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
Concessionaires (including all restaurants and marine-related businesses)
Utilities (including water treatment)
Professional Experts in the following areas
Biologists/Environmentalists (with expertise in marine, wetland and upland habitats)
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
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.
NORTHPOINT / JIMBO's
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).
REPORTING * 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.
PLEASE ADD IN COMMENT SECTION - WE WELCOME YOUR FEEDBACK!
Despite a raft of competing events – and widespread apathy- one hundred people showed up for the UEL Public Design Workshop for Virginia Key this past Saturday morning. Prominent architects, planners and residents of the city of Miami, Key Biscayne and the county all expressed their desire to see the current City of Miami /EDSA plan further refined. Although an updated version of the plan was released only on Thursday, the group assessed the latest plan and made a number of recommendations. UEL President Fran Bohnsack presided over the event. UEL Vice President Greg Bush presented an initial overview of the plans – and other background factors- underscoring the lack of city and county oversight of existing deed restrictions as well as the lack of integrated planning for mass transportation and the role of Virginia Key Beach Park.
The morning underscored what citizen activism can achieve when done in a way that is both cooperative and constructive. Despite various points of view there was a unanimous view heard in the hall that the exercise was useful - if it finds listeners among city and county commissioners and other public officials – few of whom showed up.
There were eight sessions and each of them will be issuing their written reports which will be placed on this blog in the coming days. The focus of the difference tables was as follows:
1. Welcome Center 2. Procedural Questions and Governance 3. Land Fill Area 4. Natural Areas/Jimbos/North Point 5. Transportation: Connectivity and Sustainability 6. Integrating Virginia Key Beach park into the Island Master Plan 7. Balancing Fiscal and Environmental Sustainability 8. The Marine Stadium Basin
The UEL wants to thank all the participants for taking a morning to help envision the future of this important island.
We also need people to show up and report to the Waterfront board on October 5th as well as at the City Commission, which will hear decide on the EDSA plan on their meeting on October 8th.
Here is what a participant wrote about the Planning Meeting for Virginia Key sponsored by the Urban Environment League:
I have been attending a series of community events over the last two years and noticed that the Herald had not sent anyone to cover the meeting of the Virginia Key Community at the Rusty Pelican on Saturday 26 th, as published in Friday's editorial page. I would like to present the following account:
I arrived late to the Urban Environment League's hosting of the Virginia Key's Community meeting, kindly facilitated by the Rusty Pelican on Saturday morning. The room contained all the interested parties of the island as well as members of the surrounding communities of the Roads, Brickell, Little Havana and Coconut Grove. The first round of table debates had finished when I entered the room and Frances Bohnsack brought up each table spokesperson to summarize their ideas. The second round of table discussions allowed everyone to input ideas around the room. The spokespersons again presented any new ideas and a quick strategy for the collective presentation to the City was devised, which although obvious I am not going to go into detail with.
However... I feel that it is important to express that all the parties involved were absolutely agreed on the fact that the City's plans are way off base and that the people, businesses and facilities that are Virginia Key do have a very real and comprehensive vision. They are determined to create an example of Cultural, Historic and Environmental principles for development of the island. They are working and assisting one another to achieve this. The concepts of inclusion will lead to a multi facility area that will accommodate everyone who loves to come to the Bay to relax, have fun and play. The architects of the Marine Stadium, scientists of the UM , Mast Academy and the various regional conservation groups are backed by a group of new and upcoming Community leaders like Gene Tinnie from the Virginia Key Beach Park,Corina Moebelus of Imagine Miami, Beba Sardina Mann, running for dist.3 and the ever present Ms.Becky Roper Maitov from the Dade Heritage Trust. In addition to the capable and hardworking Bay businesses that have survived for decades on the Key .
I think the City Officials should be respectful and appreciative of the professional and innovative plan that the UEL meeting achieved. The final presentation on the 5th and 8th October will be detailed, accurate and very comprehensive.
The overall consensus was that Virginia Key should become an iconic example of these civic attributes, worthy of local and international recognition and financially sustainable by nature of the Key's uniqueness and the creative talents of it's supporters.
