news

Ram Realty’s Habitat Conservation Plan

Author’s Note: Please excuse this belated and partially off-topic post; I’ve written these comments because I feel it is important to highlight the conduct of Ram Realty and to present the best available facts concerning the potential development of Coral Reef Commons site.

In May 2015 Ram Realty filed a lengthy Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) with the US Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) for the development of Coral Reef Commons (CRC). In a press release Ram claimed the HCP, prepared by Johnson Engineering Inc., is a “science-based document” despite the fact that this document contains grievous misrepresentations of the facts. Below I’ve responded to Ram’s most egregious claims, chiefly the present state of the site and the impacts of the development.

No Take of Listed Species?

In their project overview Ram expresses their intent to secure a 50-year Incidental Take Permit (ITP) while, at the same time, insisting that the CRC development:

[W]ould not result in a take [death] of listed species, nor … adversely impact listed species. (Ram 1-2)

This “no take” scenario is absolutely impossible; almost half (48%) of the site is globally imperiled pine rocklands and a majority of the property is USFWS designated critical habitat for four endangered species. Despite their protestations to the contrary Ram’s HCP explicitly calls for the destruction of endangered plants and the host plant for two endangered butterflies.

(more…)

Advertisements

The Miami-Dade Pine Rocklands


Ram Realty’s “Technical and Legal Submittal” and “Supplemental Response” to the Miami Tiger Beetle Emergency Listing Petition

In response to a December 11, 2014 emergency listing petition to protect the Miami tiger beetle (Cicindela floridana) filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, advocacy groups, and several individuals (myself included), Ram Realty retained the law firm Gunster, “Florida’s Law Firm for Business,” to craft their reply to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).

Luna E. Phillips is a “Florida Bar board certified Gunster shareholder who practices in the area of environmental, administrative and governmental law [and] leads the firm’s Environmental practice” (from Gunster’s website) wrote and submitted two responses to USFWS totaling some 7,500 words! However, in both of these documents there are serious systematic errors and fatal misunderstandings or, even worse, flagrant misrepresentation of the science. Below I’ve reproduced both of Ram’s filings in red and my comments in black.

Technical and Legal Submittal regarding the December 11, 2014 Emergency Listing Petition Filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, et al:

January 14, 2015

Dear Ms. Blackford:

As you know, this firm represents Coral Reef Retail LLC and Coral Reef Resi Ph I LLC, the owners of the Coral Reef Commons property (Coral Reef Owners). Enclosed is a Technical and Legal Submittal regarding the December 11, 2014 Emergency Listing Petition filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, et al. This Technical and Legal Submittal identifies the flaws in the emergency petition, and the Coral Reef Owners urge the US. Fish and Wildlife Service to carefully review before making a determination on the emergency petition.

The Coral Reef Owners respectfully request that this Technical and Legal Submittal be added to the administrative record for the Miami tiger beetle potential listing, and should the Service make any determinations on the emergency petition, Coral Reef Owners request to be notified. Please do not hesitate to contact me at or via email if you have any questions regarding the content of this letter.

Sincerely,

[Signed]

Luna E. Phillips

cc: Vicki Mott, US. Department of the Interior

Client [Ram Realty]

Rafe Petersen, Holland & Knight

Church Roberts, Johnson Engineering, Inc.

(more…)


Proposed theme park “not located in an ideal location for tourism”

In an undergraduate thesis entitled “Zoo Miami Entertainment Area: Revitalization Through User Experience” University of Florida student Emilio Fuster laid out plans for a potential theme park adjoining Zoo Miami. However, he noted that there are several constraints this location, chiefly:

Despite its prestige, the site is not located in an ideal location for tourism. The main attractions of Miami (for the most part) all lie to the north, concentrated around Miami Beach. The immediate area is almost exclusively residential. Almost immediately surrounding the residential areas are large expanses of agricultural land with Homestead to the south being a large agricultural hub.

Overall the Zoo is not in an ideal location for tourism. Its location in proximity to other prominent areas of Miami and other attractions is quite remote. The area is also not a typical urban/pedestrian friendly one. Connections to the site are almost primarily vehicular. This severly (sic) limits connectability. Adding to this, the land uses of the areas do not add to its draw. Primarily residential, there is nothing but the Zoo and GCRM attracting visitors to the region.

