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by savecalusa

Who is Save Calusa?

Save Calusa is a 501(C)(3) non-profit run 100% by dedicated and caring volunteers. We are a grassroots group of neighbors advocating for preservation of 168 acres of greenspace, protection of wildlife habitat, increased resident input in local zoning decisions, and community quality of life. Anyone can join Save Calusa, and nobody within our advocacy group signed to release the covenant or receive financial compensation from the owner/developer. We are not the Save Calusa Trust.

Who is Amanda Prieto?

Amanda is a Calusa resident and community activist. Originally from Eastern Canada, she grew up in a picturesque town surrounded by natural beauty. She chose to move to Calusa, Miami-Dade to raise her young children in a quiet, family oriented neighborhood. Soon after, Amanda felt compelled to get involved and advocate for the protection of greenspace and wildlife habitat, and to ensure residents were informed and engaged in the proposed significant zoning change facing their community.

Didn’t the County approve the 550 home development?

Yes, but this approval was reversed by the appeals court! On November 17th, 2021 the Miami Dade Board of County Commissioners approved a zoning change to allow a private, luxury 550 home development in Calusa. However, Save Calusa then successfully filed and won an appeal that reversed this zoning approval. If the owner/developer wants to develop the property, they must resubmit their application and another public hearing and County Commission vote must be held.

What is the status of the Calusa Rookery?

Thanks to resident 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.

Why do you say “WE WON!!”

Save Calusa advocacy resulted in preservation of the Calusa Rookery, and through successful litigation, reversal of the 550 home development zoning approval.

What are the funds collected through the GoFundMe used for?

As of April 2023, we have raised just over $8500 from small, resident donations. These funds have gone 100% towards litigation and court filing costs. We are so thankful for the trust and support our community has given us!

Without the covenant, isn’t residential development a “done deal”?

Absolutely NOT! Yes, the covenant protected the land by providing restrictions on acceptable land use until 2068. We are disappointed it was released in Oct 2020. However, the property is still zoned as Parks and Recreation in the CDMP. The release of the covenant only allows development of 30 homes (1 per 5 acres plus roads) on 168 acres of land. Anything more than 30 homes must go through the entire zoning process, environmental surveys/reviews, assessment of needed infrastructure, and include opportunity for residents to provide public comment. It also requires the approval of the proposed site plan from the majority of County Commissioners.

Where can I see the application and other documents submitted to the county?

The County Website information can be found using the following plan numbers: Z2021000031

What does the owner/developer want to build?

The Z2021000031 application submitted Feb 18, 2021 includes a site plan for 550 single family homes in a private gated community with no public community benefits.

Aren’t we in a housing crisis? We need more residential development! You are NIMBY’s!

All development is NOT equal. Development must be smart, planned and appropriately balanced against impacts. It should always serve as a benefit to the surrounding community. This proposed Bacardi/GL Homes development was not affordable housing. This proposed development was a private, gated, 550 single family home community where homes likely would have sold for more than 800K each. The property is designated as parks and rec land, and was intended to be protected for 99 years.

In 2021, another residential development was approved in Calusa (which is only 1 square mile), for ~343 apartments with higher density, on a transit route, with no land use covenant, not on parks and rec land, on property up zoned from townhomes to apartments, and with no wildlife or habitat concerns. Save Calusa did not oppose this other residential development, owned by Baptist/Altman, which is currently under construction.

Wait, I thought this fight was over and residents won in 2017? What happened?

So did we! Then in January 2020 we received a hearing notice for a public hearing to release the covenant because more than 75% of the ring owners agreed/signed a release. We don’t know the exact details because they are bound by an NDA (Non-disclosure Agreement). However, based on some neighbors that were presented with offers and declined, and some that have shared the details privately or anonymously with other neighbors, we believe each ring owner was offered between 50,000 and 300,000 (yes each!) for their agreement to release the covenant. The Board of County Commissioners voted on Oct 29th, 2020 to release to covenant. However, the application didn’t include their development plan in that application. So we expected the owner/developer to submit a separate development plan in 2021 for a 550 home development (hint: we were right)

I don’t live in Calusa, or golf, how does this affect me?

All County residents should be extremely concerned with how our covenant was released, the lack of public input, lack of community benefits, disregard for designated parks and rec land, and the impacts to our wildlife and environment. You do not need to live in Calusa to join our advocacy! If you are in any neighboring community, such as Kendall, West Kendall, Kendale Lakes, Sugarwood, Devon Aire, Sunset, Winston Park, Sabal Chase, Arvida, Killian Pines, The Hammocks, The Crossings & more, this DOES DIRECTLY AFFECT YOU! This affects communities across at least 5 different commission districts. We need to protect one of the last large green spaces left in West Kendall. We need to fight against years of increased traffic due to demolition & construction. We need to fight against thousands of additional vehicles on congested roadways and against the increased burden on our infrastructure that wasn’t meant to handle this kind of development. We need to ensure the County uses every available protection measure for wildlife and their habitat.

We also have 4 other Miami-Dade County districts very nearby, most across the street. So we share local schools, traffic concerns etc. They are districts 8, 9, 10 and 11. This proposed development affects all surrounding communities!!

What about the Save Calusa Trust? Didn’t they fight this in court and win?

We are NOT members of the Save Calusa Trust. The Trust was formed in 2012, by around 99 ring owners, to raise funds for the legal defense to protect the covenant. Non-ring homeowners were not permitted to join the Trust. The entire community fought together, collecting petition signatures, putting up lawn signs, and showing up at County hearings. After winning in court, the Trust used our community strength as leverage and “flipped” from protecting/saving the golf course to accepting personal financial settlements in exchange for signing a waiver to release the covenant. The Trust misrepresented their intentions, acted in their own self-interest, and excluded the surrounding community that would be severely impacted by this development. The Trust led the initiative for some neighbors to sign releases in exchange for financial compensation/additional land, without regard to the rest of the community or ring owners.

What happened to the covenant?

A land use covenant existed requiring the Calusa Golf Course to remain a golf course for 99 years. It was signed 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 owners 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 commissioners also need to agree. The covenant was released October 29, 2020 by the Board of County Commissions at a public hearing with signed releases on record for 123/146 “ring” homes. There are over 2000 homes in the Calusa neighborhood.

When the County Board of Commissioners voted to release the 99 year Covenant, this automatically allowed up to 30 single family homes without a new application. The Covenant remains on the 5 superior lots (since it was a partial release of the Covenant) but the applicant has not said why they didn’t request a full release. The owner/developer then submitted a new zoning application with the complete proposed development plan for a 550 single family home development.