Miami Dade County Community Forum

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Hear Mayor Regalado & Commissioner Sarnoff on January 8th. By Barbara Bisno

Mayor Tomas Regalado and District 2 Commissioner and Commission Chairman Marc Sarnoff as featured guests of Miami on the Move on January 8th at 8AM.

This is a unique opportunity to hear from our  City leaders about their vision for Miami, the challenges and issues we face in 2010, and what we can do as progressive, concerned citizens to help them make our city a better place to live.

Come learn about now things are done inside City Hall, the political realities they face every day, the budget crisis and how it will affect local programs, the future of development in a post-crash environment, and what, in the opinion of those at the helm of city government, we can do to forward a progressive agenda in these difficult times.

RSVP now!

Where:       Out of the Blue Cafe
                      2426 NE 2nd Ave.
                      Miami, FL
                       (305) 573-3800
When:        Friday, January 8th, 8AM-9:30AM

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Dear Friends of Hialeah Park. By Milly Herrara

The race to save Hialeah Park is not over. Although the clubhouse and parts of the park have been partially restored in order to reopen it for the public with quarter horse races, a massive development is planned for Hialeah Park. Although they are trying to make it seem as a "historic preservation" project, it is not. The proposed development plan will barely leave anything of Hialeah Park's 210+ acres. In fact, the track, clubhouse and gardens will be surrounded by development that includes two hotel towers, a convention center and lots of retail shopping areas.

According to the site plan drawings, even the historic, Jim "Sunny" Fitzsimmons tree lined path appears vanished. The 350 to 400 flamingoes that make Hialeah their home will be probalby be shocked and scared off by the massive construction work, dust and debris. The ones that survive will find that their open space and free flights have been replaced and impaired by concrete buildings all around them. The first mayor of the city of Hialeah (James Bright) donated public land for the people. Hialeah Park was public land owned by the city of Hialeah. How our city official handed this park over to the Brunetti family should be investigated by a federal agency. This is OUR park, rightfully so, and no one had the right to give it away. Please help in any way you can on getting the word out about this. Please help stop this massive development plan and let us reconquer our historic park.

Sincerely yours,

Milly Herrera
Hialeah, Florida

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Happy Holidays. by Fran Bohnsack

The Board of Directors of the Urban Environment League, wishes all our friends and neighbors in the community a very happy holiday season!

We hope to see you in the new year at our forum on State Amendment 4 on January 20th!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Bob Graham Pep Talk to Activists At UEL Dinner December 1st. by Barbara Falsey

Talk about timing! Just as I was about to give up on good government – locally, nationally and around the world – I attended the UEL dinner December 1st. Not only is it always great to see friends and fellow concerned Miamians over a good meal and a glass (or two) of wine – but this time we all got a little shot in the arm from Senator Graham.

Soft spoken, kind and very persistent, he encouraged us all to keep up the good fight. His new book, America’s Owners Manual, Making Government Work for You, calls for a renewed emphasis on teaching – and practicing – basic civics.

I bet that lots of UEL members can remember their student government days and the classes that taught us things like how a bill becomes a law. I can see in my mind’s eye the teachers who spoke encouragingly about making the system work and the role we could play in that. I would also bet that I am not alone in having scars on my forehead from banging my head up against the system and struggling to maintain an attitude of skeptical optimism when I watched “the system” fail and learned to “follow the money” to understand why.

Senator Graham’s point is that if citizens don’t have a clue about the system (who governs what decisions, how legislation works, and how to influence the system) things will only get worse. He described the origins of this book as a high school class he co-taught years ago and recently revisited while at the Kennedy School.

He reminded us of individuals (Barbara Capitan for one) who kept up the good fight even in the face of lost battles. He also stood before us as someone who, after a long career in the “system,” has managed to keep his optimism, keep his temper, and keep on – as we used to say – keeping on in spite of disappointments and conflicts we can only imagine.

I was struck again by a sense of his core decency and decided that I won’t give up – just yet. Good government is a worthy goal; honorable leadership, decency and optimism are worth fighting for. And good friends and a glass (or two) of wine was just what I needed to remind me that it is up to all of us to encourage and support the generations who are just entering the fray. Thanks UEL.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Do Off Road Vehicles Belong in Big Cypress National Preserve?

The Miami-Dade Parks Department is pursuing a proposal to build a visitor center, 80 car/trailer parking lot as well as 15 miles of off road vehicle trails in the middle of the Big Cypress National Preserve at the old jetport site. While the site is located within the boundaries of the Preserve in Collier County, the land is owned by the Dade Aviation Department.

The proposal, which also includes an archery range, hiking trails and fishing ponds, is pending for approval before the Collier County Commission on January 19. If approved by Collier, the proposal will be transmitted to the state's Department of Community Affairs for further review. Existing trails at the site will be hardened for usage while others will be eliminated.

The ORV trails will be limited to an area south of the existing runway in a wetland area inhabited by wading birds. In fact, the entire site is wetland with the exception of 7% which consists of fill areas and borrow pits. The borrow pits presently hold fish and are used for fishing. They also hold alligators.

Environmental and financial objections to the plan are numerous. Some are noted below:

               1) The site lies within primary habitat of the endangered Florida panther as well as within primary and secondary bear habitat.
               2)  Almost the entire site consists of wetlands that provide habitat for wading birds including the endangered wood stork.
               3)  The drainage plan indicates the perimeter of the property would be bermed thereby limiting sheet flow across the site.
               4)  Existing borrow pits, presently used for fishing, would be used for stormwater management requiring infrastructure that will cause additional impact to the wetlands.
               5) The site is flooded for at least six months of the year and will not be available to ORV users during that time limiting the park's operation to 5-6 months since it will not be used during the very dry season either.
               6) The site lies at least an hour's drive from Dade's populated areas increasing fuel consumption as well as adding to the stress on the Tamiami Trail.
               7) The anticipated ORV usage will result in soil erosion and loss of wildlife habitat.
               8) Fishing and hiking are already permitted at the site.
               9)The site is presently designated for conservation purposes by Collier County and is an environmentally sensitive area of critical state concern.     
              10)Unauthorized riders(those without permits issued by Big Cypress)will be able to access the existing ORV trail system within the national preserve.
              11) No management plan has been formulated. That means that the parks department has no idea what a daily ridership quota will be nor whether a permit system will be required. Parks does not even have an idea of the number of riders that the site can tolerate. Big Cypress issues 2000 yearly permits for 400 miles of ORV trails. This site, which lies within the preserve, will have 15 miles of trails. Do the math!
              12) Pursuant to agreement between Dade and Collier, Collier will be entitled to half the ORV drivers allowed at the site despite not being obligated to contribute to the costs. Consequently, Dade taxpayers may face a significant investment without significant ridership at the site.
              13) Unfunded costs associated with the application process amount to almost $900,000. This includes approximately $750,000 for an environmental impact statement that must be submitted and approved by the Corps of Engineers before a permit to fill wetlands can be granted. This means that taxpayers will have to hand over almost one million dollars before a permit will even be considered. These costs will be incurred prior to any construction costs and the permit may not even be issued.
              14) Parks has no idea how much it will cost to operate a completed park nor whether the park will be financially sustainable. 

Does this sound like a good idea?     

Monday, December 21, 2009

County Commissioner Javier Souto wants County Reform

The Urban Environment League is looking at County Commissioner Souto's proposals for more transparency in County Government. Michael Lewis, Publisher of Miami Today, has challenged Civic Groups to come to Souto's support:

In this instance there is a natural alliance between a commissioner seeking county hall openness and groups that claim they want it too. He won't be asking them for help, but they should reach out and offer aid. Mr. Souto has shown courage by blowing the whistle. Let's see who has the civic guts to hear the call and respond.

According to Lewis:

Mr. Souto is anxious to shine the light of day into hidden county matters for voters and taxpayers to see. He says he feels the public clamoring for that.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Merrill-Stevens Drydock & Repair Co. Will Be Closing Its Doors Today

The company was incorporated in 1885 in Jacksonville, Florida by James Eugene Merrill. The company is closing operation by the end of today according to reports.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Watson Island Developer Wants More Time

Flagstone developer Mehmet Bayraktar is asking the City of Miami for more time to finance the project on Watson Island. He offered the City $500,000 to cover back rent. It will be discussed today by the City of Miami Commission.

Years back, the Urban Environment League protested the development as it was slated for public land. A citizen referendum approved the project. After the vote, the UEL was able to get some concessions. An agreement between UEL and Flagstone was signed, sanctioned by the County Commission, to allow UEL to monitor and report on their public access commitments, based on progress during implementation.