Finally I would like to add that it was agreed that the untapped energy of volunteers for these projects will play a vital role in achieving a sustainable project development and upkeep. As we talked Gene Tinnie told us that the Park had over a hundred young volunteers planting and cleaning at that very moment. I really hope the Herald gives these kids credit for their hard work in the sun on a Saturday morning.
I hope that my recording and photographing of the growing civic movement in Miami over the last two years will help demonstrate the civic responsibility pursued by so many unassuming Miami neighbors and friends.
Help us fill in the blanks tomorrow morning at 9 am at the Rusty Pelican on Virginia Key. We will have architects and designers on hand to help you formulate your vision for Virginia Key. Don't have a clear vision? Maybe you will after this unique experience or maybe you want to just come and watch. We welcome everyone. This is a great opportunity for citizens to share input with the community.
There was a candidates forum at the Museum of Science last week for the candidates for Mayor of the City of Miami. The audience was rude, calling out and shouting down other people in the audience. It was reported that a woman spit on someone.
It is a sad state of affairs when we can't come together and respect each other's point of view. Moderator, Michael Putney could not control the behavior.
The last time the UEL saw this type of occurrence was at a forum we sponsored in North Miami Beach. It was a debate between County Commissioner Rolle and Former State Rep. Phillip Brutus. The campaign workers for Rolle shouted out during the questions and answers disturbing the listeners.
Any suggestions you might have for maintaining decorum in these situations would be appreciated.
Digging deeper, Miami may cut once-untouchable agencies BY ANDRES VIGLUCCI aviglucci@MiamiHerald.com Miami would shut down its network of NET offices, the problem-solving neighborhood outposts of City Hall, under a proposed budget that aims to close a yawning $118 million budget gap.
Mayor Manny Diaz's budget plan would also scrap the city's film office, responsible for the care and handling of cable TV's most popular summer show, Burn Notice.
And it would pull the financial plug on the nonprofit trust that runs the historic, formerly ``blacks only'' Virginia Key Beach Park, which reopened to great fanfare less than two years ago after a multimillion-dollar restoration.
The three agencies are among several city or city-supported programs targeted for outright elimination by the administration's budget writers, who have also recommended deep cuts in police, parks and other municipal services.
Those ``zeroed-out'' programs could still see at least some of their funding restored by the time the city commission finalizes the budget Thursday, subject to ongoing negotiations one commission aide called ``very fluid.''
But the fact that some agencies once seen as sacrosanct were singled out for no money illustrates the depths of the financial crisis besetting the city. Even if commissioners adopt Diaz's $511.4 million budget in its entirely -- an unlikely scenario -- it would still leave them with a $28 million hole to fill.
``People have to realize that the budget crisis in the city of Miami is much deeper than in the county, which is getting all the attention,'' said Dario Moreno, director of Florida International University's Metropolitan Center who has conducted campaign polling for Diaz. ``That's almost one-eighth of the budget that's disappeared. Their situation is dire.''
The political and practical difficulty of the choices couldn't be plainer than in the case of the Virginia Key Beach Trust, backed by much of the city and county's black leadership, or the proposed elimination of the NET offices, popular in many areas where a trip to City Hall is nearly inconceivable.
Virginia Key Park administrators and trust members spent much of last week in meetings at City Hall with administrators and two key commissioners, Marc Sarnoff, whose district includes the city-owned beach, and Michelle Spence-Jones, whose district encompasses most of the city's black neighborhoods.
APPEAL FOR SUPPORT
Spence-Jones said through an aide she wants some continued funding to the Virginia Key trust, to allow the group time to become self-supporting. She also strongly supports the continued operation of the NET offices, at least those in her district, the aide said.
Trust leaders say cutting off all $1.3 million in city funding so abruptly would jeopardize the park's future as well as other funding, in particular $20 million in bonds earmarked by the county for a planned museum focusing on the ecologically rich site's social and natural history.