As Fuster points out a theme park in this area, like 20th Century Fox’s Miami Wilds, would not be in close proximity to Miami’s main attractions – this will likely become a major issue for attendance.

Further compounding any development plans is the fact that the site is home to pine rocklands, a globally imperiled habitat, and the site is in an almost exclusively residential area. In the re-zoning, sale/transfer of land, and planning of Miami Wilds (and Coral Reef Commons) the public, especially the neighboring residents,  were not – and still are not – included in the county’s and developers’ actions. This level of secrecy is unacceptable, particularly since the site of the development is home to pine rocklands and the planned development will be severely detrimental to the daily lives of the nearby residents.

Link to Fuster’s full thesis here


Once altered = gone forever?

With efforts to develop globally imperiled pine rocklands met with a public outcry, Ram Realty, developers of the planned Coral Reef Commons, have attempted to portray the Coral Reef Commons (CRC) pine rocklands as largely developed. While this is not true (only 12% of the CRC site is significantly developed), what happens when pine rocklands are altered? Is the site really no longer a place worth preserving as Ram suggests?

IMG_8730

In the image above is one of the best maintained Richmond Heights pine rockland tracts, covering over 60 acres. Today it sits just outside of Zoo Miami (and in the footprint of Miami Wilds!) but in the 1940’s it was the site of Richmond Naval Air Station. Below in an image form 1952 you can see the expansive footprint of Richmond NAS.

N portion of Zoo Mimai finish0001

In this side-by-side view you can see the remnants of the blimp mooring pads and the red outline of this 60+ acre tract of rocklands in 1952 and in 2014. What today is a beautiful forest was tarmac, bare earth, and grass back in the 1950s. This land was originally pine rocklands but was cleared (in the early 1940s) to make way for the naval air station. But with the decommissioning of the Richmond NAS and subsequent period of unhindered growth (and semi-regular wildfires/prescribed burns) it is again beautiful pine rocklands. Most importantly this site is home of the rare Miami tiger beetle, a candidate for state and federal protection, along with numerous other endemic and rare animal and plants.

1952 vs 2014

The only visible remnants of the site’s past is a crumbling asphalt roadway cutting through a portion of the rocklands.

IMG_8734

As you can see even pine rockland tracts which have been altered are excellent candidates for restoration and seriously in need of protection. This need is even more urgent for the remaining intact Richmond Heights pine rocklands, which sit in the footprints of Coral Reef Commons and Miami Wilds. Ram Realty and 20th Century Fox developers are still pushing forward on their Coral Reef Commons and Miami Wilds, respectively, and Miami-Dade county is trying to circumvent any environmental regulations protecting or pertaining to these pine rocklands by attempting to declare a massive swath of land around Zoo Miami as a “slum or blighted area.” These developments are both environmentally unacceptable and poorly planned, with no adequate measures taken to address the pine rocklands.


A March and Misinformation

Sunshine_Images3

On January 17th hundreds of people marched along Coral Reef Drive, outside Zoo Miami, to support the preservation of the Richmond Heights pine rocklands, the habitat of numerous endemic species including the rare Miami tiger beetle. The Miami Herald reports the group of demonstrators stretched out “at least four blocks” in and around Zoo Miami, near the sites of proposed developments threatening the habitat.

Large portions of these pine rocklands are the sites for Coral Reef Commons, a WalMart-anchored shopping center and apartment complex proposed by Ram Realty, and Miami Wilds, a major amusement park which has been pushed through by Commissioner Dennis Moss and backed by 20th Century Fox.

These pine rocklands have survived comparatively unscathed since the since early logging and military developments on the site in the 1940s and these lands represent a quarter of the 1.8% of the habitat left outside the Everglades National Park. Any further development seriously jeopardizes the rocklands and their inhabitants, principally by further fragmenting the remaining rocklands and stifling brush fires, a necessary ecological cycle for survival of the habitat.

Ram Realty responded to the growing public disapproval in a statement and video tour of the site release the day before the march. I have reproduced their statement below along with my notes:

Efforts to “save” the rocklands are based on a misunderstanding of the true conditions on site

Editors Note: View and download a virtual tour of the Coral Reef Commons site:

http://vimeo.com/116977752

Miami, FL – January 16, 2015

Ram Realty Services is dedicated to the restoration of a significant portion of the land that we own.

It should be noted that the Richmond Pine Rockland complex encompasses more than four square miles, of which 74 percent is under public ownership, with an additional 20 percent long ago developed by others.