The Miami Herald said, referring to Bayraktar's letter:

The letter does not say how much more time Bayraktar wants. It says the developer has all the permits needed to start building but still lacks construction dollars for the effort. As part of an extension deal, according to the letter, Bayraktar would open Flagstone's books to show the company spent $46 million on the project, which Miami voters approved in a November 2001 referendum.

Would it be to the advantage of the City to deny the extension and reclaim the land for public use, and get rid of the development altogether? Commissioner Sarnoff doesn't think so, according to the Herald:

Marc Sarnoff, chairman of the City Commission, said he's skeptical of giving Bayraktar a lengthy extension but wants wants Miami to consider his offer. The project owes more than $400,000 in rent, Sarnoff said, and pays about $90,000 a month -- making the lease particularly valuable given Miami's dire budget squeeze.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Dinner to Honor William Cary, Head of the Department of Preservation of Miami Beach

A group of Miami Beach preservationists have organized a dinner to honor William Cary to be held on January 19. Details are in the invitation below. Please join us!

William's most recent significant accomplishment is providing leadership for the recently approved Morris Lapidus Historic District, which includes the Fontainebleau and Eden Roc Hotels. The story needs to be told:without William's dedication, persistence, and courage, these iconic landmarks would have been demolished or severely altered.

Since William's arrival in Miami Beach, he has definitely been the most important "preservationist" in town. Through his efforts-and the efforts of the members of the very excellent Planning Department of Miami Beach, such as Jorge Gomez, Tom Mooney, Joyce Meyers, Deborah Tackett, Katia Hirsh and Gary Held, numerous other historic districts such as the North Shore Resort District, the Collins Avenue Waterfront District have been created.

Most recently, the City of Miami Beach Planning Department got approval for two new Federal Register Historic Districts-the North Shore Historic District and Normandy Isles Historic District. These districts, which are both in North Beach, predominantly feature MiMo residential architecture. The Districts collectively include 676 structures, and rival in size the Deco District of South Beach.

It is sometimes easy to criticize government. But when good things are done by hard working people, we should recognize that. Please join us to celebrate William's outstanding achievements.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

City of Miami Community Relations Board Now Accepting Applications to Serve on Board

City of Miami Community Relations Board
Now Accepting Applications to Serve on Board
-Deadline to submit an application is December 31, 2009-
(Miami, Florida)- The City of Miami Community Relations Board (CRB) is accepting applications from City of Miami residents who are interested in serving on this voluntary board.  Deadline to submit application is Thursday, December 31, 2009.
Each member must be a resident of the City of Miami.  Each member is expected to serve a minimum of 10 hours a month. Board terms are for three years.
Individuals interested in applying may send their application and resume to: 
Office of City Manager
3500 Pan American Drive, 2nd Floor
Miami, FL 33133
Or call at (305)250-5305
Attn.: Ada Rojas or
For additional information, please contact Ada Rojas at 305-250-5305 or email

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Looking for Organic Produce? By Patricia Harris

Local organic produce has been a rarity at local farmer's markets. That is about to change this season with the introduction of two local organic farms at area farmers' markets:

1. Paradise Farms at 405 Biltmore Way, Coral Gables Farmers' Market (Sat, 8am-1 pm); and

2. Bee Heaven Farm/Redland Organics at Pinecrest Gardens Green Market (Sun,9-2) Pinecrest Gardens (the former Parrot Jungle), on the corner of Red Road (SW 57th Avenue) and Killian Drive (SW 112/111th Street).

Here are two other farmers' markets where you can buy organic, but not necessarily local, produce:

1. Glaser Organic Farms at 3300 Grand Avenue, Coconut Grove Organic Market (Sat, 10am-7pm); and

2. Josh's Organic Garden at Harrison Street and South Boardwalk in Hollywood.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

What is Rodney Barreto Saying? By Urban Legend

During a kickoff luncheon for the Superbowl on Monday, host committee chairman Rodney Barreto hinted that public funds should be used to revamp Land Shark Stadium:

This game's awarded to the community, not the Dolphins, the community needs to come together and ask, Is this important to us?"

Some of us in the community think that money to prop up sports stadiums has gotten out of hand and that enough is enough! For instance, we need to focus on putting money towards unfunded infrastructure and long lasting job creation. Tourist tax money can be used for transportation. It also can be used for creating/renovating a convention center that would bring us more tourists and year-round business. However, the tourist tax money might be tapped out after the Marlin's Stadium sucks it dry. Tourist taxes have dwindled because of the tough economy, yet the County has based withdrawals from it on the forecasts of better years.

The question is, how many stadiums does this community have to subsidize before the people yell "Foul"?

Friday, December 4, 2009

Sarasota Herald-Tribune examination found that the promises made by oil drilling proponents are largely empty

The oil industry makes its case for drilling within a few miles of Florida’s coast by trumpeting a new kind of drilling that is “virtually invisible” on the coast. By Jeremy Wallace

The promise of subsea systems swayed some legislators to support opening Florida’s waters to drilling. But a Herald-Tribune examination found that the promises made by drilling proponents are largely empty:

• One of the subsea systems being touted is almost exclusively used in water that is thousands of feet deeper than Florida’s coastal waters.

• Even the American Petroleum Institute concedes that subsea systems are intended for water more than 5,000 feet deep. Florida’s coastline, within the 10 miles the state controls, runs no deeper than 100 feet.

• Another system being promoted, a floating drilling system that uses large vessels tied to subsea drilling wells instead of fixed drilling platforms, has never been used anywhere in the Gulf of Mexico.

• The only way subsea systems would be viable off Florida’s coast is if large traditional drilling platforms were built nearby or the state allowed refineries and miles of pipelines to shore. History shows that is not likely to happen. A new oil refinery has not been built in the United States since the 1970s.

Absent such changes, drilling off Florida’s coast would likely be done with traditional fixed drilling platforms rising hundreds of feet above the water. These platforms, which dot the Louisiana and Texas coastlines, have for years symbolized Florida’s opposition to drilling.

To read more...hit on the link above. The UEL has taken a position AGAINST further oil drilling. See our resolution.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Go to The Everglades Coalition Meeting January 8th or 9th

The UEL is a member of the Everglades Coalition. Although the conference goes from January 7 - 10, one day will suit most tastes. Take a ride to attend their conference in Palm Beach Gardens. It is $100 for the day if you register early (before Dec. 10th). You will learn a lot and meet some fascinating people. Here is a brief description of the event:

The Coalition's Annual Conference seeks to raise critical, timely issues for in-depth debates in an open, accessible forum. Attended by decision-makers from federal, state, local and tribal governments, agency representatives, stakeholders and a vast array of public and private interests, the conference is the largest annual forum for debate of Everglades conservation and restoration.

Here is Friday and Saturday's program so you can choose a day for the trip to Palm Beach Gardens (hit on the image and it will enlarge):

Sunday, November 29, 2009

See Senator Graham Dec. 1st Talk About Making Government Work for You

Our former Senator and Governor, Bob Graham will be at the UEL Dinner Dec. 1st to discuss his book and answer your questions. His goal for his book - America, The Owner's Manual: Making Government Work for You - is to have students identify a problem, and then walk them through each step from researching the issue, to getting others involved, to engaging the media. Each chapter starts with a real case, showing citizens tackling a step in the process, and ends with a summary checklist and a series of questions that help students put Graham’s game plan in action. By offering students concrete guidance, an array of resources, and advice for troubleshooting and overcoming barriers, this compact user’s guide gets students way beyond textbook learning.

Come hear him/speak with him this Tuesday, December 1st at the UEL Dinner!

Monday, November 23, 2009

The State Attorney, What could she have done? By Fran Bohnsack

State Attorney Katherine Rundle's staff had a hard decision to make: whether to arrest Commissioner Spence-Jones BEFORE or AFTER the election and if after, how long after? And could they also have held off on charging and making a deal with Commissioner Angel Gonzalez?

A critical error was that the City of Miami Commission was left without a quorum the way the State Attorney's office did it. If Rundle had waited on the Gonzalez case, the Commission could have made an appointment for the Spence-Jones seat, putting off the pending special election till after her trial. The way it was forced on the City, by Rundle's office, because of the City's charter it will be costing the city hundreds of thousands of dollars they don't have, and Spence-Jones, who is running again, will probably be reelected. She might have to be taken out for a second time if she is convicted and a third special election held. If there had been an appointment, with Angel Gonzalez voting, and Spence-Jones was cleared, she would just go back to the seat and the appointment would vacate. Or, if Spence-Jones had been charged 2 weeks later, the new Commissioners would have made a quorum.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Passing the Buck is not helping the City of Miami.

