucks and pollution to their front lawns.
Monestime replied to a request for an interview with a message through an aide saying he would not comment on the matter because the matter is still pending.
The hearing by the state on the administrative challenge to the Master Plan amendment is tentatively set for the week of April 10.
Greg Samms, an attorney and member of the Golf Park Homeowners’ Association, said that he and his neighbors met with Monestime several times about the proposed project but they feel like they were not heard or protected. “The neighbhorhood is disappointed,” he said.
Samms, who is assisting Tucker Gibbs, the lawyer representing the Golf Park HOA, said his neighbors feel “very insulted by the whole process.”
For Frazier, the big question about the future of the community is, ultimately, “whether the area will be stabilized” by the project.
If people are forced to leave their homes, Frazier said, “what kind of negative impact will that have?”
Stafford agrees, saying that “home ownership is an investment.” Nweze adds that the proposed change will almost certainly result in “property values going down.”
“It is dashing oil and hot water on the American dream,” she said.
Frazier predicts that in five to 10 years the project, if approved, would lead to erosion of the neighborhood.
Samms and his neighbors share that view. “Zoning laws were created to prevent this from happening,” he said.
For the time being, said Samms, “Everything is on hold” until all legal actions are resolved. “We won’t succumb to the County Commission’s outrageous decision.”
As plaintiffs in the administrative challenge and the civil suit in Circuit Court, the burden of proof will be on the homeowners. Miami-Dade County Attorney Dennis Kerbel said that the homeowners “will have to show that the amendment is not in compliance with state law.”
“It’s not easy,” Samms acknowledges. “The hard part is raising money to pay for the filing, the attorneys, the lawsuits.” But, he adds, “We’re willing to dig in and fight as long as we have to. This is our struggle.”
*Pictured above is attorney Gregory Samms.