Tuesday, June 5, 2018

In climate denial, Miami-Dade gives Ok to build the largest mega mall in the US in low-lying lands near Everglades

A rendering of the American Dream Mall in Miami, Florida. Triple Five Group

In climate denial, Miami-Dade gives Ok to build the largest mega mall in the US in low-lying lands near Everglades

In yet another example of climate denial and lip service to climate resiliency, the Miami-Dade County Commission approved land use and zoning changes on May 17, 2018, that will allow mega mall developer Triple Five, along with The Graham Companies, to replace wetlands and farmland for the largest mega mall in the United States in Southeast Florida.  With this latest decision, we have yet another example of a county commission that fails to see that the “emperor has no clothes”.

Despite concerns raised by community leaders, environmentalists and impacted residents, the county commission voted 9 to 1 to approve the applicant’s requests. Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava was the only NO vote. In a tweet, she stated “I can't support the approval of such a massive development that promises mostly low paid jobs, horrendous traffic, and that undermines the objectives we have for core transit development”.

In what should be referred to as the “American Nightmare Mall’, developers want to build the largest mega mall in the United States close to the Everglades, bringing traffic gridlock to the edge of the county and consuming enough to power upwards of 1,400 mw/hr or enough to power nearly 40,000 homes a day. In an age of climate change and sea level rise, developing this low-lying area is an epic mistake. This project is the wrong vision for South Florida.

-- Diana Umpierre, Sierra Club Everglades Organizing Representative

Remarks from Sierra Club volunteers and staff

"Is this another example of climate denial? The cumulative message behind Everglades Snakeway and American Nightmare Mall is that Miami-Dade County government led by Mayor Carlos Gimenez does not care about resilience. It only cares about keeping the sprawl train going into low-lying wetlands, regardless of climate change. It's not climate ready, it's climate reckless.” - Jonathan Ullman, Senior Organizing Representative, Sierra Club

“Those parents who don’t know where to take kids other than Orlando, there are national parks are nearby. Bigger is not better.  This dream project I think will really turn into a nightmare in the long run.” - Dany Garcia, Sierra Club Miami Group board member

“This catastrophic proposal must be denied. We need responsible developments that are climate resilient and protect the limited natural resources we have left. We need infill urban development that revitalizes existing communities and gives us affordable housing. We need fewer cars on the roads and more jobs that pay a living wage. We do NOT need an American Nightmare to regret for years to come and for taxpayers to be on the hook for what goes wrong.” - Stephen Mahoney, Conservation Chair, Sierra Club Miami Group

“Holy cajoly, we are in trouble. With the roads, they are finite, you can’t keep building them. With the waste, unbridled growth means a lot of horse you know what. And it has got to go somewhere. A unique development? You have Fairchild Gardens. You have sports teams. You have art festivals.  I can live without a submarine ride. If you think that you’ll be glorified for this temporary ‘ooh my gosh’, those tax dollars are going to drain down when you got to start dealing with water loss and resource loss, and pollution and development of roads.” - Sue Caruso, Sierra Club Broward Group board member

“The scale of this thing is just wrong for a county that is failing to address so many issues. To say, well, this is far away from the coasts, it’s naive. And, it’s not just about traffic. When I consider the climate-related challenges we’re facing, this is the wrong way to go.” - Diana Umpierre, Organizing Representative for the Sierra Club’s Everglades Restoration Campaign, who lives just 5 miles away from proposed site and at one time helped carry out sea level rise mapping for Southeast Florida.

“We have an Office of Resiliency here and the reason is because as a forward thinking community we need to be thinking long term. And there are some issues here.  Building a project like this in the wetlands does not address sea level rise. My kids and my grandkids live here. They are going to be facing that issue. The county commission has to be looking at the quality of life for the whole county.” – Noel Cleland, Vice-Chair, Sierra Club Miami Group

“It will destroy wetlands that recharge the Biscayne Aquifer. It will be next to a future Everglades restoration project, 5 miles from our water conservation and wildlife management areas, 15 miles from Everglades National Park. It will have huge energy demands from our existing power plants, which means more CO2 emissions. It will send large volumes of solid waste to our landfills. Has that been considered? It will need large amounts of water supply. It will exacerbate regional light pollution, producing a glow that will be visible deeper into the Everglades. We do NOT need an American Nightmare to regret for years to come.” - Valerie Robbin, Outreach Chair, Sierra Club Miami Group

Additional statements from concerned community leaders, environmentalists and impacted residents opposing the American Dream Miami proposal

"From the point of view of traffic and infrastructure burdens on taxpayers, it is a predictable nightmare. Before 2011, citizens had a place and a roadmap, through the Florida Department of Community Affairs, to challenge development schemes that were manifestly against the public interest. It speaks worlds that an ill-conceived regional development could be halted in the mid 1990s but not in 2017. Now developers have the upper hand. Behind it, more predictable nightmares: extending SR 836 into the last remaining farmland and open space in Miami Dade and further attempts to move the Urban Development Boundary." - Alan Farago, Vice President, Friends of the Everglades

“The American Dream Mall is yet another example of developers and elected leaders choosing profit over the protection of our communities especially given our heightened vulnerability to hurricanes. This project will bring an additional 100,000 cars a day to a site that sits at the crossroads of I-75, the FL Turnpike and 826—our most critical (and already tremendously overburdened) evacuation routes in the event of a storm. How is it not totally unconscionable to build in a way that makes us so vulnerable? And what more, where will all the drainage go? Why put this massive amount of concrete into endangered wetlands that are our region's natural solution for sea level rise and flooding?” - David McDougal, Miami resident

