Lawmakers again float 2-mile buffer zone to protect Everglades amid wave of development proposals
Debbie Wasserman Schultz wants the Everglades to go with the flow.

USA, Florida, Many crocodiles enjoying the sun in everglades nat
Miami-Dade County received 7 applications last year to build near or within protected wetland areas.

State lawmakers are again considering legislation that would establish a large, development-free buffer zone to protect the Everglades in South Florida.

Prior attempts failed to gain traction in the Legislature. But a batch of proposals in Miami-Dade for construction beyond the county’s Urban Development Boundary (UDB) that preserves agricultural and protected lands, including the Everglades, from residential and commercial development may provide extra motivation now.

The measure (SB 1364) would provide that any proposed changes to a local government’s comprehensive development plan must undergo Florida’s coordinated review process. Under that process, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection would determine whether the changes in question would adversely impact the Everglades Protection Area and, if so, require that they be altered to eliminate the potential harm.

Passing the bill will “demonstrate our unwavering commitment to safeguarding the Everglades and ensuring its protection for future generations,” said Miami Sen. Alexis Calatayud, the bill’s sponsor.

Unlike prior iterations of the legislation — including one by Miami Springs Sen. Bryan Ávila that died on the Senate floor last year and a similar House version (HB 723) Coral Gables Rep. Demi Busatta Cabrera is again carrying this year — Calatayud’s measure specifically names Broward, Miami-Dade and Monroe counties.

On Tuesday, the Senate Community Affairs Committee voted unanimously to advance SB 1364, which has two more committee stops before reaching a floor vote. Busatta Cabrera’s proposal awaits a hearing before the first of three committees to which it was referred.

Human-caused damage to the Everglades has been cataloged for decades. Since the 1960s, phosphorus from farming and stormwater runoff has degraded its water quality, disrupting the natural development of its native flora and fauna.

By the 1990s, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates more than 40,000 acres of public lands were impacted. Billions of state dollars, including more than $4.5 billion under Gov. Ron DeSantis and $1.1 billion from President Joe Biden’s administration, have been earmarked for Florida’s famed “River of Grass.”

But environmental protection organizations like the Everglades Trust and Sierra Club, both of which signaled support Tuesday for SB 1364, have argued that spending will be for naught if large-scale developments are allowed near or within the protected area.

That includes a since-tabled project called the Kendall Parkway which the Tropical Audubon Society, Hold the Line Coalition and Friends of the Everglades sued to stop in 2018 that would have extended State Road 836 by 14 miles over wetlands and into west Miami-Dade.

Another attempt to build on previously protected land succeeded in November 2022, when Miami-Dade Commissioners voted 8-4 to override Mayor Daniella Levine Cava’s veto of a 379-acre industrial complex just west of Biscayne Bay by Homestead.

The vote marked the first expansion of the UDB in nearly a decade, and it’s since attracted proposals for similar projects. In 2023, developers filed seven applications to build beyond the UDB.

“The floodgates are open,” Hold the Line Coalition Director Laura Reynolds told the Miami Herald in November.

Nonprofits fighting the projects in court will encounter greater difficulty doing so from now on due to legislation DeSantis signed in May that, among other things, enables developers to collect attorney costs from unsuccessful plaintiffs.

That raises the stakes for passing or again snubbing Calatayud and Busatta Cabrera’s bills, neither of which would alter existing rights for agricultural operations under the Florida Right to Farm Act.

Calatayud said her “door is wide open” to stakeholders, community members and businesses with concerns about SB 1364. The goal, she said, is to “create a policy that makes sense for these communities and that makes sense for Florida and protects our unique-in-the-world Everglades ecosystem.”

According to the nonprofit Everglades Law Center, recent studies suggest that if Florida maintains its current development pace, roughly 7 million acres of environmentally vulnerable land — including 2.6 million acres of native habitat equal to the size of Vermont — will be converted to urban use by 2060.

Jesse Scheckner

Jesse Scheckner has covered South Florida with a focus on Miami-Dade County since 2012. His work has been recognized by the Hearst Foundation, Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Society of News Editors, Florida MMA Awards and Miami New Times. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner.

One comment

  • tom palmer

    January 16, 2024 at 4:28 pm

    The real solution would be to bring back the Florida Department of Community Affairs and its authority to challenge bad local growth decisions. Rick Scott eviscerated that agency along with the water management districts to appease his developer buddies and the malleable and corrupt Florida Legislature went along with it.

Comments are closed.


Florida Politics is a statewide, new media platform covering campaigns, elections, government, policy, and lobbying in Florida. This platform and all of its content are owned by Extensive Enterprises Media.

Publisher: Peter Schorsch @PeterSchorschFL

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Drew Dixon, Roseanne Dunkelberger, A.G. Gancarski, Anne Geggis, Ryan Nicol, Jacob Ogles, Cole Pepper, Gray Rohrer, Jesse Scheckner, Christine Sexton, Drew Wilson, and Mike Wright.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @PeterSchorschFL
Phone: (727) 642-3162
Address: 204 37th Avenue North #182
St. Petersburg, Florida 33704