SFWMD Decision to Deny Permits

Dear Friends,

Today the South Florida Water Management District's Governing Board voted to deny environmental resource permits and will allow the use of inverse condemnation orders in critical coastal wetland areas east of 87th avenue. The District has the funds in place to purchase the Cutler Properties 130 acre property at 184th and Old Cutler. Hundreds of acres of Biscayne Bay coastal wetlands will be preserved and everglades restoration projects enabled as a direct result of this thoughtful decision. Closer to home, our coast and green spaces will be preserved and over-development kept at bay.

Public serving groups and agencies from the Governor down to our local officials have been involved in making this happen but we would personally like to thank all of you that participated in the grassroots effort that contributed to this outcome.

Beth Kibler
Palmetto Bay

Tom Condon
Cutler Bay

Amy Roda
Cutler Bay

Eduardo Varona
Cutler Bay



What's Next?

Thank you to everyone who wrote letters or attended the January 11th EQCB meeting protesting the filling of coastal wetlands in our community. Protecting our environment and controlling development within out communities is crucial to our quality of life. Preserving our wetlands from senseless destruction is not just a local matter but one of national interest. The October 2006 National Geographic highlighted Cutler Cay as evidence of the negative impact development is having on Biscayne National Park. With your continued help we can keep this from happening again.
Your participation has made a difference.
• You have shown the county that the community believes that the preservation of our coastal wetlands is essential
• You have demonstrated to county agencies that meetings should be held in the communities that are affected.
• You have shown the developers who wish to work within our communities, that we expect them to respect our environment and work with us to preserve our quality of life.
We have completed just the first step in a very long process. The owner still has applications in with the Army Corps of Engineers and the South Florida Water Management District. This process may take months or years and the developers are counting on the public losing interest. We are dedicated to taking action on this property and three additional properties located on Cutler Bay coastal wetlands.

We ask you to continue the fight with us and hope that we can rely on you to take action when needed.

Warmest regards,

Beth Kibler

Tom Condon

Amy Roda


Please take the time to write a letter to the Army Corps of Engineers (ACE). In the past we created form letters and asked you to simply copy and paste them onto an email to the recipient. Unfortunately the ACE will not seriously consider form letters. Original letters are preferred in this situation. However, to make this as easy on you as possible we have come up with some points loosely grouped by subject. Please look at the list, pick one or two that you feel is most relevant and either rephrase it in your own words or copy and paste it into your email.

Letters can be addressed and headed as below:

ATTN: Leah.A.Oberlin@sajo2.usace.army.mil, Regulatory Project Manager USACE
c.c. julio.robaina@myfloridahouse.gov, Representative District 117, Florida House of Representatives

In reference to Permit Application No. SAJ-2005-4653 Cutler Properties LC:

Cutler Properties LC is proposing a high density multistory development at this location and plans to unnecessarily fill 33 acres of coastal wetlands that will certainly have negative impacts to both the adjacent 90 acres of wetlands and Biscayne National Park. The proposed development is not water dependant and under Section 33 part 320 #32.4 of the Code of Federal Regulations the developer must justify why the proposed project cannot be pursued elsewhere. The community is strongly opposed to the unnecessary destruction of our much needed wetlands and asks the corps to consider the CFR when reviewing the Cutler Properties application.

Property Rights
Cutler Properties bought this 138 acre property just over three years ago (October 2003), knowing that only 9 acres of it were available for development without a variance. The property owners have the right to build on the 9 acres of uplands, but destroying an additional 30 acres of wetlands that could be restored is not in the best interest of our environment, nor our community.

The project planned by Cutler Properties LC is not the least environmentally damaging practicable alternative (LEDPA) for the projects proposed mixed use and residential housing purposes. The property purchased by Cutler Properties has only 9 acres of uplands yet they propose 42 acres of development that would require the filling of 33 acres of coastal wetlands. This proposed project is not the LEDPA and the applicant should not be granted a 404 permit.

Public Interest
Cutler Properties LC is proposing to fill 33 acres of Class I Coastal Wetlands. In return they are only offering 3 acres of on-site mitigation in just a 30ft buffer. The 90+ acres of high quality wetlands adjacent to Biscayne National Park that they're offering to give to the county cannot be developed under current laws and is therefore irrelevant. Our community is losing 33 acres of wetlands How is this in the public interest?

The Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) has been deemed a National Issue of Overriding Importance in the interest of preserving our water quality. This property is in the footprint of CERP. The developer plans to destroy 33 acres of coastal wetlands in an area that is critical to the aquifer and the bay. CERP needs to be implemented and our threatened wetlands need to be restored. The national goal of preserving our water supply is more important than the need for housing in an already saturated market or the desire for profit by a few individuals. The community relies on the corps to promote the full implementation of CERP on what little is left of our coastal wetlands.

As the population increases throughout South Florida it becomes increasingly important to protect our natural resources. Our coast line must not be sacrificed unnecessarily. It is in our collective best interests to conserve this land and allow it to work for us as a filter for water runoff, and as a sanctuary for birds, crabs and others who call this piece of land home.

Conflict with the Watershed Study
Cutler Properties LC is proposing a plan that is in conflict with the goals of the South Miami-Dade Watershed Study and Plan. The plan establishes an open space/conservation zone (Zone C) "that ensures that lands needed for the protection of Biscayne Bay are available for storm water treatment, wetlands restoration (including the Biscayne Bay Coastal Wetlands CERP Project) and open space (including agriculture) as required." The importance of state and local decisions in the regulatory process is recognized in Section 101(b) of the Clean Water Act and in Section 202(b) of the Environmental Quality Improvement Act. The Army Corps of Engineers is requested to respect local initiatives to preserve land and water resources and consider the long term goals of the community while reviewing Cutler Properties application to fill our coastal wetlands.

Historical Properties
There is little green space in Cutler Bay along Old Cutler Road. This is not in keeping with Old Cutler's Historic and Scenic designation. Past development and commercial ventures have already hurt the scenic value of this road.

Lying just outside of Cutler Bay’s town limits is Blackpoint Marina. This marina serves as the launching point for recreational fishermen and boating enthusiasts. As more and more of our shoreline is sacrificed to development, we compromise the health of our bay and the joy of communing with nature.




Cutler Properties LC is owned by Fortune International (Edguardo Fortuna of Fortune Magazine/Realty, etc.) Cutler Properties has filed an application with the Environmental Quality Control Board for a waiver of Chapter 24-58.3(B) of the Miami-Dade County Code. Cutler Properties wants to fill over 30 acres of Class I Coastal Wetlands to build high density/multi-use residences and shops of undisclosed detail in a primarily single family home dominated area. Cutler Properties LC does not meet any of the requirements of county code for the filling of wetlands- yet the director Department of Environmental Resources Management (DERM) has recommended that the Environmental Quality Control Board (EQCB) grant a variance.

The property at 18551 Old Cutler Rd. was purchased in October of 2003 for $2,400,000 and has since been refinanced for $8m +/-. The property consists of 9 acres of uplands (no variance required), 33 acres of lower quality wetlands and 93 acres of higher quality wetlands. The 93 acres of high quality wetlands are being offered to the county as part of the deal with DERM and will be used to allow higher density on the remainder of the property during the zoning process even though the higher quality wetlands can never be touched for development.

EQCB agendas are only published in the Daily Business Review and on the Miami-Dade website making it very difficult for citizens to know what’s in store for their neighborhoods until the bulldozers have begun clearing the land. Just a week before the November 9th EQCB Palmetto Bay individuals happened upon this information, began investigating, contacted the Tropical Audubon Society and began Googling Cutler Bay citizens groups. A TAS email was widely circulated and representatives from homeowner’s and activist’s groups began working together in opposition of granting the variance for the filling of wetlands.

• This is the last piece of green that stretches from Old Cutler to Biscayne Bay in Cutler Bay
• Past developments like the adjacent Cutler Cay (National Geographic 9/06) are endangering our coastal wetlands and the bay.
• The proposed filling does not meet ANY of the requirements of county code.
• DERM is accepting a bad project with bad mitigation. 33 acres of impact to 3 acres of mitigation is an unacceptable deal and not in the public’s best interest.
• The development does not allow for full implementation of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) currently envisioned for the site.

At the September EQCB the chair commented on the applicant’s contact with neighbors. As of the November EQCB no proof of community contact was found but the applicant submitted a request for a deferral to DERM on the basis of the need for community contact and stated, “That process has been on-going and continues to this date.” The only contact uncovered was an informal meeting with environmental groups 15 months previously.
Cutler Properties attorney Howard Nelson, of Bilzin Sumberg, was contacted directly by representatives of Cutler Bay/Palmetto Bay groups. He was asked to quantify who he considered the community and to notify the writers of any meetings scheduled before the December EQCB. In a phone conversation Mr. Nelson characterized the environmental community as the only stakeholders and reiterated that he had met with them and had therefore met with the community. He stated that the lawyers handling the zoning process were handling meetings with neighbors. When told that the residents were concerned with environmental issues Mr. Nelson said he would meet with residents. As community awareness rose, email poured into DERM and pressure mounted, reports of undeclared meetings with members of Cutler Glen Homeowners Association emerged. The attorney handling zoning applications, Simon Ferro of Greenberg Taurig, gave only two days notice of a meeting to which only a few were invited. This meeting was basically a sales pitch and did not address environmental impact. As of the December EQCB no meetings on the environmental impact of the project were conducted by representatives of Cutler Properties.