``We were a bit blindsided. Our staff would be wiped out and all operations underway would grind to a halt,'' said trust Chair Gene Tinnie. ``The cost of the disruption to the taxpayers could exceed what's being saved.''
Other smaller city offices would also be eliminated by the budget plan, including the mayor's Office of Sustainable Initiatives, which coordinates environmentally friendly ``green'' programs and the Community Relations Board, as well as $750,000 for festivals and $1 million for parks and green space acquisition.
Among agencies facing a total shutdown, the loss of NET offices would be likely the most widely felt by city residents. Eliminating the agency would save $4.5 million and cost 49 city employees their jobs, including some members of the city's much-praised homeless outreach teams, which are managed and partly funded by NET.
The 13 NET offices, created in the 1990s at a time when City Hall came under intense public criticism for neglecting its neighborhoods, function as one-stop shopping for residents seeking municipal services, permits for tree cutting or block parties, or help with complaints ranging from potholes to noise and trash dumping.
NET officers also function as troubleshooters, monitoring neighborhood conditions and coordinating deployment of crews that clear illegal dumps, said NET administrator David Rosemond.
Support also runs deep for Virginia Key Beach, for decades during segregation the only one open to black Miamians and later closed for more than 20 years. It was revived after a 10-year campaign led by the late Athalie Range, the city's first black commissioner, spurred by plans the city floated to turn it over to private development.
Trust leaders say they now fear the same concept may be in the offing again, as city administrators urge them to explore ``partnering'' with developers to establish overnight accommodations or other profit-making ventures.
``We have had very casual and perfunctory conversations about this,'' Tinnie said.
``I'm not opposed to talking to private interests, but we have a vision. It's as if I'm hearing no kind of understanding of the idea that an open natural space is an economic asset in and of itself.''
$1 MILLION AT ISSUE
The trust oversaw renovations and runs the 82-acre park, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. This year it supplemented city funding with nearly $1 million in income from donations and parking, concerts, festivals and rentals.
But those events would end without the staff to run them, trust administrators say. The city money helps pay for a staff of 15 full-time employees to maintain the beach, plan and manage ongoing renovations and the museum, and run history and nature tours.
While the beach would not close, its operation would be taken over by a parks department that is already stretched thin and is itself facing a 25 percent budget cut.
At least one ``zeroed-out'' agency doesn't face folding, however. The Bayfront Park Trust, the semi-independent agency that runs the downtown park, earns most of its $3.6 million budget from paying events. Its finances were recently shored up by a deal with Live Nation to manage its popular amphitheater. The concert promoter put up more than $2 million to renovate it.
The budget plan would cut the city's entire $585,000 contribution to the park, which would force cuts in services, pay rollbacks and frozen positions, said Bayfront trust Director Timothy Schmand. Even though business has been down because of the economic downturn, Schmand said he will seek more paying events to compensate.
``One of the beauties of being Bayfront Park is we have the ability to make money. We're optimistic,'' he said.
Just when the County Parks are being used the most, their budgets have been cut. Yesterday we took pictures of picnics in Miami Dade County's Greynolds Park (from a distance so privacy was respected). Even though the day was muggy and stifling hot, every pavilion was full, hosting a party and the park was active with people everywhere. Children were gleefully jumping out of cars to join the picnics in process. There were people speaking German, Spanish and we even saw an extended family sporting Middle Eastern dress enjoying the park (second photo). People cannot afford expensive vacations so they are using the parks more. As you can see in the photos, these were not pictures of rented pavilions but just of family groups at tables.
Virginia Key Under Threat, by Joe Wilkins Miami Monthly, September 2009
Huck Finn had the Mississippi River. Jim Hawkins had Treasure Island. I had Sewer Beach, and never felt cheated at all. Sewer Beach, better known as the ocean side of Virginia Key, and the other areas surrounding the Sewage Treatment Plant, were where I spent some of the best parts of my misspent youth. It was the perfect place for a kid to explore, escape and make mischief. Today, like many of our natural treasures, it is under a serious threat.
