Calusa advocacy is ongoing, and we are advocating for preservation of 168 acres of greenspace and wildlife habitat in West Kendall, Miami Dade. Though many residents have been advocating these issues in our community for over a decade, we created a non-profit Save Calusa Inc. in Dec 2021 to formalize our grassroots group of neighbors and file litigation. Save Calusa is a 501(C)(3) non-profit run 100% by dedicated and caring volunteers, led by Amanda Prieto.
Our community advocacy is focused on four areas:
- Importance of resident input in the zoning process and decisions that affect community quality of life
- Protection of wildlife and their habitat, and accurate, thorough environmental surveys to determine wildlife utilization before significant zoning decisions are made
- Engage and encourage residents in Calusa and across the County to be informed and get involved in County decision making that affects resident quality of life
- Increase awareness of how our 99 year land use covenant protecting 168 acres of parks and recreation green space was released through a series of litigation and financial settlements while excluding 5000 residents and their concerns
Calusa is in Unincorporated Miami-Dade County, approximately one square mile between sw 137th and sw 127th ave, and sw 88th street (Kendall Drive) and sw 104th street. Calusa is part of West Kendall, and in Miami-Dade County District 7, though it also borders Districts 8, 9 ,10 and 11. The Calusa property is 168 acres of green space designated parks and recreation land, and was a former golf course that the owner chose to close in 2011. The Calusa property was purchased in 2003 for 2.7 million by Facundo Bacardi, who then sold it in 2021 for 32 million, to a joint venture with GL Homes called Kendall Associates I LLLP (Bacardi continues to own 35%). The proposed development, a large scale residential private community of 550 luxury single family homes. was approved by the County Commission in Nov 2021. This zoning approval was later reversed through successful litigation by Save Calusa.
Nov 2021 Zoning Approval and Lack of Proper Notice
The public zoning hearing was originally scheduled for Oct 20th, however at the Oct 19th County Commission meeting, they cancelled the Oct 20th zoning hearing due to lack of quorum. Proper notice was not provided for the November 17th public zoning hearing, as the County did not re-issue a newspaper notice for the new hearing date. Though a courtesy sign and mailing was provided, those are only accessible to residents within 1/2 mile radius which doesn’t even cover all residents in Calusa or parents with students attending Calusa Elementary school. We truly believe every voice counts and deserves to be heard, particularly since this was the one and only opportunity for residents to express their concerns in person to the County Commission before they considered a significant zoning change with detrimental long-term community impacts.
For years, Calusa residents begged the County to hear and address their concerns with the proposed development. Residents wrote published Op Ed’s, conducted media interviews, requested a town hall meeting or workshop, and frequently attempted to contact District 7 Commissioner Raquel Regalado. The County refused to provide a noticed meeting even “in the sunshine” to discuss resident concerns. The owner/developer held one virtual “town hall” via zoom, which was more of a sales presentation since residents were not permitted to speak. Also of note, this “town hall” was held before wildlife surveys were made available with the owner/developer proudly proclaiming “don’t worry, the environmental surveys are complete, and there are no endangered wildlife on the property”. Meanwhile, residents knew that wasn’t accurate.
Residents then hoped the over 3500 petition signatures, and 981 protests on file would encourage our elected officials to listen to their concerns and take action. However, residents were limited to 1 minute at the November 17, 2021 public zoning hearing, and resident concerns were dismissed and ignored. There are no community benefits, no long-term solution for school capacity, no improvements to community pedestrianism/protected biking, no true traffic solution and even though the County Parks Dept recommended a 5 acre park, the developer was not required to provide one and instead chose to simply pay park impact fees. The Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners voted to approve the zoning change allowing for a 550 home development, on November 17th, 2021.
Residents then advocated for Miami-Dade County Mayor Danielle Levine Cava to veto the zoning decision. Residents from across the County sent over 5000 letters to Mayor Cava in 10 days. Though Mayor Cava did not veto the zoning approval, she did issue a memo requiring additional independent environmental surveys, and oversight.
The zoning approval was later reversed through successful litigation by Save Calusa.
Wildlife and Habitat
The Calusa property is home to many species of wildlife. Residents are not confident that full wildlife utilization of the property has been provided by the owner/developer. Before the 2021 hearing, the environmental consultant hired by the owner/developer visited the property in December 2020 and documented two State Threatened birds around the southern lake. However, they conveniently did NOT identify a rookery, or survey the property during the FWC breeding/nesting period March-August. Fortunately, residents DID survey the Calusa Rookery and documented several species of nesting birds, including the State Threatened tricolored heron which was reported to FWC and added to the FWC map of imperiled wading bird colonies.
Thanks to our documentation and advocacy, FWC added the Calusa Rookery to their map of imperiled wading bird colonies in September 2021. After Miami-Dade County DERM independently verified imperiled tricolored heron nesting in 2022, Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava issued a memo requiring that the Calusa Rookery be preserved.
On Dec 27th, 2021 Our non-profit Save Calusa Inc. filed a writ of certiorari challenging the Commission’s zoning approval on a number of procedural and substantive grounds including:
1. quash (reverse) the Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners zoning and development approval of 550 homes on 168 acres of parks and recreation green space intended to be protected until 2067, due to lack of proper hearing notice
2. request an order staying (stopping) tree/building removal permits until environmental studies are complete
WE WON!!! The zoning approval was reversed!! For more details please see our LITIGATION page.
A land use covenant existed requiring the Calusa Golf Course to remain a golf course for 99 years. It was created in 1968 and was valid until 2067! The owner of the golf course requested to release the covenant in order to develop the land and build a largescale residential development. This covenant was meant to protect the land, and gave the homeowners within 150 feet of the golf course, also called “ring owners”, the responsibility to protect the covenant, the land, and their community. This is something they should take very seriously! To remove the covenant, 75% of the ring owners would need to agree and give consent to remove it, AND the County Commissioners also needed to agree through a zoning application. The covenant was partially released (on all but 5 lots) on October 29, 2020 by the Board of County Commissions at a public hearing with signed releases on record for 123/146 “ring” homes. Community residents STRONGLY objected to the way the covenant was released, as it involved a closed door private financial settlement for the 123 homes that allegedly received between $50,000 to 300,000+ plus an additional 50 feet of land in their backyards in exchange for releasing the covenant and ending ongoing litigation.