Palmetto Bay and Cutler Bay citizens groups have organized in strong opposition to the filling of the wetlands and to developing the last piece of green in Cutler Bay that goes from Historic Old Cutler Rd. to Biscayne Bay. These groups have worked diligently for months to inform area residents about the proposed development and its consequences. As a result, concerned individuals took the day off work and made the trek downtown to attend the EQCB even though letters from DERM and the developer informed citizens of the request for yet another deferral.
After hearing several residents of Cutler Bay and Palmetto Bay and an adamant representative of the Sierra Club speak against the continuance on the grounds that Cutler Properties had not made a good faith effort to communicate with stakeholders about the environmental impact of the proposed project, and discovering that 370+ letters had been received by DERM from citizens opposing the variance, the board, in front of a packed room, summarily voted against granting the continuance. The attorney for Cutler Properties was not prepared for this and did not have his case in order. He stated that he needed time to locate his witness from the South Florida Water Management District. It is highly unusual that the SFWMD would speak on the behalf of a development project. DERM revealed that their letters to citizens advising them of the continuance may have discouraged attendance by the community. In light of these facts a compromise was promulgated where Cutler Properties had to go on record that if allowed a continuance to January they would seek no further continuances. Many citizens were unhappy with the compromise and continued to strongly disagree with granting the continuance. They made a forthright request that the meeting be held in South Dade and in the evening to assure the participation of all concerned citizens. In a move viewed as unprecedented by many, this request was granted by the EQCB.

The developers committed to having a meeting with the public and it is scheduled for January 8th. The EQCB is on Thursday, January 11th at 5:30 at the South Dade Government Center.

Trebloc Corp. was the previous owner of the property. Trebloc was responsible for unauthorized clearing of wetlands. DERM and the county spent a lot of time and money in litigation to establish that the wetlands were class one coastal wetlands and to obtain a Consent Agreement from Trebloc. The consent agreement has not been fulfilled as of this date. Violations on the property stay with the property and are the responsibility of the new owner.

DERM’s motto is “Delivering Excellence Everyday”. Delivering it to whom? DERM rarely recommends that variance applications be denied and the EQCB almost always follows DERM’s recommendation.
DERM’s past performance demonstrates that they view developers as their customers rather than serving in the best interests of the public. 370+ emails were received in opposition to this development by DERM (The most mail DERM has received on one application) yet at the EQCB DERM did not notify the board of this fact! The only way for the EQCB to gain knowledge of the volume of email is for a resident to stand before them and speak about it, but the resident would have no idea how many letters were received by DERM unless he formally requested the public records.

Mayor Vrooman of Cutler Bay wrote directly to the chair of the EQCB and instead of supporting this citizen’s movement to contain development wrote that he agreed with DERM’s recommendation and asked that the 90 acres of higher quality wetlands be deeded to Cutler Bay to help satisfy the green space to development ratio required under the CDMP for incorporation. Why have the 90+ acres given over to the Town of Cutler Bay? Yes they can claim it as “parkland” (passive) to help satisfy the requirements of their Comprehensive Development Master Plan but it will not be on the tax rolls and the responsibility for maintenance will be on the taxpayers/town.

The Town of Cutler Bay has declared a moratorium on building along Historic Old Cutler Rd. DERM records show that staff was aware of this. Why were the desires of the town disregarded and a variance approval recommended by DERM?

Due to the “Jennings Rule” citizens are unable to contact their county commissioner because the matter may come before the BCC. Citizens of Cutler Bay have also been told by their mayor and council members that they cannot speak to them on the subject, citing Jennings, despite the developer’s assertion that a zoning application has not yet been filed.

There was a 14ft? storm surge recorded on the adjacent Burger King property during Hurricane Andrew. Does it make sense to continue building on wetlands in consideration of that fact and in light of what we’ve learned from Hurricane Katrina?


Click on the image to go to the National Geographic website. The sprawl that threatens the bay is symbolized by Cutler Cay. The green rectangle at the bottom is part of Cutler Properties' 130 acres.