A while back, the City of Miami spent a million dollars of your money to hire the international design firm EDSA to devise a plan for the future of this area. They held several well attended community meetings, allegedly to gather public input. When the plan was unveiled early this year, it stunk worse than the input to the treatment plant.
I was at one of the meetings, and have talked to folks who were at the others. The community’s consensus was that VK should be restored and preserved for passive nature appreciation and education. This consensus was ignored. The plan called for multiple unneeded buildings, numerous paved parking lots, and many other intrusive facilities.
Among other things, the plan recommends putting athletic playing fields on top of a toxic dump. We definitely need more recreation facilities for our children, but these should be in the neighborhoods where the kids actually live. DERM is studying how to best clean up the site, but I explored the landfill when it was still in operation and have my doubts. I know what is there, and would not recommend a parent to let their children play there unless they favor having three-headed grandchildren.
The EDSA plan also calls for buildings that would block the view from the road of the Miami Marine Stadium, a criminally neglected architectural and historic landmark. A proposed marina would destroy the unique world class rowing course used for many years by the Miami Rowing Club for training and competition. The plan’s parking lots would create a very car oriented facility; completely ignoring the need for “green” public transportation, and adding to the existing traffic nightmares on Rickenbacker Causeway.
The plan immediately drew outrage from just about every environmental and community group in town, including the Sierra Club, Audubon Society, Urban Environment League, Dade Heritage Trust, Miami Neighborhoods United, Friends of Virginia Key, etc. It was unanimously rejected by the city’s Waterfront Advisory and Planning Advisory boards. It was supposed to go before the city commission in July, but Mayor Diaz wisely took it off the table; hopefully giving us time to come up with an alternative community plan that really reflects the wishes and needs of the community.
There are other problems with the plan, too numerous to mention here. When the mayor’s term ends in November, hopefully so will his “no green space left behind” policies. With any luck, the next administration will understand that we don’t need any more buildings and parking lots in our parks. What we need are places for kids of all ages to enjoy our unique natural environment.
August 28, 2009 To: Mr. Larry Spring Chief Financial Officer, City of Miami
It has come to my attention from multiple sources that you and other city administrators have visited individual members of the Board Trustees of the Virginia Key Park Trust and suggested that they propose the development of “overnight accommodation” or hotel facilities on or near the historically black beach. A meeting between several stakeholders with the City Manager on August 24 confirmed that such an arrangement is being given serious consideration, using the pretext that there were cabins there before – that have long since vanished. What an abuse of the notion of historic preservation! Using the Sunshine Law to thwart a public process, even if the board agreed to such an arrangement, is a problem when the intent is clearly to subvert the public purposes of the park. It appears to me that the City Administration is quietly threatening the Trust that County Bond money could not be accessed to help build their Civil Rights Museum unless revenue from a hotel is factored into the equation. Further, it promotes the notion that this proposal should appear to come from members of the Trust rather than from the administration. I would ask you to cease and desist your role in altering the public purpose of the beach that has long been fought for by many members of the community – black and white. Miami has a long and sad history of ignoring deed restrictions in the public interest and of using a variety of tactics to denigrate or erode public land and transfer it to private interests. In 2009, in the era of Barack Obama, instead of creating an open public process and finding creative solutions within an overall Master Plan to promote public use of public land, this City Administration is using sleight of hand and backroom pressure tactics to do the bidding of private developers. The city has also long sought to use African-American spokesmen to deliver the message that development was necessary, indeed inevitable for this beach. You should be aware that your actions are thus part of a longstanding cynical pattern to erode the purpose and use of public land in the city of Miami. Some historical background is instructive: -In 1945, Lawson Thomas and others instituted the first significant civil rights demonstration in postwar America, protesting the fact that African-Americans had no place to legally swim in Biscayne Bay. Their actions stimulated the County Commission to create Virginia Key Beach, a segregated space that became the major gathering place, a place of great pride and powerful memories for African-Americans for years – until desegregation opened up all beaches in the 1960s. -As you may know, there are very specific deed restrictions that were created for the park. In 1982, when the County transferred the park to the City of Miami, language in the deed was created that said that the park should be used “for public park purposes only” or it was supposed to revert back to the County. -Sadly, the park was promptly shut down after the transfer and neither the city nor the county followed up to provide any oversight of their own clearly stated deed restrictions- FOR SEVENTEEN YEARS.