With 4 historic openings on the City of Miami Commission (one filled with a swearing in of Carollo), the City is scrambling to fill the remaining 3 seats (one will be decided today with a run-off election).
The Miami Herald said today:
Unable to have a quorum with only two of five commissioners in place, Regalado has asked Crist to intercede and appoint a third commissioner -- which would save Miami hundreds of thousands of dollars for an off-year election.

Crist, however, isn't budging from the stance he took last week, saying there is nothing in Miami's charter that says he should step in.

Crist removed Spence -Jones, accused of stealing funds from a County Grant and Angel Gonzalez was required to resign because of a no-show job with a developer for his daughter.

Last Day to RSVP for UEL Wednesday, 11/18 Dinner

Be sure to RSVP for our dinner today at It is our fundraiser to help us do our projects this coming year and it is a painless way to give: You get a delicious dinner and a film with your contribution! Please join us.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Runoff in the City of Miami Tomorrow

Manolo Reyes is at top and Frances Suarez below him. Suarez was endorsed by the Miami Herald. May the best man win! The seat needs to be filled to have a quorum in the City of Miami due to the arrest and removal of Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones. Commissioner Angel Gonzalez also agreed to resign today, facing charges. The only Commissioners left on the dais are Marc Sarnoff and the recently sworn in Frank Carollo. 3 makes a quorum in the City.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Just What we Don't Need: More Billboards!! by Hal Birchfield













Thursday, November 12, 2009

City of Miami Neighborhood Activists Attended the Swearing in of City of Miami Mayor Regalado.

Activists in the City of Miami were on hand to offer congratulations to Mayor Regalado yesterday. After the swearing in there was plenty of paella to go around. Neighborhoods' United Activists: Nina West, Grace Solares, Beba Mann, Judith Sandoval and UEL President Fran Bohnsack.

Elvis Cruz and Steve Hagen. Upper East Side Activists.

Fran Bohnsack with longtime Brickell Activist Tory Jacobs.

Brett Bibeau, Executive Director of the Miami River Commission.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Former UEL Board Member, Gabrielle Redfern, Makes the Miami Beach Runoff.

We are proud to announce that one of our former Board Members is in a run-off for the Group 3 race in Miami Beach against Michael Gongora. We wish them both luck in the election that will be held on November 17th. Redfern did receive the Miami Herald endorsement.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Three Events You Shouldn't Miss!

The Living Green Fair takes place Nov. 14-15 at the John U. Lloyd Beach State Park in Dania Beach. The fair will offer green product demonstrations, discussions by leading experts and activities for children. See their website.

Second, don't miss the UEL Fundraiser Nov. 18th. We try to stay on top of issues and advocate for good policy. This is an opportunity for you to support our cause while getting a great 3 course dinner at the Rusty Pelican and the opportunity to see a provocative film about Carl Fisher, and then hear a critical analysis from your friends and neighbors in the community. RSVP today at (hit on image below to enlarge it)

Third, we will be hosting former Governor/Senator Bob Graham on December 1st at the Rusty Pelican. Hold the date.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Swearing in of City of Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado.

Former City of Miami District 4 Commissioner Tomas Regalado will be sworn in as Mayor of Miami during a ceremony on Wednesday, November 11th, at 12 noon, at Miami City Hall.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Enjoy some culture with "Sleepless Night" in Miami Beach

From 6:00 p.m. on Saturday, November 7, 2009, until 7:00 a.m. the next morning, Miami Beach will stay up all night with more than 150 free arts and entertainment events presented at 80 different locations throughout the city. It is called Sleepless Night. You can find all the activities at this link.

Over 100,000 people of all ages will enjoy free museum admissions, indoor and outdoor art installations and performances, architectural tours, dance (and dancing,) theater, music, slam poetry, film, video, fashion, acrobatics, comedy and more, including several unique collaborations and South Florida and world premieres. The City of Miami Beach collaborates with every cultural institution in the city, and with numerous other organizations, businesses and individuals to ensure that Audi Sleepless Night includes all aspects and points of view of what we collectively call “the arts.” Free shuttle buses with onboard arts programming connect the four zones of activity and remote parking for the full 13-hour night.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


To all our neighbors in Homestead, The City of Miami, Miami Beach and Hialeah -- Please vote today!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Friday, October 30, 2009

To all the Jimbo's lovers in the world... by Jack King

The city of Miami and its minions never cease to amaze me. City Manager Pete Hernandez, who seems to think he is Fidel Castro and Miami is actually Havana, ordered the parks department to start charging people $5. per car for entering the Virginia Key Beach area. On its face there doesn't seem to be anything wrong with that, but like everything in Miami there is a back story from many years ago.

About 15 years ago, the city decided to charge for Virginia Key parking and everybody was on board with that program, but there was a hitch. Jimbo's, the venerable waterfront eyesore that has the best smoked fish and the coldest beer,and has more history than all of the rest of Miami, would be severely impacted.

Then Commissioner J.L. Plummer suggested, and the commission adopted by resolution the city allow anyone going to Jimbo's a waiver on the parking fee. It has been that way for years--until this year when our esteemed city manager decided to collect $5 from everyone even though the city commission never changed the resolution. In other words, the city manager overrode the legal will of the commission, and even worse than that, he did it on August 1, fully knowing that the commission would not meet again in regular session until the second Thursday in September. That way the move would be in force for at least 1 1/2 months.

This is not the first time that Hernandez, a Mayor Manny Diaz personal minion, has overruled or ignored commission action. Commissioner Tomas Regalado has been complaining about it for years, but the commission itself has had no spine to do anything about it.

And just for good measure Hernandez threw a red herring into the mix. He ordered Jimbo's to clean up the place and come into code compliance or be shut down, although no one is quite sure what the zoning on Jimbo's is.

I agree that the place could use a little cleanup, but this is Hernandez and it is not about cleanup. It's about harassment. He could have just as easily sent a city official over and had a talk with Jimmy to see what could be done and worked it out quietly. With his arbitrary move Hernandez might have opened a can of worms that he cannot close. And considering the fact that he might not be city manager much longer as mayoral candidate Tomas Regalado, leading in the polls, has vowed to get rid of Hernandez.

What Hernandez doesn't seem to know is that Jimbo's, owned by Jimmy Luznar, and his shrimp boats were a fixture at the old docks behind the property when the Miami Herald bulding sits. The city wanted to redevelop the property in 1954 and summarily ran Jimbo's off without even a kiss. Unfortunately for the city, many of the area's heavy hitter politicians, lawyers, businessmen and movers and shakers bought their bait from Jimbo's before heading out into the ocean for a day's fishing. They were none too pleased when their favorite bait shop was run off by the city.

A group of attorneys, one of whom was the late U. S. Senator George Smathers took the city to task and after several legal rounds where the city was slapped silly, agreed to let Jimbo's set up shop where they are today on Virginia Key. The other part of the deal was that Jimbo's would be give the first shot at a lease on Watson Island when the city developed that property.

That was 1954. 55 years later, Watson Island sits mostly undeveloped. I guess Jimbo's hasn't gotten the call from the city about their new lease on Watson Island.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

According to South Florida Business Journal, Don King Had an Interest in Virginia Key

South Florida Business Journal - by Oscar Pedro-Musibay

Miami City Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones has sought private investors, including boxing promoter Don King, to partner with the city in creating a destination on Virginia Key that would help to pay for operations of a planned museum.

Don King met over the summer with officials of the Virginia Key Park Trust and a Spence-Jones staffer to discuss the Key, which was once a black-only beach.

The idea of developing a hotel came up, but the suggestion never got past the idea stage, said
David Shorter, the trust’s executive director.

Although the meeting took place several months ago, King’s interest in the developing part of Virginia Key only recently came to light after an anonymous e-mail was sent to various media, including the Business Journal, that included allegations against Spence-Jones and her family.
The sender did not respond to a request for information about the motive behind the e-mail’s timing.

The commissioner, who is running for re-election, would not comment on the personal allegations, but did explain King’s interest in the key.

The e-mail included an allegation that King made a deal with Spence-Jones to give her a portion of a hotel development on Virginia Key. Spence-Jones denied the allegation and said her motivation was purely tied to helping develop a museum there and the park’s overall mission of financial self-sustainability.

“There was never any type of agreement or understanding regarding Spence-Jones receiving anything from it,” she said. “I’m not crazy. That would land me in jail.”

Spence-Jones also has connected the trust with other high-profile players in entertainment who might help the trust generate funds for the museum and other expenses.

Another person who toured the site was high-profile entertainment attorney L. Londell McMillan, who has represented Prince, Stevie Wonder, Spike Lee, Michael Jackson and Kanye West. Shorter said that McMillan suggested developing retail on the site and was going to run the opportunity by some investors, but again the conversations did not turn into a proposal.

