With American Dream Miami planned a mile south, Broward sounds traffic alarm

Broward County on Friday pressed for more influence in approving the American Dream Miami mega-mall that Miami-Dade has tentatively embraced on a site just a mile south of the county line, saying its highways face just as much gridlock as Miami’s from the massive retail theme park.

The county’s representatives on a regional planning board pressed American Dream representatives on traffic issues during an afternoon hearing that ended with elected officials watering down a request from Broward’s planning office but securing an agreement from the developer to give more attention to regional transportation issues.

“This is not my original language,” Broward Commissioner Steve Geller said near the end of the session before the South Florida Regional Planning Council. “I changed it because I was told the developers would stipulate to this language.”

Council members agreed to send to the state the American Dream application for a six-million-square-foot shopping and entertainment complex in Northwest Miami-Dade. The unanimous vote sparked hugs by American Dream’s lobbying team, and extended developer Triple Five’s string of encouraging votes as it inches toward a final decision before the Miami-Dade County Commission scheduled for this summer.

The amendment endorsed by Geller came from Miami-Dade’s commission chairman, Esteban “Steve” Bovo. It urges Miami-Dade to tie final approval to American Dream’s “mitigating regional traffic impacts” and working with Broward’s transit agencies to connect the southern part of the county with the site.

Broward’s planning department asked for more specific language, including that American Dream finish its traffic analysis, and identify “mitigation for the traffic impacts on roadways in Broward County.”

In a March 8 letter to Geller and other Broward commissioners on the council, Broward planning chief Josie Sesodia also asked that a development deal Miami-Dade plans to sign with American Dream be completed before county commissioners cast a pivotal vote to change the county’s growth plan to accommodate what would be the nation’s largest mall. That vote is scheduled in May or June, though commissioners gave preliminary approval in a 10-1 decision in late January.

Mark Woerner, Miami-Dade’s planning chief, confirmed Friday that the county plans to approve the change to the comprehensive master plan first, and then conclude final negotiations with American Dream over traffic mitigation and other details that would be in the development deal.

Geller said that since the planning council, which consists of elected officials from Broward, Miami-Dade and Monroe, offers only advisory opinions, he wanted to adopt language that the developers would accept. During a brief recess, Geller huddled with American Dream lawyers and lobbyists, including former state Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, to write the proposed language, which closely matched what Bovo ultimately proposed.

The agreement followed close questioning by Broward officials of American Dream representatives, planning experts and transportation officials about the project, which is expected to attract about 70,000 vehicle trips a day to the wedge of undeveloped land where Florida’s Turnpike meets I-75.

American Dream plans to add or expand some interchanges around the retail complex to ease traffic. It also points to planned widening of I-75 as one reason the surrounding highways can handle an attraction expected to bring about 40 million visitors a year. Florida decided to add the lanes to accommodate express tolls, and the roomier highway was planned well before the American Dream proposal.

Broward Commissioner Beam Furr pressed a state official on whether the mall was going to fill up the extra lanes quicker than Florida had planned.

“All of your capacity gets taken up immediately, is that correct?” he asked Florida Department of Transportation’s Lisa Colmenares. Colmenares replied: “Yes, that is correct.”

Miami-Dade has no announced plans to extend rail to the American Dream site, but the developer has proposed a series of bus facilities inside its footprint to accommodate visitors and workers. Triple Five, the American Dream developer and owner of Minnesota’s Mall of America, touts the project as an historic boost to Miami-Dade’s economy and tourism landscape.

Along with traditional mall retail offerings, American Dream plans an indoor ski slope, an aquarium with submarine rides and a year-round Cirque du Soleil show, representative Bob Gorlow said Friday.

“The emphasis here is on entertainment,” Gorlow said. “It will save people a trip to Disney World.”

This post was updated to correct the name of the Florida Department of Transportation official who spoke at the meeting.