(Other deed restrictions related to the Marine Stadium have also been ignored and set that structure up for failure since Hurricane Andrew.) Again, there is a pattern to the erosion of public space that has become quite obvious to many of us who have studied these issues over the years. -In January 1999, development interests allegedly connected to the Seaquarium tried to railroad the city’s Ad Hoc Task Force on Virginia Key to allow them to proceed with building an upscale Eco-Resort in the abandoned park, an action that would effectively snuff out the public from using the park. That proposed development and the lack of any alternatives considered - was the basic impetus goading many of us into creating the idea of the Civil Rights Museum in the first place, an effort led by many leading citizens including M. Athalie Range, Enid Pinkney, Eugenia Thomas, Dinizulu Gene Tinnie and others. -In May, 1999, Commissioner Arthur Teele met with Ms. Range, Mr. Tinnie, me and several others in assessing the future course of the growing movement to define the future use of that park. I well recall that he specifically warned us that hotel interests were lined up to try to take over parts of Virginia Key for extensive commercial development. Every developer knows its cheaper to get public land for their hotels - you only need to secure three votes from the commission. He decried that condition. The late Commissioner Teele as well as Trust Chair Ms. Range would have been appalled at the altered public purpose of the commercial development of Virginia Key Park. As you may know, the Beach has been a historically designated and sacred place in the modern history of the African-American community. Religious ceremonies and baptisms have taken place there. Martin Luther King frequently visited the park during his visits to Miami in the 1960s. Miami has a weak enough sense of history and place identity without this beach and the structures in it being overshadowed by inappropriate commercial development. Miami’s pattern of bowing to developers rather than respecting and enhancing the value of its historic public spaces is also part of a national pattern: similar incidents are taking place around the nation as civil war battlefields and other locations are being threatened by shopping malls and other forms of commercial development, permanently altering the character of historically significant locations. The public has been aroused against such unwarranted development time and again and will do so in relation to Virginia Key Park if further attempt to promote such development take place. It is clear that the fiscal crisis of the city is being used as an excuse and battering ram to change the purpose of Virginia Key Beach Park by initiating a rush to development behind closed doors. Why should public parkland be the victim for the poor financial management of the city administration? Miami has a long tradition of allowing one limited commercial interest to gets its nose under the tent of public land and then turning around to find the entire character of the place permanently altered. Look at Watson Island. Look at Miami’s downtown waterfront. There is barely any parkland left. The state Internal Improvement Fund and the County have conveyed public land to the city on numerous occasions over the years with the clear intent that it be used only for public purposes. The city has consistently undermined such precise language about the public interest while oversight of the State and County has been inadequate over the years. That condition should cease. Our civil rights to public space are clearly under attack in contemporary Miami, a city repeatedly shown to have among the least amount of public park space of any major city in the nation. The city’s disregard for an open public planning process (witness the fervent opposition to the current EDSA Plan) and the relentless actions on behalf of development interests should give you great pause. Solar panels placed on a large array of foolish parking garages envisioned for the island that has no plan for mass transit connections make a mockery of the green visions of city leaders. There needs to be a broader public planning effort in the coming months to finalize the vision for this island. Towards that end the Urban Environment League, the Friends of Miami Marine Stadium, and many other organizations are planning to have a public design workshop on Saturday September 26 at the Rusty Pelican. We want to help the city with this final phase of planning after the questionable efforts of the ERSA plan that was pushed forward at an unreasonable rate in May and June of this year. I trust you will reconsider the parameters of your meetings with Trust members and think deeply about your role in the larger picture of the public’s interest. Sincerely, Gregory Bush,
This is a news report from the St. Pete Times of two women who persevered and used the system to their advantage. It shows that citizens in Florida can make a difference! Their efforts stopped an 800 home development in Marion County and yesterday Governor Crist and the Florida Cabinet agreed with the women: There was no need for the development in Marion County.