Onetime Essence Magazine editor and current real estate investor Susan L. Taylor also toured Virginia Key. Her vision for development involved building high-priced homes there, but that would have been in conflict with a county prohibition on erosion of the area’s environment. If certain county rules are violated, development and control of Virginia Key would revert to Miami-Dade County.

“The people that come here want to not buy into the history of the facility,” Shorter said. “What they want really to do is put structures here. There is a reverter [clause] that if it is not maintained as a park, it reverts to the county.”

Not so, says Spence-Jones, who maintains there is some flexibility in the county rules that would allow restaurants, a hotel and other development to coexist with the park.

Spence-Jones said there has to be a compromise between the environment, and the financial needs of the museum and the park or the vision for Virginia Key could die.

“There are several people that I pushed through,” said Spence-Jones, referring to King, McMillan and others. “It was about anybody that I knew that had the resources, that had the contacts to assist with the Key, to help redevelop it.”

The Urban Environment League Supported the Preservation of Hialeah Park

Hialeah Park was facing a development plan when activists got active. UEL Board Member Alex Fuentes and Hialeah residents, Milly Herrara and Janet Diaz took the lead fighting the mixed use development slated for Hialeah's jewel, the horse racing park famous for its flamingos. UEL President Nancy Liebman and other Board Members met with Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina, stressing the historical significance of the park. The UEL also participated in rallies at the padlocked gates.

Mayor Robaina was given the UEL Orchid award that year for his effort to save the park.

Today, the Miami Herald reported the park is slated for a November reopening (there is a video at this link):

For eight long years, Hialeah Park was a historic landmark in hibernation -- its future in doubt, its famous Renaissance Revival architecture slowly fading away.

These days, Hialeah Park is busy. Busy, busy, busy.

Armed with its new quarter-horse permit -- and racing dates approved this week by the state -- Hialeah Park is gearing up for a Nov. 28 reopening.

The post card is from Don Boyd's collection of historical photos of Hialeah Park.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Exciting Energy Exploration/Oil Drilling Debate Tonight!

Catch it online, live, at from 7 to 9 pm.

David Rancourt, Southern Strategy Group
Terry Cunningham, Florida Grassroots Energy Forum
Hank Fishkind, Fishkind & Associates
Eric Draper, Audubon Society
Kenneth Welch, Pinellas County commissioner
David McLain, Apalachicola Bay and Riverkeeper

UEL Resolution on Oil Drilling Off Our Coast


WHEREAS, Florida’s economy depends on its multi-billion dollar tourism industry, which resulted in millions of visitors coming to Florida annually, allowing tourism to generate billions in taxable sales;and

WHEREAS, tourism accounts for a very significant portion of Florida’s revenue and many of those visitors cite the beaches as an influential factor in their decision to visit Florida; and

WHEREAS, tax revenues generated from Florida’s growing tourism industry are critical to continued funding of essential governmental services, including transportation, schools, and public safety; and

WHEREAS, the pristine beaches of the west coast of Florida require the maximum level of protection, and

WHEREAS, it is our belief that despite technological advances in oil drilling technology, there is no positive assurance that catastrophic damage to our coastline, beaches, plant and fish life could be avoided during normal operating conditions or during storm situations; and

WHEREAS, lifting the moratorium on mineral leasing in the Gulf of Mexico poses a threat to the beaches, waterways, economy of Florida, and national security:

THEREFORE, be it resolved, that the Board of Directors of the Urban Environment League of Greater Miami, oppose the approval of oil drilling in Florida’s waters in areas other than those already approved for oil leasing and oil exploration.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Max Rameau Talk Last Night. By Fran Bohnsack

The UEL had a really great meeting last night.  Max Rameau was cutting edge interesting, and a whole new group of students showed up and participated in the taping of the program.  About 50 people attended.  The room was energy charged!  Before the program someone sent me an article on Max printed in the Virginia Quarterly Review.  It was spot on in capturing Miami politics and illustrating Max's role as a change agent.  It's hard not to agree with his basic premise that "Housing is a Human Right." If you're curious, try this link.

We have also established a new policy for students who would like to join us for the dinner portion of the program: a discount of $5.00 on the meal, OR A TOTAL PRICE OF $20.  A very good deal. I heard many positive comments about the food last night as well.  It was surprising to me since I have thought that the Rusty Pelican food has been good for a very long time, but apparently some "old timers" hadn't visited the place since years earlier when they had formed a different impression.  More than once I heard these folks mention that they were "surprised and delighted"  with the fare.

We've got some good programs coming up.  Hope more of you will be able to join us.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Catch Max Rameau at The Rusty Pelican Tonight: 7:30 pm. FREE!

Get to know Max Rameau who will be speaking tonight for free at 7:30 at the Rusty Pelican on Key Biscayne (The Dinner Portion of the program is sold-out):

In response to one of the worse epidemics of gentrification and low income housing in the United States, a small group of activists in South Florida lawfully seized control over public land, and started a desperately over due movement.

On October 23, 2006, members of Take Back The Land reclaimed publicly owned land in the Liberty City section of Miami, creating the self governed shantytown of Umoja Village. In the wake of public housing vacancies, corrupt city officials and flawed federal programs, a community found the unrelenting courage to fight back. Using minimal resources such as discarded plywood, packing palettes, and tin roofs, a collective group of activists, Umoja residents, and community supporters built temporary housing units for 53 displaced residents.

In spite of police arrests, court battles, interpersonal conflicts, and the devastating fire which would reduce the village to ashes, the Umoja clan stood strong with unbridled spirits, proving the power of determination and perseverance.

This book documents the planning, development, struggles and triumphs endured by Take Back The Land activists and Umoja Village residents, and tackles the larger fundamental issues of land and power distribution in black communities.    

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Last Chance to Reserve for UEL Dinner

We are closing our reservations for the UEL Dinner at 11:30 a.m. today.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Foreclosures in the Miami Herald Today

There are at least 4 different articles on foreclosures in the Miami Herald today. It appears to be everything you ever wanted to know about foreclosures. We are not happy to see our neighbors in Homestead so hard hit by foreclosures. The UEL did preach the anti-sprawl mantra during the building boom, but this is not the outcome we expected. The Herald said:

Once dubbed the fastest-growing city among medium-sized cities, Homestead is now dealing with the aftermath of its explosive building boom...While home values across Miami-Dade have crashed, no city has been hit harder than Homestead, where one out of every 49 homes was in some stage of foreclosure in September, the highest rate in a county with one of the highest foreclosure rates in the state.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

A History of Biscayne Landing

The Urban Environment League since about 2002 onward, has long been involved with the cleanup of the former superfund site called Munisport (now Biscayne Landing). The Miami Herald, along with an article, printed this helpful history of the site.

We have yet to see any progress on the cleanup of the toxic plume under the site, which we called for (with Tropical Audubon Society) time and time again. Instead DERM allowed an experimental sugar based underground clean-up pilot study which later was proved ineffective. An above ground system was to be implemented upon the failure of the experiment but as of this writing, we are not aware of any progress.

Miami Herald Time Line on Biscayne Landing/Munisport:

1960s: Plans for Interama, short for Interamerican Trade and Cultural Center, a futuristic theme park serving as a gateway for the Americas.

1970: City of North Miami purchased 350-acre parcel out of the more than 1,000 acres that was originally planned for Interama.

1971: City of North Miami leased property to Munisport to build a recreation center with Olympic pools and golf.

1974: Instead of providing recreation, Munisport began accepting ``clean fill'' and construction debris.

1975: Munisport began accepting solid waste and operating as a landfill.

1981: Landfill shut down.

1982: Environmental Protection Agency places property on Superfund list, as one of the nation's most polluted places.

1999: EPA deems site safe for development.

2001: City solicits letters of interest from potential developers.

Nov. 2002: Development agreement between Swerdlow Group and the city.

Oct. 2004: Original ground lease.

2006: Developer Michael Swerdlow sells his interest in Biscayne Landing to Boca Developers, along with several other South Florida condominium projects.

Mid-2007: Residents begin moving into The Oaks, the first condominium tower built at Biscayne Landing.

Dec. 2007: Boca Developers misses a $17 million loan payment.

2008: Banks negotiate a forebearance agreement with Boca Developers, giving the company a chance to try to pay its debts.

April 2008: City of North Miami approves changes in development agreement to allow construction of 1.2 million square feet of commercial space.

Dec. 2008: Boca Developers misses an $80 million loan payment.

July 2008: Cerberus Capital Management takes over The Oaks I and II after Boca Developers defaults on a construction loan. The Cerberus group had provided equity financing to Boca Developers for Biscayne Landing and other Florida condo projects.

June 2009: Cerberus says it will walk away from The Oaks and turn the project over to iStar Financial, the senior construction lender.