Purposely deceptive. The former Richmond Naval Air Station covered 2,107 acres (3.29 square miles). Today this area is the site of Zoo Miami, the Gold Coast Railroad Museum, the University of Miami south campus, a U.S. Coast Guard base, and several smaller developments. There is only about one square mile of pine rocklands remaining in the whole site.

Environmentalists opposing the development of the site have continuously misunderstood the facts and the current condition of the property.

I’ve spent significant time conducting research in the Richmond Heights pine rocklands and Ram’s claims are not an honest representation of the site. Presently 47% of the Coral Reef Common (CRC) site is pine rocklands and a further 19% is other, largely hardwood, forest. About 22% of the site is green space, minimally modified from their original state, and a final 12% is heavily modified or developed (buildings, major roads, and parking lots). This is not the heavily developed, hopeless situation the Ram paints.

Ram Site pie chart web

The Coral Reef Commons development site represents less than three percent of the Richmond Pine Rockland complex, and even less of the total pine rocklands in Miami-Dade County.

Again purposely deceptive. Their figure of 3% is calculated from the total area of the site, not from the area of pine rocklands on the site. There are a total of 585 acres of rocklands on the former Richmond Naval air station out of which 65 acres (11%) sits on the CRC site.

The notion that the Coral Reef Commons site is a pristine forest is erroneous.

The Coral Reef Commons site is primarily (47%) pine rocklands. While not in pristine condition these rocklands have been minimally altered and represent a last chance to preserve this habitat. Out of the original pine rocklands only 1.8% is still standing outside of the Everglades National Park.

RAM site 1952 vs 2014

On the left is an aerial photograph from 1952 and on the right is a 2014 satellite image (from Google Earth). Notice how little of the overall CRC site, outlined in red, has actually been significantly altered.

Over the last 70 years the site has been used for military purposes, a medical research facility, commercial buildings, residential buildings, enclosures for animals, an incinerator and blimp bays.

This site does have a unique past (see Paul Freeman’s great webpage and this history of the Naval Air Station) but these developments only comprise 12% of the CRC site (the blimp bays were located just to the south and east of Ram’s property, largely where the Gold Coast Railroad Museum now stands). Today the greatest threat to the area is continued development and the encroachment of invasive species. The present poor condition of these CRC site is due to the lack of any habitat management by the University of Miami, not excessive development. The school even denied requests from myself and other researchers to this and their other properties around Zoo Miami for access to the habitat.

The best prospect for regaining the natural environment is a comprehensive restoration plan such as the one Ram Realty Services is developing with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Under this plan, almost 40 percent of our property will be restored to its natural native state, set aside and maintained as a natural preserve in perpetuity – a standard never previously achieved in the region.

The Coral Reef Commons site is 137 acres but Ram’s planned preserves total just 43 acres (not all of it pine rockland) – just over 30% of the property. So, contrary to Ram’s claims, under a third of this property will be preserved.

The solution is not to develop over two-thirds of the site and its pine rocklands. Under one-eighth of the CRC site has been developed. Perhaps there is a more appropriate use for this rare habitat than yet another Walmart. Let’s restore and preserve the seven-eighths of the property that is undeveloped and constructively use or mitigate the fraction of the property that is already developed. Pine rocklands are a unique and valuable part of Florida’s natural history and are worth preserving.

Notes

Areas for which exact figures were not available were estimated with the polygon tool in Google Earth and the polygon area calculator on earthpoint.us.

References

 URS Corporation, The Institute for Regional Conservation, and Muller and Associates, Inc. 2007. Miami Dade County Environmentally Endangered Lands Program Management Plan, Part II: Management of specific habitat types, Chapter 1: The pine rockland habitat. Submitted to Environmentally Endangered Lands Program, Miami, Florida by URS Corporation. K.A. Bradley, G.D. Gann, M.J. Barry, contributors.


Blight?

[The Committee] accepts the Study identifying approximately 2,146 acres within the unincorporated municipal service area (UMSA), which lie entirely in Commission District 9 represented by Commissioner Dennis C. Moss, to be slum and blighted.

