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A Fruit Stand Leads The Fight Against Development In The Everglades

Bob Moehling had tough luck trying to sell cucumbers to commercial distributors near his farm in Homestead, Florida.

He placed the extra produce into a few wooden crates, and set up a roadside stand at the corner of SW 192nd Avenue and 344th Street. He then sent his 6-year-old son, Robert, to run the operation with a sign reading “Robert Is Here.” The date was Nov. 9, 1959.

The fruit stand called Robert Is Here, in Homestead, Fla.

Pretty soon, the young Moehling was selling his dad’s cucumbers as well as the surplus beans, corn and squash of many other neighbors.

Robert Moehling still runs his fruit stand today. In addition to selling key lime milkshakes and all kinds of fruits, Robert Is Here now has a petting zoo and has become a beloved local institution for anyone day-tripping to the Everglades. But development is encroaching on these once-rural lands, and Moehling is leading a charge to stop it.

Developer Treo Group bought 20 acres across the street from Robert Is Here about a year ago for $2.6M. The parcel is in unincorporated Miami-Dade County and currently zoned for low-density use, but the developers have asked the county for a zoning change to medium-density residential so they can build 327 apartments.

After Moehling and about 30 other people showed up at a commission meeting to protest, a hearing scheduled for Oct. 30 was postponed until December. According to the Miami Herald, in that time, Treo could negotiate a less dense development plan.

Treo's parcel is currently one of many in Homestead that's owned by an LLC and currently used for farming — but could eventually be transformed for housing. Moehling fears that such changes will replace farms from which he sources produce, and will also overburden the community’s already limited public resources.

“They’re doing that to these 20 acres, and I’m feeling that the 20 acres next to it is going to go the same way," Moehling said. "And then there’s another LLC that owns 60 or 64 next to that. If they attack the trailer park there in the middle, by the time they’re done, they could have 200 acres of higher density."

“Once you start stacking people, you can stack a lot of families,” he added.

Developer Treo Group, which is also developing the Regatta Harbour mixed-use project in Coconut Grove, did not respond to requests for comment for this article.

Homestead, where much of South Florida’s food is grown, is one of the final frontiers for developers looking for affordable property south of Miami-Dade County and north of the low-lying Florida Keys. Over the last two decades, U.S. census data shows the population jumped from about 31,460 in 2000 to an estimated 70,477 in 2018.

“It’s just the impact of everything ... when you put that many people in," Moehling said. "They got the potential of 200 acres, to do at 25 to 35 to 40 families per acre. It’s a lot, and we’re an agriculture community. This is usually something that affects city people."

Moehling says that rezoning isn't fair to people who bought in Homestead or the Redlands because they sought low density or agricultural uses.

“People out this way have invested their life’s fortunes, their life’s savings on houses on an acre-and-a-half to 5 acres, and all of a sudden you’re shoulder-to-shoulder with 30 to 40 families per acre. This is not what we bargained for,” he said.

Given Robert Is Here's local influence and name recognition, Moehling says neighbors asked him to serve as a point person for expressing their concerns. He posted a petition on the store's website that asks for Treo's rezoning request to be denied and a TV inside the store also broadcasts an alert asking people to sign.

“They asked if I was gonna let this happen, and I said I can’t stop it — one person is nothing. But once you come together, you’ve got thousands of [petitioners]," Moehling said, noting that the petition currently has more than 20,000 signatures.

“It’s an ugly thing. Homestead Fire Department has a slow emergency response system. Florida City Elementary is full, and Homestead Hospital has one of highest emergency room rates in Dade County,” Moehling said. “You start putting more and more people in — and God forbid, there’s a hurricane.”