The University of Miami has sold tracts of endangered pine rockland forest to a Palm Beach County developer who is planning to build a Walmart, fitness center, restaurants and apartments on the property.
According to the Miami Herald
, the deal between the university and Ram Realty Services has drawn the ire of environmentalists who said the habitat provides a home for several endangered species, including the bald eagle and indigo snake, the Florida bonneted bat and two rare butterflies expected to be protected this summer.
Ram Realty said that 40 acres of the 88 acres purchased will be set aside for a preserve, according to the Miami Herald. The company said it also will develop 35 acres still owned by the university.
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"You wonder how things end up being endangered? This is how," Dennis Olle, a board member of Tropical Audubon and the North American Butterfly Association, told the Miami Herald. "This is bad policy and bad enforcement. And shame on UM."
Olle told the newspaper he wrote to Florida's top federal wildlife agent last week to call for an investigation.
Ram Realty, headquartered in Palm Beach Gardens, has offices in Fort Lauderdale and Tampa, as well as Charlotte, North Carolina. The company, which specializes in retail and residential properties, has made $1.7 billion in real estate transactions since 1996, according to its website
The Herald reported that the 158,000-square-foot Walmart will be accompanied on the rockland forest grounds by an LA Fitness center, Chik-fil-A and Chili's restaurants and about 900 apartments.
Miami-Dade County biologist John Tim Joyner told the Herald that the land was more than the university could manage.
"I agree more could have been preserved. But what they preserved complied with the code," Joyner told the newspaper. "And that was a big selling point. (UM was) not managing the land, and we had no way to get them to manage the land."
Pine rocklands, also called the pinelands, have a hard rocky ground, made up of limestone, according to the National Park Service
. The pinelands are often found on higher grounds, creating a natural dry habitat.
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