Community and environmental groups prevail in their court challenge to a municipal development approval
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — The Silverthorne-area residents challenging the town’s approval of a Lowe’s development application aren’t alone in fighting against big-box developments.
In a case with some similarities to the Silverthorne lawsuit, an appeals court in Florida this week rejected Miami-Dade County’s attempt to expand its Urban Development Boundary to allow a Lowe’s Home Improvement store to be built on wetlands near Everglades National Park.
“Today is a decisive victory for Everglades restoration that will prevent loss of wetlands on the fringes of Everglades National Park,” said Kahlil Kettering, Biscayne restoration analyst for the National Parks Conservation Association. “We are thrilled by the court’s decision to preserve our multi-billion dollar investment to restore America’s Everglades, and for reinforcing the importance of protecting Florida’s national treasures that support our local economy and communities.”
The Miami-Dade County Commission several years ago approved a comprehensive plan amendment that sought to allow development of the Lowe’s and a charter high school on 51-acres of wetlands near the national park.
Conservation groups joined together to fight the approval and prevailed this week, as the Florida First District Court of Appeals upheld an administrative judge’s decision that the amendment and subsequent development approval violated of the comprehensive plan, according to attorney Robert Hartsell, counsel for the Everglades Law Center.
“The comprehensive plan says the wetlands shall be avoided,” Hartsell said. Allowing the development would have made a mockery of the comprehensive plan, with its stated goals of preserving remaining wetlands and locating most new construction in existing urbanized areas.
The land-use amendment violated a number of county and state growth management policies according to Hartsell. “After three years of litigation, the Miami-Dade County Mayor and staff, Department of Community Affairs, an administrative law judge, the previous Florida Governor and Cabinet, and an appellate court have all concluded that that maintaining the Urban Development Boundary is an imperative,” he said.
In a press release, the community and conservation groups that battled the plan explained that preserving the growth boundary is important to efforts to restore the Everglades and rebuild the local economy. Each new development outside this area increases demands for drainage, water use, roads, and supporting development at taxpayer expense and eats away at the buffer between urbanization and the Everglades.
“This victory has statewide implications for not just Everglades protection, but the implementation of local plans consistent with adopted policies and smart growth principles,” said Charles Pattison, President of 1000 Friends of Florida.
Hartsell said the administrative law judge also found fault with an economic impact analysis done early in the planning process. The data in the study — paid for by Lowe’s — was OK, but the analysis was biased, Hartsell said.