July: iStar files a foreclosure action against BLIA Developers, the Boca Developers subsidiary that developed The Oaks. iStar will take over the 161 unsold condos.

August: Wells Fargo, acting as trustee for a commercial mortgage-backed securities fund, files a foreclosure action against Biscayne Landing. The developer owes $196.3 million in debt to the lending group.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Urban Environment League Dinner Series Begins

Urban Environment League’s 2009
Community Dinner Series & Free Program

Date: Wednesday, October 21, 2009
‘NEW’ Location: Rusty Pelican Restaurant, Virginia Key
Topic of Program: 
New Horizons of Land Activism?
A Discussion with Author/Activist Max Rameau
on Housing as a Human Right in Miami

       Max Rameau,  featured  in Michael’s Moore’s new Film Capitalism: A Love Story, led the effort to secure land for the Homeless at Umoja Village and other Miami area locations. Max’s organization, and the name of his recently published book,Take Back the Land, provides a provocative mode of approaching issues of poverty and property ownership. The UEL seeks to expand public understanding about our evolving and intersecting rights to public space, housing and employment in contemporary Miami. The interviewer will be UEL Vice President Gregory Bush.

       THE VENUE:  The Community dinner will be held at the beautiful Rusty Pelican. Cash Bar meet & greet starting at 5:45. Good opportunity to say hello to old friends and make new ones! From 6:30 to 7:30 a delicious 3 course dinner will be served at a special price of $25 (with tax and tip included)!! And the spectacular view of downtown is free! The free public program begins at: 7:30 and concludes at 9 pm.

You must RSVP for the Dinner, please contact the UEL before Oct 20 at : email uelinfo@bellsouth or phone 786-472-0011 (there is a 24 hour cancellation policy)

Want to know about Max? Background Website: 


RECAP of City of Miami Commission Meeting Regarding Virginia Key Master Plan

One of our members had this to say about the City of Miami Commission Meeting, where the Master Plan for Virginia Key was considered, and we thought we would share it with you:

In deferring approval of the proposed Virginia Key Master Plan until May 2010, the city of Miami has an opportunity to come up with a plan that better preserves the ecology, cultural and historic assets and simple beauty of the island.

The proposed plan that was before the commissioners Oct. 9 featured a shopping center, marine industrial buildings such as a massive boat storage warehouse and five-story parking garages, a large sports complex with stadium lights next to sea-turtle nesting beaches, and community/conference centers with overnight accommodations.

“We need to take a pause,” said Commissioner Tomas Regalado. “History will judge want we do with this island and we need to get it right.”

The commissioners also directed the city manager to proceed immediately with clean up of the polluted landfill site, which closed in 1978 and is the proposed location of the sports complex under the current plan. Preliminary underground testing completed this summer indicates large concentrations of ammonia and other contaminants, which may be leaching into surrounding waterways.

Still, concerns about the possibility of commercial development of the ecologically rich but neglected island dominated the public comments and commission discussion.

Commissioner Marc Sarnoff said he supports the parking garages and also is interested in creating revenue. “We have to find alternate ways of funding for the city,” Sarnoff said.

Regalado, however, recounted that preserving the island in its natural state would benefit the city’s coffers, too.

“What would Teddy Roosevelt do?” Regalado asked, recounting the conservation president who created five national parks during his tenure and enacted the Antiquities Act, which enabled the president and his successors to proclaim historic landmarks, prehistoric structures and other places of historic or scientific interests as national monuments. (Biscayne National Park was actually first proclaimed a National Monument to save the bay islands and Biscayne Bay from imminent development)

“I think he would say, if you want to make money from Virginia Key you don’t develop the place. There’s nothing else like this.”

Regalado said preserving the island’s beauty and nature and restoring the Marine Stadium would bring people from all over the world to Miami, to photograph and visit the unique wilderness island next to a major city.

“I don’t think we want more concrete, more hotels,” added Commissioner Joe Sanchez. “Given more time I think we can come up with something that’s ecologically sensitive.”

The Dade Heritage Trust and Friends of Marine Stadium made an extensive presentation on the historic stadium and updated the commissioners on the status of a pending structural assessment. One study concluded that Hurricane Andrew did not cause any structural damage to the stadium. The City of Miami closed the stadium in 1992, citing damage from Hurricane Andrew. The iconic structure was subsequently severely vandalized but has eludedefforts to demolish it. Friends of Marine Stadium seek to restore and bring back the stadium into operation for concerts and other community events.

“This is nature welcoming urbanism,” Sanchez said of the island. “Virginia Key could be our signature park.”

Friday, October 9, 2009

Virginia Key Master Plan Delayed Until May 2010.

The UEL led Virginia Key Planning Coalition scored a major though surprising victory on October 8 when the Miami City Commission voted 4 to 1 to delay a vote on the Master Plan for Virginia Key.

The UEL worked closely with a number of other organizations among them the Sierra Club, Dade Heritage Trust, Friends of Marine Stadium, the Virginia Key Park Trust, Tropical Audubon, Miami Neighborhoods United and Urban Paradise.  The effort built upon the successful design workshop held on September 26 which came up with a set of eight recommendations.

On October 5, the Waterfront Advisory Board voted unanimously in favor of the revised EDSA plan (with significant amendments proposed by the UEL). A subsequent meeting was held by Greg Bush and Ernie Martin with Comm. Sarnoff, the City manager and representatives from the mayor’s office on October 6. 

Additional efforts included meetings with representatives of the County Manager and Mayor’s office led by Blanca Mesa which included Becky Matkov, Caitlin McLaren, Greg Bush, and Hilario Candella. 

The outcome of the October 8 vote also included instructions to move forward with the landfill cleanup and bike trails on the north point area as soon as possible as well as serious attempts to continue funding for Virginia Key Beach Park in order for it to access the $15 million in county bond funding for a Civil Rights and Land Museum.  

Thursday, October 8, 2009

City of Miami Vote today on revised Virginia Key Master Plan

The City of Miami Commission will be voting today on the revised Virginia Key Master Plan. The Miami Herald Editorial Board weighed in this morning saying the revisions were not enough:

The Virginia Key Master Plan coming before the Miami City Commission Thursday is better than the version pulled from the agenda by Mayor Manny Diaz in June, but it is not nearly good enough to warrant approval. There are still too many brick and mortar projects and not enough natural features. and:

The new master plan still includes five-story parking garages, which are utterly out of keeping with the overall redesign intent. The proposed retail village and possibility of including a conference center have no public support. They appear, in fact, to be another attempt to give private enterprise a big footprint on public property.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

City of Miami Waterfront Advisory Board Voted for the Virginia Key Revised Master Plan

Miami Waterfront Advisory Board recommends changes to revised Virginia Key Master Plan; moves it forward to the Miami City Commission for their consideration

Despite pleas from the public to delve into the details of the revised plan and delay voting on the approval, the Miami Waterfront Advisory Board unanimously approved on Oct. 5 forwarding the Virginia Key Master Plan with suggested amendments to the Miami City Commission.

The amendments (made by board member Jose Fuentes) include:
*Construction of a Virginia Key "Welcome Center,"
Restoration of the Marine Stadium,
No hotels,
Creation of an "implementation committee,"
Design a comprehensive island transportation plan,
Restoration of the the mountain bike and BMX courses in the North Point area
One or two boat ramps ( either in the North Point or Marine Stadium Basin),
Cleaning up the landfill first (explore leaching of contaminants into the bay),
Increase native tree buffer areas for playing field site on landfill, and continue restoration of Virginia Key Beach areas..

The Virginia Key Master Plan is scheduled to be heard by the Miami City Commission, Thurs., Oct. 8, Miami City Hall, 3500 Pan American Drive, Miami. There is no time certain set at the moment.

Enrique Nunez, of the City of Miami’s planning staff presented the “revised” Virginia Key Master Plan, which he said was scaled back in response to community input. The previous (May 2009) version was unanimously rejected by two city advisory boards and dozens of civic, environmental and preservation groups.

The October 2009 version removes some buildings and parking garages throughout the island and opens land in front of the historic Miami Marine Stadium but retains a large dry dock storage facility and two large parking garages in the Marine Stadium basin as well as a retail shopping center now dubbed the “Marine Stadium Village.”

Nunez told the board the Marine Stadium Village will “provide access to the waterfront area.” No specific uses were identified for this “Village” though the the square footage had been reduced to 32,000 square feet, “about the size of a Publix” but interspersed among various buildings. The attached parking garage would be five stories tall.

The plan does not provide for a public boat ramp, though it presents two possible locations: next to the environmentally sensitive North Point area and in the Marine Stadium basin, where the boat ramp (now closed) has always been. The planners said reopening the existing boat ramp in the basin would interfere with the operations of the large private dry dock storage facility planned for the area.

