It only seems like an eternity that homeowners in North Miami have been fighting off a Home Depot (see 4/18/00 Newsflash). Home Depot wants to build on a 10.5 acre site, which is in the unincorporated county, at 121st and Biscayne that backs up to a residential community, and neighbors, including a tennis club and a children’s playground, want them gone. Home Depot originally rose to the surface in 1998. The North Miami Community Council voted narrowly to approve the projecct in 1999, but the Council’s vote was marred by the fact that one of its members, the deciding vote, didn’t even live in the area. Residents appealed that vote to the Miami-Dade County Commission, which approved the rezoning, and a preliminary site plan. The county made Home Depot agree to barrier walls and a 40 foot buffer — but there is no way to buffer a residential area from a 121,000 s.f. store. Residents appealed the County Commission vote to the Circuit Court. Last May, the Circuit Court ruled on Home Depot’s side, but the homeowners sued again to the Third District Court of Appeals. In September, the Appeals Court also ruled against the homeowners. Home Depot’s lawyer told the press: “The neighbors gave a good fight, but it’s over.” But it’s not really over. It turns out that the Community council (without its illegal member) voted to reject Home Depot’s revised site plan. But Home Depot went ahead and got a building permit for the rejected site plan. However, the project still needs to get hooked up to water and sewer from North Miami, and apparently the city has not agreed yet to the latest plan. As of January, construction on the store was voluntarily stopped, while Home Depot tried to work something out with the city on water and sewer connection. The city claimed in Circuit Court that Home Depot’s construction was creating a nuisance, in part because it was proceeding without a permit. There’s also disagreement about what the zoning actually allows, with residents arguing that the commercial zone does not permit warehouse stores, while Home Depot says its store is a retail shop not a warehouse. The Sans Souci Homeowners Association has complained loudly about the traffic gridlock this project will create, and the loss in property values they fear they will suffer. In response to neighborhood opposition, Home Depot told the Miami Herald: “There have been some serious racial overtones to their objections. They have stated in public hearings they didn’t want ‘those people’ who shop at our stores in their neighborhood.” Attorney Guy Spiegelman, who represents Sans Souci, told the Herald:”It’s grossly unfair to say its racial. We don’t want this kind of lumberyard, big box thing neara tennis center and a tot lot, destroying the makeup of a residential area.” Spiegelman also responded to Home Depot’s use of the racial card by filing a lawsuit for slander against the company. Local media have described this Home Depot story as “byzantine”, but the neighbors are hanging in there, after losing appeals at three levels. But it’s clear the City of North Miami has not given up opposing the store, and more legal battles still lie ahead for the store that nobody seemed to want in the first place.
“Good things happen,” the company used to say, “when Home Depot comes to town.” You’d never know it to look at North Miami. You have to wonder what Home Depot executives think about the three plus years of bad press they have received in North Miami. The great irony here is that five miles away from this site is another Home Depot. The orange store has got residents in this community seeing nothing but red. For more background on this project, contact [email protected]