“We depend upon you and the law, not the lawyers or those who are simply out to make money,” declared Ileana Pestico, leader of a six-month fight (since Apr. 14) to defeat the application of Hugo Pereira, president of Krome Agronomics.
Her remarks concluded a near 40- minute parade of protesting southwest Miami-Dade residents, most of them wearing white T-shirts emblazoned with “Just Say No” during the nearly three-hour public hearing in the Arvida Middle School auditorium.
The 6-0 vote was preceded by four council members expressing doubt about the validity of statistics demonstrating a need for burial space presented by Pereira’s attorney Jeffrey S. Bass who argued that Miami-Dade’s death rate merited opening the 47-acre tract at the southwest corner of SW 136th Street and 177th Avenue.
Noting she agreed to conditions by the county’s Planning and Zoning Department if the cemetery was approved, Councilmember Ileana Vazquez nevertheless concluded, “There still appears to be sufficient room for the next 15 years of interments in the county, so any need for this new site, in my mind, simply hasn’t been established.”
Councilmember Beatrice Suarez added, “To me, this simply doesn’t appear to be the right place for a cemetery.”
Voting to support a Vazquez motion to reject the application, seconded by Miguel Diaz, were Suarez, chair Jeff Wander, Patricia “Shannen” Davis and Joseph Delaney. The seventh council seat is vacant.
If the council’s rejection is appealed, a final decision will be made by the county commission. Otherwise, the council vote for rejection without prejudice would allow reapplication for the cemetery location in October 2012.
Because lengthy expert testimony favoring the application used nearly all of the allotted public hearing time on Sept. 6, presentation of two refuting experts was delayed until Oct. 6 by attorney Brad F. Kelsky who represents Mr. and Mrs. Joe Pestico and other objecting residents.
Southwest Miami-Dade cemetery owner and land investor David Vega vigorously disputed the need for a new Miami-Dade burial ground, stating that a 25-acre vacant land parcel he now owns at 24000 SW 137 Ave. is planned to open by mid-2012.
University of Miami professor Dr. Richard Weisskoff, in a running questionand- answer debate with Bass, maintained that growth rate statistics used by Bass, based on a 2007 report of a University of Florida agency, “were outdated by a declining death rate and growth rate, shown by U. S. 2010 census data.”
“What this decision really boiled down to was the question of need versus the projected population growth and death rate,” Wander summarized. “The growth and death rates based on 2007 statistics, as presented, simply aren’t as valid today after a three-year economic and growth decline in the county.
“I also think it was a telling point that Mr. Vega’s new cemetery is located in currently zoned commercial land, rather than the residential area proposed for the new cemetery,” Wander added.