MIAMI (CBSMiami) – In Southwest Miami-Dade, around Zoo Miami, lies the 140-acre Richmond Pine Rockland – a rare forest among the last two percent of its type in the county.
It was a major source of conversation at Tuesday’s county commission meeting.
“It would be a shame to destroy the Pine Rockland for a Walmart, for 900 apartments, for a theme park, for anything,” one environmentalist told commissioners.
But that’s what’s on the brink of federal approval for the forest – a huge Walmart, housing complex and other development.
It’s a forest where there are things found nowhere else in the world: the Miami Tiger Beetle and the Miami Rock Snake.
“I’ve seen so much of our natural areas paved over and developed, and once they are paved and developed, they’re gone forever,” said environmentalist Paula Johnson.
Some commissioners say when they approved rezoning the property years ago, the proposed use was downplayed.
“It was not the idea of a Walmart or anything even remotely close to that,” said Commissioner Joe Martinez.
Never mind the potential environmental impact, critics say the massive development will add to already terrible congestion.
Former long-time CBS4 consumer reporter Al Sunshine was among those who spoke against the development.
“The traffic at this point is already horrible gridlock,” Sunshine said.
But Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s staff has already essentially signed off on the Walmart project, noting the developers have agreed to a host of environmental concessions, including leaving scores of acres of the property untouched.
Some commissioners said there’s plenty of other land where Walmart could build.
“We shouldn’t be in this position of having to choose between economic development, a big box store and our habitat,” said Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava.
But the commissioners’ hands are tied. The only thing standing between Walmart and the endangered Bonneted Bat and other living things is federal approval expected in the coming months.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which has the final say, is taking public comments on the proposed Pine Rockland development through May 22nd.
To learn more about the conservation plan, click here.
If you would like to voice your concern or comment on the development, click here.