See the "Revised" city of Miami Virginia Key Master Plan posted.

A significant number of speakers called for more details on the size, mass and use of the buildings and requested a delay in approval of the revised plan in order to build greater public consensus about the island’s future and further refine the plan with public input. They also asked for a commitment to the restoration of the historic Miami Marine Stadium and clean up of the contaminated landfill site.

Fran Bohnsack, president of the Urban Environment League, said a very successful public charette held Sept. 26 had drawn more than 100 participants who developed ideas that had not yet been incorporated by the city’s planners into the Virginia Key Master Plan. She also said the city’s Planning Advisory Board had not had the opportunity to review the revised plan.

Grace Solares, president Miami Neighborhoods United, a coalition of City of neighborhood civic associations, called for “pause and then a rewind.” She pointed out that the City of Miami budget had effectively defunded the historic Virginia Key Beach Park and if there is a dissolution of the governing trust “there will be no one to provide oversight.”

Judy Sandoval, community activist, warned: “Be very careful about voting for a plan ‘in principle’ and without details.”

Wendy Kamilar, chair of the board, called for a vote up or down on the plan.

“You can’t get funding without some sort of plan. We have to have a conceptual plan going forward,” she said.

With that, the Board voted unanimously to recommend that the plan go forward to the Miami City Commission Oct. 8 with recommended amendments.

Open Letter to Mayor Alvarez About Fraud Found in Virginia Key Contract. by Jane Walker

RE: Article today in Miami Herald: 6 accused of trying to defraud Miami-Dade County
Authorities uncovered an alleged scheme to defraud Miami-Dade County in the awarding of a contract involving a wetlands restoration project.

Dear Mayor Alvarez:

The problem with American Earth Movers using a minority firm as a front to obtain a contract, I believe, should cause us to ask the larger questions. There is a red herring in this story.

1. How is it possible that there was so much fat in the contract that this company could afford to pay a kick-back to a fronting organization?

2. How many other non-minority contractors are using these tactics inappropriately?

3. How many other contracts are bid up with extra fat?

4. What are these potentially padded contracts actually costing the tax payers?

5. What is a minority:
In the US?
In Miami Dade?
and is the use of "minority", with our demographics, appropriate?

6. How is Dade County, at large, benefiting from minority-based contract awards?

7. Is this program, indeed, actually helping minorities? If so, which ones?

All businesses started as small businesses. Most businesses in Miami Dade County could be classified as minority businesses. What are we really doing here? I am requesting that the BCC take these questions on in a public forum.

Thank you for the work you do on behalf of the county and for consideration of these comments, questions and concerns.

Monday, October 5, 2009


The announcement in the Miami Herald was incorrect.

Miami Herald on Virginia Key Master Plan to be reviewed tonight. By Fran Bohnsack

I usually think Andreas Viggluci writes clearly and well, but today's piece on Virginia Key in The Miami Herald is not up to his usual standard of analysis. I think the EDSA revision is improved, but still top heavy, and I am concerned that simply changing the name of something proposed in the original plan doesn't necessarily indicate what is intimately going to be built.

There is still concern about a hotel sneaking in, for example, either at the Virginia Key Beach Trust, or at the North Point. Also, under Miami 21 - the zoning atlas actually zones the Marine Stadium basin edge as T-6-8, which is defined as urban core, one of the highest and most dense uses in the city. This would pave the way for intensive commercial development around the basin. There are still no answers about EDSA's original proposed system of governance for the island (read developers and realtors). UEL will attempt to find answers to these questions and others, and will post them here. Stay tuned.

The Miami Herald says:

 Gone are the proposed mountain-bike and BMX trails, along with the spa building, the corporate retreat center, the aquatic center and most -- though not all -- of the hulking parking garages that gave critics of the Virginia Key master plan fits.

A significantly pared-down blueprint for the battered but ecologically rich island's makeover is now set for review Monday by the city's waterfront advisory board, before a Thursday vote at the city commission.

The Miami Herald said about our Planning Meeting:

But critics of the plan -- who held an alternative planning session last week in Virginia Key, with 100 people in attendance -- said that the revised version, while greener, still raises numerous concerns.

"I think we've come a long way. They listened, because they had to,'' said parks activist Greg Bush. "But it's still a hodgepodge. It needs to be pulled together better.''

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Virginia Key Design Workshop Pictures

Saturday, September 26, 2009 the
Urban Environment League
hosted the

Virginia Key Design Workshop
at the Rusty Pelican.
Below are some of the pictures from the event.

To View More Photos of the Event visit our Facebook Public Album.
Also Make sure to add us on Facebook: Urban Environment League

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Urban Environment League Design Workshop - Preliminary Results. By Fran Bohnsack

Here is some of the feedback that individual groups of Saturday's Virginia Key Design Workshop offered to strengthen the EDSA plan, arranged by topic.

One note -- since I transcribed some of these entries while facilitating, there are probably some important points that were made that may not have received enough attention. This is a draft document needing feedback. 

 If any participant notices an error or omission, please comment on this blog so that we can offer the public a more complete picture of our vision for Virginia Key as the cultural and environmental jewel of Miami. Generally, the more fully descriptive entries were submitted by Team Leaders. Many thanks for your help.

Look for three additional reports on:
1) Integrating Virginia Key Beach Park into the Master Plan
2) Transportation / Connectivity / Sustainability
3) The Marine Stadium Basin

Group 1 -- The Welcome Center

Although the focus of our group was specific, we had to step back for perspective. In order to locate, develop a program, and design a welcome center for the island, the opening question is “What are we welcoming people to?” To do that, an overriding concept for Virginia Key should be articulated. Upon examination of the City’s latest Master Plan, one could surmise that the concept for the City’s current plan is “all things for all people” or “something for everyone”. While these may be noble goals in some cases, the result is a plan with no focus on the uniqueness of the place. Other groups participating in the workshop did a good job at defining that uniqueness. The final result of our group’s efforts were a reflection on the whole.

The key feature of a plan for Virginia Key should be to recognize a sense of place that is environmentally sensitive, that has a carrying capacity, and that should be a model of sustainable development. It was felt by our group that ALL development on the island should be environmentally, economically and socially sustainable.

Several attributes and facilities on the island deserve to be visited – therefore a Welcome Center must be designed to facilitate the entire experience. In an environmentally-sensitive environment, an appropriate EXISTING facility should be prioritized over new construction.

The concept of the “Welcome Center” should be visible with convenient access from Crandon Boulevard to facilitate getting people out of their cars. The choice of location should also favor (1) availability of existing parking; (2) the ability to convey an overall experience / panorama of Virginia Key; and (3) connections to other transportation modes, particularly sustainable transportation networks. Sustainable transportation as defined by the transportation group included hiking, bikes, canoe/ kayaks; wind powered watercraft; Segue personal electric vehicles, alternative fuel trams, and the like.

Marine Stadium Site: Considering the above elements, the Marine Stadium seemed to be the most logical alternative as a primary Welcome Center. It is an iconic structure which has sufficient height to give visitors a panoramic view of much of the island. The story of the island’s relationship to the natural and urban environment is evident at this site, and part of the socio/cultural story of Virginia Key is told here as well. The site has significant existing parking, and as a public facility has dedicated bathrooms and concessions. The Welcome Center function would add one additional use that could help the financial feasibility of the redevelopment of this landmark building.

There is a need for an island identifier (well-designed, thematically consistent signage) positioned close to the west end of the island where the Rickenbacker bridge lands. Currently there is no notification that you have arrived at Virginia Key. We recommend a series of secondary kiosks tied to the sustainable transportation network – these would encourage visitation to other areas and facilities.

Another possible site for the Welcome Center is the open site to the east of the Mast Academy, at the intersection of the Causeway and Arthur Lamb Road. This site may also be appropriate for the expansion of Mast Academy or other compatible educational use. A pavilion at the closed (east) end of the Marine Stadium would be a desirable overlook down the length of the basin towards the city.

Other points we discussed as compatible and synergistic with the overriding concept and Welcome Center:

The Advisory Council representing Virginia Key interests, and committed to the truly sustainable development of the island, would be most appropriate forum to initially debate, then establish and maintain the quality of the concept.

Our group agreed that parking garages should be eliminated as unnecessary and inconsistent with the sustainable concept.

Our group voiced support for the completion of the Virginia Key Beach Park, as an example of the mix of social, environmental and economic sustainability that fits and helps define the sustainable concept of the island. The Museum, planned as a major new facility, should be reviewed with the emerging Virginia Key public process to facilitate synergies and improve the feasibility of the project.