“Before we can even think about the traffic nightmare a project of this magnitude would create, the County Commissioners must consider the significant impacts to our water supply. While we are fighting like the dickens to ensure the survival of the Everglades and the source of drinking water for 8 million Floridians, mega-developers and projects likes these continue to put it all at risk.” - Kimberly Mitchell, Executive Director, Everglades Trust

"The American Dream Mall is bad for workers and our environment. Our economy doesn’t need thousands more low-wage, part-time jobs. We also don’t need more traffic and congestion. We need real solutions to our transit and jobs crisis. This is a rushed plan for a bad project.” - Wendi Walsh, Principal Officer, UNITE HERE Local 355

Philip Stoddard, Mayor of South Miami: “According to FIU’s Sea Level Rise Toolbox, the site of the proposed American Dream Mall sits a mere one to three feet above sea level.  With a foot of rain, or the next foot of sea level rise, the site becomes waterlogged, proverbial “swamp land in Florida”.  Going beyond the traffic nightmare, it’s time we discussed the wisdom of mining enough rock to raise this much land to a safe base elevation of 11 feet.  The area is mostly mined out.  Do we really want to use our remaining rock to build a new mall in a marsh, or should we dedicate it to elevating areas of economic importance like Doral, the airport, Brickell, and Miami Beach?”

Abel Fernandez, retired Battalion Chief for Miami Lakes:  “This project is the ‘Perfect Storm’. Existing traffic gridlock, residential development and a strained environment. You have several factors colliding and the effects will be greater than a category 5 storm.”

Derek Cintron, Miami Lakes resident:  "The 'mega-mall and friends' project clearly is not a case of the needs of many outweighing the needs of a few. In this case, the wants of a couple of developers are being considered by the government more than the needs of hundreds of thousands of residents."

Juan C. Fernandez, Miami Lakes resident/ local realtor: “The traffic in Miami Lakes and the surrounding areas is unbearable right now. Imagine an additional 40 to 70 thousand additional trips in the area. Aren't brick and mortar malls something of the past anyway? We don't need this monstrosity!”

What’s being proposed and why is it bad for South Florida?

To build “American Dream Miami”, the main developer (International Atlantic, LLC, owned by Mega Mall developer Triple Five) submitted Application No. 5 in May 2016 to amend the Miami-Dade Comprehensive Development Master Plan ("CDMP") to allow for the following on 174 acres of low-lying flood-prone land that includes wetlands and agricultural areas. Their proposal will add:
- 6.2 million sq ft for a retail/entertainment complex. Click here to see details.
 - 3.5 million sq ft of retail
 - 1.5 million sq ft of entertainment
 - 1.2 million sq ft of common area and other uses
- 2,000 hotel rooms

And it will includes these attractions:
-          Water Ballet Fountains
-          Tivoli Gardens
-          Indoor/Outdoor Theme Park
-          Indoor Ski Park
-          Indoor Waterpark
-          Indoor Skating Rink
-          Aquarium
-          Submarine Ride

       It will be the largest Mega Mall of its kind in the United States, attracting over 30 million visitors per year into our already congested roads and highways.
       It will create mostly low-paying jobs, below current average wages, NOT jobs with living wages that our communities need.
       It will destroy wetlands that recharge the Biscayne Aquifer.
       It will be at the very edge of the county’s Urban Development Boundary, next to a future Everglades restoration project, ~ 5 miles from our water conservation and wildlife management areas and ~ 15 miles from Everglades National Park.
       It will have huge energy demands from our existing power plants (over 1,400 MW-hr of maximum daily electric power demand), which means more CO2 emissions.
       It will send large volumes of solid waste to our landfills (over 130,000 pounds of solid waste per day).
       It will need large amounts of water supply (~1 to 2 million gallons of potable water daily and ~ 114 thousands of gallons of non-potable water for mostly irrigation).
       It will require significant removal of native muck soils for construction-grade fill.
       It will hurt small retail business owners and existing malls and shopping centers, displacing many jobs from one location to another.
       It will exacerbate regional light pollution, with more artificial lighting affecting neighboring communities and nearby ecologically sensitive areas and producing a glow that will be visible deeper into the Everglades.
       The developer, Triple Five, has a history of asking for large local and state government subsidies that enable them to profit at taxpayers’ expense, such as Mall of America and American Dream Meadowlands. In fact, the developer has refused to put in writing that they will not seek public subsidies.
       Click here for an elevation map and maps showing the proximity of ADM site to conservation lands and future CERP Lakebelt projects for Everglades restoration.

Surface Elevation Map
Location of the American Dream Mall on low lying land circled
Source:  SFWMD (NAVD 88 Ground Surface Elevations layer) at:

Bluer means lower elevations; Redder means higher elevations
Within the Green circle is the approximate location of proposed ADM site

Further Reading:

Eye on Miami blog on why the Predictable Nightmare: America Dream Mall

Sun-Sentinel environmental column by Andy Reid against the American Dream Mall:

Sun-Sentinel column by Dan Sweeney on what readers think about American Dream Mall:

Miami Herald column by Fabiola Santiago on how American Dream Mall will make a bad commute hell on earth.

Miami Herald article on American Dream Miami:

Photos taken of the properties as they are today: undeveloped and predominantly jurisdictional wetlands.
Photo credit:  Matt Schwartz, South Florida Wildlands Association