We, at the UEL, looked at the City of Miami’s Master Plan for Virginia Key — with a half dozen parking garages and we said to ourselves: WE CAN DO BETTER!! But we need your help!
URBAN ENVIRONMENT LEAGUE
VIRGINIA KEY CHARETTE
Public Input to Redesign the Master Plan for Virginia Key
Come help us help the city create a first class plan and show how citizen input can make a positive difference in South Florida.
Saturday - September 26, 2009
At the Rusty Pelican
3201 Rickenbacker Causeway
9:00AM to 1:00PM
Please let your friends know about this event so that we have a large turnout. For further information, contact the UEL at email@example.com VOLUNTEERS NEEDED, to volunteer for this event please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
What does it take to open a two-block stretch of public baywalk in Miami Beach? Apparently a battalion of attorneys, a convoluted and costly court case that alleges fibbing by a well-known architect and a prominent lawyer, and a peeved federal judge.
Twelve years after the developers of the Flamingo South Beach residential complex on Biscayne Bay seemingly promised Beach residents a public baywalk in exchange for permits to build a massive tower, they have finally agreed to open it.
But it took more than a year of litigation, with at least seven lawyers on each side, after the developers balked at opening the baywalk, contending they thought the city wanted a private promenade. The Flamingo then failed to produce the documents that would have cleared up the question in court, claiming they were missing.
Only some of the records weren't really lost, prompting U.S. District Judge Cecilia Altonaga to call the developers and their attorneys ``obstructionist and careless'' in a strongly worded order.
The case put Flamingo architect Bernard Zyscovich and lawyer Lucia Dougherty under the microscope. The city found e-mails between Zyscovich and Dougherty that its attorneys contend show the two concocting a scheme to avoid acknowledging they knew the baywalk was to be public.
We at the Urban Environment League thank the City of Miami Beach for pursuing this on behalf of the public.
Monday September 14, 7-9PM, Mayoral Candidate Forum Friday October 9, 7-9PM, Commission District 3 and District 4 Candidate Forum All events will take place at Shenandoah Park Clubhouse 1800 SW 21st Ave.
Miami Shenandoah Neighborhood Association is sponsoring the event. They say:
Come to hear our prospective new leaders’ plans to enhance the quality of life in our City and in OUR neighborhood. You can ask the candidates questions relevant to what is most important to you…your home and your community.
Just as Miami Dade County did, the City of Miami voted to keep the tax rate flat. The Miami Herald said about the budget meeting:
Taxpayers flooded Miami City Hall Thursday for the first of two budget hearings -- a meeting so volatile a screaming match broke out between a commissioner and the mayor.
The City of Miami has a $118 million budget gap - not even close to the County's half a billion gap. The vote for the flat tax was unanimous at the City because Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones, who wanted a delay, left the dais and did not vote.
If the Commissioners go with Mayor Diaz's proposed budget, the gap will be more manageable, only $28 million.
Public input meeting to redesign the master plan for Virginia Key will be held: Saturday September 26, 2009 at the Rusty Pelican, 9am- 1pm
Virginia Key is a 1,000 acre island off the coast of Miami that has long been a hodge podge of land uses. It is an island without a plan. No one lives there. Our Virginia Key Planning Coalition needs help in helping the city design a viable plan to make this island into a place we can all look to with pride in the coming years. It could be a thoughtful, well conceived and environmentally sensitive island that serves the needs of all residents and is a viable attraction for tourists as well.
For the past few years, the city has tried to design a Master Plan for the entire island. It hired the planning firm of EDSA to oversee the process but their plan, presented this past May, ran into unanimous opposition from the City’s Planning Advisory Board and the Waterfront Boards. It desperately needs the publics help.
Major concerns have been expressed about the need to retain the Miami Marine Stadium, an historically significant structure, and make it a viable venue again. Others strongly dislike plans for a huge sports complex in the old land-fill area in the center of the island. The plan has not addressed mass transit concerns, nor has the historically black beach been adequately integrated into the overall plans. Most observers are not opposed to all commercial development nor all aspects of the EDSA Plan but believe that allowing high rise hotels and a theme park atmosphere would seriously damage the fragile –though disturbed- eco system that exists on the island. This is a unique tropical island that should not be overbuilt like Watson Island.