The Seaquarium / RSMAS / NOAA Lab / National Marine Fisheries Lab cluster has opportunity to lead the island’s environmentally-sustainable concept. This should require the stewardship of their own resources, which in some cases may be underway already. The Seaquarium particularly could benefit from a long-range plan for sustainability – and in turn the overall island could benefit from improvements at the facility. Synergies with the other institutions on the island seem to be possible. A grand commercial expansion of this facility does not seem appropriate.

Two or three traffic circles on the Virginia Key section of the Causeway would be helpful to slow traffic and improve safety of bicycles, pedestrians, trams, etc. This would also facilitate access to activities on both sides of the Causeway.

Finally, our group agreed that the current City of Miami Master Plan process has not maximized public participation, and should be stopped until a Virginia Key Advisory Board or similar committee is created. Again, this group must be fully representative of current owners, stakeholders, and the public at large.

Group 2 -- Moving Ahead: Procedural Questions and Governance

Virginia Key is a unique gateway to Biscayne Bay and an important interface between the developed and natural environments and between the natural and social history of Miami and the present.

There was consensus that the planning process had not been sufficiently public and that the lack of real public input and dialogue has resulted in a plan that does not have the level of public and professional support required to go forward.

There was also consensus that Virginia Key is a unique regional resource and that any attempt to rush approval of a plan that does not have broad support and that is not demonstrably sustainable (environmentally, economically and socially) and coherent would place this very valuable resource at risk.

It was also agreed that this is a unique opportunity to “get it right” and to assure that short term thinking and ad hoc development does not undermine the future of this great community resource.

In order to assure that the planning and future development process for South Florida is broad based, thoughtful and sustainable now and into the future, it was recommended that the City of Miami, in conjunction with Miami Dade County, create the Virginia Key Planning and Development Oversight Board.

This Board should be comprised of a maximum of 18 members who represent the following;

Specific stakeholders (those who have an ongoing presence on and interest in the future of the Key). There should be representatives of the following institutions and organizations
  • Rosenstiel School UM and Mast Academy 
  • Virginia Key Beach Trust 
  • Rowing Club 
  • The Seaquarium 
  • Concessionaires (including all restaurants and marine-related businesses) 
  • Utilities (including water treatment)
  • Professional Experts in the following areas 
  • Architects 
  • Recreation Planner 
  • Biologists/Environmentalists (with expertise in marine, wetland and upland habitats) 
  • Historian 
  • Economist
  • Relevant Government Jurisdictions 
  • Biscayne Bay National Park 
  • City of Miami 
  • Miami Dade County 
  • Village of Key Biscayne
  • Relevant Non Profit Organizations 
  • Tropical Audubon Society 
  • Urban Environment League 
  • Trust for Public Land
  • Sierra Club

This Board should be appointed within 30 days of the establishment of the Board and charged with the following:

Within 120 days:
Establish a meeting schedule, work plan and organizational structure (including Chair, Vice Chair, and any relevant subcommittees)
Review the existing plan and background information
Conduct at least three advertised public meetings in different locations convenient to citizens and all stakeholders
Prepare a report and revised general plan to be presented to relevant municipal and county boards, including:  

i. The City of Miami’s Waterfront Advisory Board
ii. The City of Miami’s Planning Advisory Board
iii. The City of Miami’s Parks Advisory Board
iv. The County’s Health Recreation and Tourism Committee
v. The City of Miami Commission

Within 60 days after acceptance of the report and plan:  

Establish a pro-forma development budget and phasing plan  

Develop a long-term development and operational funding strategy to include: public and private grants, limited public-private partnerships,  

Develop a process for development review  

Establish a process and procedure for ongoing review and coordination of all future proposals for development within Virginia Key.  

Conduct annual public meeting to report on activities and development on Virginia Key

This Board should be appointed as follows:

Nominations shall be called for from the organizations and stakeholders listed above. From these nominations:

8 members appointed by the City of Miami
8 members appointed by Miami Dade County
1 member each appointed by the City of Key Biscayne and the National Park Service

Staff support should be provided by the City of Miami and Miami Dade County.

Group 3 -- Land Fill Area

The Virginia Key landfill comprises 124 acres of land south of the Miami Dade Sewage Treatment Plant. The landfill operated as a municipal dump from 1961 through 1978, when it closed under supervision of the EPA and a two-foot cap of clean soil was graded over the site. Materials dumped in the unlined landfill include everything from incinerator ash to sludge with some uncontrolled trash, including construction and land clearing debris, junk cars and boats, household furniture, herbicides, and medical wastes.

Some of the issues that need to be addressed before development of the land can occur include: unstable land, methane gas in the air and groundwater leaching of contaminants. A partial assessment completed in summer 2009 detected ammonia at concentrations above acceptable limits and the additional presence of aldrin, arsenic, dieldrin phenol and vanadium. The City of Miami consultant recommended further testing.

The first priority should be to assess contamination on the site and determine if and how it can be cleaned up, stabilized and made safe for human use. Testing should be completed no later than 2010, with a clean-up plan to be developed immediately, including cost estimates. The City of Miami should begin immediate investigation of available funding sources, including local, state and federal funds.

When the contamination cleanup is completed, the design principles should proceed to reflect the following:

* Development of an active recreation area located in the middle of the property surrounded by restored native landscaped buffers, perhaps with limited undergrowth on the water side to allow air movement and views to the water.
Not to exceed 20 acres or less than 20 percent of the available landfill area.
Closed at sunset with no artificial lighting whatsoever, as any artificial illumination will interfere with sea turtle nesting activities and surrounding bird nesting and other wildlife areas, including the adjacent Bill Sadowski Critical Wildlife Area.
No use of pesticides, fertilizers that interfere and harm adjacent natural areas. For example, there could be grass covered areas which could be used for soccer or football or general play such as frisbee throwing or kite flying. Two or three such areas should be rotated to allow grass to regenerate if used for soccer or football.
LEED Certified site
Small, ground level parking areas adjacent to road. Parking areas should be located next to the already disturbed/developed area-- the Sewage Treatment Facility. Parking facilities should be environmentally sensitive, permeable surfaces or other appropriate materials.
Tie in bike/hiking path that runs perimeter of island through the active recreation area of the landfill site.

Additonal recommendations and concerns:

* Impact of leaching on Florida Aquatic Preserve, Biscayne National Park, swimming beaches and all federally protected waters. EPA should be contacted.

* The area of Virginia Key north of the causeway should be largely treated as a natural area and not developed into the category of traditional parks found elsewhere in the city. The City of Miami completed a Park Master Plan in 2008, generated at a cost of over $1 million, which identifies one Central Park for Miami - the former Orange Bowl site in connection with to other area parks. Given the fact that Miami lacks park space, an overriding goal has been established that some size of park be within a half mile walk of every resident with an ultimate goal of having a park within a quarter mile walk of every resident.
Any development should be financially feasible within constraints of the city of Miami’s budget and should be accomplished with a few years in a “one-phase” plan that brings the facilities into public use as soon as possible.  

Virginia Key is a regional resource for recreation. The City should create partnerships with other municipalities, Miami-Dade County, the Miami-Dade County School Board and even, local colleges and universities, to maximize playing field sites for citizens. Specialized facilities already in existence, such as soccer field complexes, tennis facilities, football and track and field stadiums, etc...should be shared facilities. In exchange, the the City of Miami can offer unique aquatic and nature-based recreational opportunities on Virginia Key to the region. This policy eliminates duplication and needless expenditure of limited financial resources.
The city of Miami should explore alternative locations for a sports complex within its municipal borders, either on an interim or permanent basis at the following locations, to name a few:
• Orange Bowl site
American Airlines Arena land, bayfront land behind Arena that had been promised to the community as a community soccer field.
• Bicentennial Park (interim use)
• School fields.

Group 4 -- Natural Areas/ Jimbo's / North Point

Our areas of concern include or are impacted by factors:
* Pristine and delicate habitats from Hammock to Bay
* Bill Sadowsky Wildlife Area
* Turtle Nesting Beaches
* Manatee protection & calving areas
* Bird Nesting areas
* Habitat restoration/creation projects in different stages
* 21 known plants with Endangerd, Threatened or Protected status, documented by Sam    Wright of Fairchild.
* Recreational beaches
* Spoil dumping grounds and other very disturbed areas - many acres
* Spoil is an asset for dealing with Sea-Level Rise, and as a construction material
* Invasive trees and plants, including monoculture zones
* The Sewage Treatment Facility
* Jimbo's Lagoon

The leader gave a synopsis of these factors.
Cyclists comprised roughly half our group of around 12 people. Environmentalists were around a third.

Most subjects were discussed during the first session. Those covered during the second session are identified at the end.


