More than seven months after it was announced that the University of Miami had sold an 88-acre parcel of endangered pine rocklands habitat to a developer set on building a Walmart, the project remains stalled pending environmental certification -- and the blowback continues.
Today at 3 p.m. supporters will gather at the University of Miami's main entrance, on Stanford Drive, to protest UM's sale of the land, to developer Ram Realty Services, for $22 million.
"We speak for the trees and we speak on behalf of all the 200 endangered animals who call this endangered [Pine Rocklands] home," Leslye Jacobs, the rally's organizer, wrote on Save the South Florida Pine Rocklands' Facebook page. "We are their voice and we ask you to join us."
The development, called Coral Reef Commons, would include, in addition to the Walmart, 408 apartments, an LA Fitness, Chick-fil-A, and Chili's. But so far, amid months of outcry from environmentalists, the project has stalled.
In November Ram, the developer, met with U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials and agreed to submit a habitat conservation plan; the plan would have to prove the development would actually provide a net benefit to the multiple endangered species found on the land before it could be approved.
Currently the property in question -- part of the last remaining contiguous tract of Pine Rocklands outside the Everglades -- is overrun with invasive species after years of neglect on the part of the university; Ram argues it will better preserve parts of the property that aren't part of the development.
But today's protest is aimed at UM, with the message, "Shame on You," according to Matt Schwartz, of the group South Florida Wildlands.
"It kind of says it all: Why did you sell the property knowing full well that this this property was extremely important habitat?" he says. "Why did you go this route instead of preserving it?"
The subtext of the message, Schwartz added, is "Buy it Back" -- with enough pressure and resources, from a coalition of groups, Schwartz thinks it could still be possible for the land to be re-purchased and designated as protected parkland.
"There is money out there," he said. "What's missing is a vision that that this could be done...that this [parcel] could become something else, other than a new shopping center."