Miami-Dade Legislative Item 142509

This month a Miami-Dade county committee approved a resolution from county commissioner Dennis Moss to designate the Richmond Heights pine rocklands (the largest fragement of pine rocklands outside the Everglades National Park and the only habitat of the Miami tiger beetle) along with the surrounding lands “a slum or blighted area.” This resolution stemmed from a county-commitioned study supplied by the firm Calvin, Giordano & Associates which built a tenuous case that slum or blight conditions exist in and around the Richmond Heights pine rocklands. The Committee forwarded the resolution to the full Board of County Commissioners for consideration:

It is recommended that the Board of County Commissioners … consider taking the following actions:

4. The Board declares and finds that there is a need for a community redevelopment agency to function and carry out the community redevelopment purposes of the Act; and

5. The Board directs the County Mayor or the County Mayor’s designee to prepare a plan of redevelopment for the Area, and to submit the plan of redevelopment to the Board for approval after notice and public hearing.

Should a community redevelopment agency be created, the Area covered will make it the second largest in the County, with only the North Miami Community Redevelopment Agency larger at 3,540 acres. The Study includes the Zoo Miami, Coast Guard, and the former University of Miami properties.

Miami-Dade Legislative Item 142509

The goal in establishing the existence of slum or blight conditions and subsequent community redevelopment agency (CRA) is to create a special tax district¹ which will channel public funds into development of the site. The development in question is the $930 million theme park, Miami Wilds. As I have written previously the construction of this theme park (in its present incarnation) is a serious and unacceptable threat to the Richmond Heights pine rocklands and the survival of numerous endangered species, including the Miami tiger beetle, a candidate for emergency state and federal protection.

The developers, Miami Wilds LLC, have already received approval for an initial $13.5 million in bond funds to replicate the US Coast Guard communications tower array which currently stands in the footprint of the theme park. However, use of this land requires Federal permission and approval of the developer’s plans; approval which has not yet been given.

master CAMA LMP template 20030122

The Richmond Heights pine rocklands have survived comparatively unscathed since the since the early development of the site in the 1940s and these lands represent a major portion of the 1.8% of pine rocklands left outside the Everglades National Park. Any further development seriously jeopardizes the rocklands, chiefly by fragmenting the remaining habitat and stifling fires, a necessary ecological cycle for the continued health of the habitats.

IMG_8799

Proper management of pine rockland fragments includes prescribed burning (which can generate heavy amounts of smoke)… Construction of hospitals, schools, apartments, and hotels around [rocklands] should be discouraged because of conflicts with smoke generation during prescribed fires. URS Corporation et al 2007

These current plans for Miami Wilds and Coral Reef Commons will severely fragment the remaining Richmond Heights pine rocklands. Once these rocklands are surrounded by heavy development any prescribed burning will be extraordinarily unlikely.

… maximize open space and limit pollution runoff [around rocklands]. URS Corporation et al 2007

A secondary impact of any development is that without sufficient buffer areas around the rocklands the new fragments will be highly susceptible to pollution and encroachment of non-native and invasive animals and plants from the surrounding.

IMG_5854

The current plans for development do not adequately conserve these imperiled rocklands and are not a reasonable option for the continued survival of this unique habitat and its inhabitants. Over 98% of the Miami-Dade rocklands have been lost to development. There are better options for utilization of the non-rockland areas, options which do not fragment or destroy rocklands, alternatives which provide adequate buffers to facilitate the necessary management of the habitat.

The “blight” resolution has been forwarded to the Board of County Commissioners for consideration and a full public hearing on January 21st.

Local residents are planning a rally for the rocklands on January 17th

The Center for Biological Diversity has a letter to the Miami Board of County Commissioners which you can sign and send in support of preserving the pine rocklands.

View the resolution here. Read the Calvin, Giordano & Associates study here.

Also see the Miami Herald article on the this latest development.

Notes

¹In designating an area as a CRA governing bodies are afforded the opportunity to leverage public financing for the purpose of land acquisition, demolition, housing and infrastructure improvements, environmental remediation, neighborhood enhancement and other similar activities. This is accomplished through a funding mechanism known as Tax Increment Financing (TIF). From MetroZoo Finding of Necessity Study 2014 Update

References

URS Corporation, The Institute for Regional Conservation, and Muller and Associates, Inc. 2007. Miami Dade County Environmentally Endangered Lands Program Management Plan, Part II: Management of specific habitat types, Chapter 1: The pine rockland habitat. Submitted to Environmentally Endangered Lands Program, Miami, Florida by URS Corporation. K.A. Bradley, G.D. Gann, M.J. Barry, contributors.