These areas have been grouped because general agreement emerged that these two areas should be managed together. Proximity, similarities, complimentary resources and the need to minimize our footprint were all considered. Clustering services improves the economic sustainability of operations.

Laura Reynolds of Tropical Audubon Society suggested that we should address the EDSA Master Plan (October 2009 version) for Northpoint. Everyone agreed. The numbers (#) correspond to those of the EDSA graphics we referenced.

Overall Concept:
* Provide recreation within the most natural setting possible.
* Take full advantage of unique resources to create a unique Park.
* Public access to the environment is a Human Right, and people need recreation and exercise.
* Human uses should be consistent with nature, and be designed to impact the environment as little as possible.
* Pollution (run-off, light, noise, etc) should be minimal.

Entrance and Public Facilities
* Parking, rest-rooms, roads and other services should be located as far away from T1 Zones as possible to minimize impacts.
* Public roads should be limited to the Entrance Area.
* The South East Corner (near the Sewage Treatment property) is the logical site
* The Entrance should be re-worked to gracefully transit the narrow neck between the Beach on Norris Cut and the NE corner of the Sewage Treatment property.
* Use native trees and habitat to screen unsightly views
* Provide for Bikes and Pedestrians
* Self-guided interpretive signage to educate public about the site's unique natural treasures
* Trail maps, park rules, etc.
* If a Ranger Station is needed, this is the place
* Facilities should be family-friendly (see picnic area)
* If toilets are provided outside the Entrance Area, they should be composting toilets.

Perimeter Path
* Multi-use: pedestrians, joggers, slow-cruising bikes
* Pervious surface functions as a service and emergency access road
* On Bay exposures:
> Open on the Bay side for Vistas and Breezes
> Shade Trees on the Land side
> Viewing towers sited to provide visual access to T1 Conservation Areas; elevation improves visibility below water surfaces at greater distances; views of city, port, inland, etc.
> Shelter Pavilions for Educational and Recreational use sited for Breeze and View. Cisterns would gather water, Solar PV Panels power ventilation when the sun shines
> Buffers protect T1 areas.

Public Picnic Area (3)
* Reduce size of area
* Locate nearer to entrance & parking (see below)
* Create a mix of small meadows with shade trees and mini-hammocks
* Build a kids' nature trail with signage for kids, to introduce them to nature
* No conventional playground (nature provides much better facilities)

Camping (5)
* Primitive Tent Camping
* No parking in Camping Area, no RVs
* Establish guidelines for maximum stay to prevent permanent occupancy
* Smaller area than EDSA plan
* Locate more inland
* Create privacy & noise buffers around camping area using conservation areas between Perimeter Path, Mountain Bike trails, Parking, Picnic area, etc.
* Connective Paths should not lead through the Camping Area, but go around it.

Mountain Bike Trails (1)
* Bikers were the largest subset, comprising half of our group. A consensus was reached.
* Design and build approximately 4 miles of trails
* Focus on Trail Quality more than Quantity of miles
* Create large areas of habitat among the trails to maximize the natural setting
* Use available fill as a construction material
* Connect with Perimeter Path
* With so many miles of Bike Paths planned for Virginia Key, Bikers supported a plan that provides the best possible challenges in the most natural setting.

Rentals and Concessions
* Cluster most services together to make them efficient to operate
* Locate at Jimbo's Lagoon so Kayaks may be launched; rented bikes can ridden to other areas easily
* Kayak / canoe rental
* Bike rental
* Bike / Kayak Mechanic
* Bait shop (consistent with Jimbo's traditional services, not a major tackle store)
* Small food kiosk
* Bocci courts
* Maintain rustic feel and genuine ambiance of the place (don't create another Monty's or Bayside)
* Support use as set for filming
* Services could be located in outbuildings consistent with existing structures
* Footprint should be kept within existing area

Conservation Areas
* T1 Conservation Zones with limited Human Access improve and protect public natural resources.
* Naturalist-guided tours of small groups into T1 zones provide educational experience while preventing damage from over-use.
* Viewing towers (see Perimeter Path above) provide visual access.
* Buffer Zones to protect T1 Zones must be established, and measured from the inland edge of the Zones (i.e. from where the mangrove meet the shore, not from the Bay's edge). 200 foot buffers between major construction should be observed as much as possible.
* Embedded conservation areas among human use areas provide privacy and noise buffers.
* Embedded conservation areas have substantial habitat value, and corridors for animals.
* Areas with rare plants should be surrounded by conservation areas; education and recreation takes place about and around them.

Confidence Course (4)
* Not compatible with other uses for Northpoint,
* Most believe that this activity would be more in keeping with the "Team-Sports" area in the landfill zone
* Several participants pointed out that they are aware of similar facilities in Dade and Broward that get seem to get little use

Recreational Center (6)
* A Recreational Center is not compatible with Northpoint.
* Public facilities should be at the Entrance or Jimbos (see Entrance or Rentals and Concessions above).

* Caitlin MacLaren of Tropical Audubon Society, or scribe, presented a synopsis of the findings of the First Breakout Session.
* She also described the possibility of petitioning the State to enforce its own deed restrictions and findings, to take the land back from the City of Miami, and to give it to Miami-Dade County specifically to be managed by the Environmentally Endangered Lands program as a Conservation / Recreation area.

SECOND Breakout Session

Legal Protections:
* We discussed my proposal to amend Miami21 Zoning.
* All participants agreed on the spirit of the T1RE Amendment: to provide a legal framework that supports both Recreation and Conservation.
* A site
* All agreed that Northpoint should be zoned with a mix of T1 and T1RE.
* The T6-8 zoning around the Marine Stadium Basin was also discussed, and the amendment to zone it as CS was supported.

Group 7 Balancing Fiscal & Environmental Sustainability

Generally, Group 7 agreed that there should be an overall plan based on “green” parameters comparable to a LEED standard, instead of the piecemeal and commercialized approach still dominant in the EDSA revision. There was consensus that the suggested built amenities of the EDSA plan will not pay for themselves and are overdone. The parking garages are not necessary to the island’s development. Instead, a sustainable standard needs to apply to all entities on the island, which offers remarkable green opportunities to the City of Miami for making Virginia Key a showcase of cultural and environmental promise. The group proposed that Virginia Key be represented as an “environmental and cultural gem,” and noted potential impact on eco- and cultural tourism, environmental education, Green jobs training, and Green entrepreneurship.

The group agreed that the plan’s development of intensive uses for the landfill area, even though scaled back, is still too intrusive. Phases 2 through 5 of the revised EDSA plan can be eliminated from the landfill area. Most desirable would be green open space, perhaps funded by federal dollars from Brownfield monies. The same approach can be used for beach restoration by accessing the federal beach renourishment program and proceeding in a way that complements the efforts already underway by DERM. The landfill area itself could be a learning space for schools in close proximity, using volunteers for education to offset economic impacts. Volunteers could also assist with maintenance of the green space, the group agreed. Participants in the group noted that MAST Academy requires an internship before graduation, and long-term, established volunteer programs could pitch the opportunity as training for Green jobs and other environmental careers. Participants in the group mentioned the increase of interest in environment-related opportunities among participants in existing volunteer programs such as Public Allies, a program in which volunteers get to choose a 10-month-long volunteer project.

The group agreed that funding should come from all public sectors -- federal, state and local -- as well as private philanthropy, fees to offset impacts, and advertising inside the marine industry trade center. There should be no opportunities for “branding” separate areas of the Key. The Trust for Public Land was cited as a model to pursue, as well as the potential for passing bond initiatives that could assist in the sustainable development of the island. Federal grants that underscore historical, cultural and environmental emphasis should be actively sought. Non-profit organizations such as Nature Conservancy and Audubon also offer opportunities that could apply to the sustainable development of the island, as do others as yet unidentified. The public-private model for Virginia Key needs to be dropped from consideration completely, since these models put too much pressure on the resource from commercial projects seeking additional revenue.  

Public-public philanthropy should be encouraged to mitigate the impact of the sewage treatment plant, and perhaps the village of Key Biscayne could be a partner in capping the landfill for a passive ball field, for daytime use only. Generally, projects of minimal impact are most likely to receive public funding. A program to offset impacts could be introduced so that dollars are paid for current uses that are not eco-sustainable. A marine industry trade center, located next to the Marine Stadium, could serve as a resource center for stakeholders in the marine industry, promoting the most innovative technologies and resources for greening the marine industry. It could become a model for ecological sustainability to assist the area already commercialized for boating activity. The group discussed the possibility of receiving advertising revenue for exhibits of green technology within (inside) the center, thus promoting local Green entrepreneurship as well as the highest level of Green “best practices” within the marine industry.

An Advisory Board and volunteers could assist current island tenants to achieve sustainable goals.