Food News

Iconic Fruit Stand Robert Is Here Protests Proposed Massive Building Near Everglades UPDATED

Robert Moehling at his produce stand, Robert Is Here.
Robert Moehling at his produce stand, Robert Is Here. Robert Is Here
Update: Due to a petition that garnered more than 15,000 signatures and widespread media coverage, Miami-Dade County commissioners Monday opted to defer a vote on the rezoning of the property across the street from Robert Is Here to October 30. "We've also been made aware of some concerns of Mr. Robert Moehling," said Holland & Knight's Juan Mayol, who is representing the developer. "We believe we can address many of those concerns given enough time, so we would like it to try and at least see if we can meet with Mr. Moehling." The public will be allowed to comment on the proposed change the day of the vote, which will be its first and last hearing.

As developers constantly erect towering behemoths, many city dwellers trek south for some fresh air and fruit shakes at Robert Is Here.

The bucolic, old-timey fruit stand, complete with a farm animals and vintage tractors, is one of the last remnants of Old Florida and is a favorite stop on the way to the Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center at Everglades National Park.

The produce stand, owned by Robert Moehling and listed in the National Culinary Heritage Register, is fighting to block a mammoth project that could change the face of the rural farming community in which it resides.

Developer Treo Group last November purchased the 20-acre lot across the street from the farm stand for $2.6 million. The land is zoned for low-density use, but the developers have filed for an expedited change to medium-density residential status. That change could allow a complex with up to 25 dwellings per acre, which means 500 families could move into the neighborhood, a significant change from the current zoning status, which allows no more than six dwellings per acre, for a total of 120 families.

A preliminary hearing for the zoning change is set for this Thursday, July 25, at 9:30 in the Stephen P. Clark Government Center in downtown Miami, and the iconic fruit stand is fighting in the hopes of maintaining the area's rural and agricultural environment.

Robert Is Here has posted a petition on its site and urges people to sign. The petition states various reasons why the zoning change should be denied. The petition already has 13,000 signatures.

The iconic produce stand's Brandon Cepeda says the proposed change could pave the way for a building that the area can't support and is another step on the dangerous path the most rural, agricultural southern part of the county has been walking to slowly turn vast tracts of farm land into higher-density housing developments.

"It's not just about the view for us; it's about ruining the land and the Everglades," he says. "The concern is that there’s no infrastructure in place, the traffic out here is horrible already, and the nearest schools are already at maximum capacity, so any kids will have to be bussed out to different schools, creating even more traffic."

Plus, Cepeda says, there's no fire station nearby, though there are plans to build a temporary facility that would be operational within three or four years. Police coverage is a problem as well.

"Because we’re in unincorporated Miami-Dade County, we’re not accessible by Florida City or Homestead [police], so Miami-Dade has to preside over cases, and if they're not immediately in the area, it takes them a solid 45 minutes to get out here," he adds. Cepeda urges concerned citizens to show up for the zoning meeting.

Developer Treo Group couldn't immediately be reached for comment.

Meanwhile, Robert Is Here, at the height of tropical fruit season, is boasting shelves full of mamey, soursop, sapodilla, longans, Asian limes, and even a few sugar apples.

Robert Is Here. 19200 SW 344th St., Homestead; 305-246-1592; robertishere.com.
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Laine Doss is the food and spirits editor for Miami New Times. She has been featured on Cooking Channel's Eat Street and Food Network's Great Food Truck Race. She won an Alternative Weekly award for her feature about what it's like to wait tables.
Contact: Laine Doss
Zachary Fagenson became the New Times Broward-Palm Beach restaurant critic in 2012 before taking up the post for Miami in 2014. He also works as a correspondent for Reuters.
Contact: Zachary Fagenson