Recently, the Urban Environment League, the Friends of Miami Marine Stadium, Miami Neighborhoods United, the Sierra Club, Tropical Audubon and numerous other organizations, have agreed to work with the city in trying to forge a new consensus behind a Master Plan for the island.
WE have been able to secure a large room with a great view at the Rusty Pelican for September 26, 2009 as a venue for a public design workshop to come up with a set of drawings to put into consideration to the City Commission in the coming months. No experience necessary. Give us your visions. We expect to have several break-out sessions where the public will be invited to address (1) the marine Stadium basin (2) the landfill area (3) natural areas such as at the Northpoint/Jimbos area and (4) island wide transportation and thematic integration between the Virginia Key Beach Trust, educational and commercial interests, (5) South Va Key spaces such as Rosenstield School, Hobie Beach and the Seaquarium.
The public is ensourgaed to attend this design workshop. Speak out. City and County residents are welcome because many of the parcels on the island are owned by both entities. We are looking for architects and planners, students and everyday folks to volunteer their Saturday to help put Miami on the map as a city in which democratic planning can help create a better place. If you have professional standing as an architect or planner, and like credit for your work, please contact Jorge Hernandez at email@example.com
For further information, contact the UEL at firstname.lastname@example.org Phone: 786-472-0011.
Help us help the city create a first class plan and show how citizen input can make a positive difference in South Florida. Please let your friends know about this event so that we have a large turnout and can send a signal that people care about this place. Please distribute this flyer to get as many people out as possible.
Although it has to go for a second vote, the zoning overhaul in the City of Miami, called Miami 21 passed. Commissioner Tomas Regalado was the only NO vote. The next big vote will be the Virginia Key Master Plan. There will be an important meeting September 26th so save the date.
Dawn Shirreffs, Florida Program Coordinator for Clean Water Action and Clean Water Fund gives testimony at a South Florida Regional Planning Council sponsored meeting on power lines for the expansion of the nuclear facility at Turkey Point.
The Urban Environment League’s Board is composed of knowledgeable people who have dedicated years of activism to our shared community. We have spent considerable time deliberating FPL’s plans. For reasons that are clear in the “WHEREAS” clauses, our resolution suggests that the proposed power lines be placed underground with a cost absorbed by all users (not just Miami-Dade residents), and that the county build its own underground transmission system to lease it back to FPL for a fee to cover capital and operational costs.
The SFRPC, at a previous meeting of their board, did NOT approve the power lines for FP&L saying more information was needed from the Corporation.
The UEL joined with others last night, including South Miami and Pinecrest, asking that the high tension lines be placed underground. The spokeswoman for FP&L, during her powerpoint, said the company would not do underground wiring. There was no responses from FP&L after the initial presentation.
Tropical Audubon Society is holding a meeting about the expansion at the Pinecrest Library, 5835 SW 111 Street, on September 24th at 6PM. If you have questions call TAS at (305) 667-7337.
The Comprehensive Plan updates that the State of Florida must approve for Miami Dade County are coming due. They are called the (EAR) Evaluation and Appraisal Report.
I attended Monday night's EAR workshop and spoke about these issues: maintaining the UDB, development in the urban core, the watershed study, future plans for FPL and protecting the Miami River as a working river. Many others underscored these issues as well.
The planning staff was pretty up front about focusing on the unincorporated area at this time, but suggested they would move to urban areas later in the process.
The History Press (www.historypress.net) of Charleston announced that it’s newest book, SUNSHINE, STONE CRABS AND CHEESECAKE: THE STORY OF MIAMI BEACH, written by noted Miami-area author and historian Seth H. Bramson, will be available for purchase beginning August 31st, 2009. With a full color cover, 160 pages and 199 photographs, SUNSHINE, STONE CRABS AND CHEESECAKE is only the fourth Miami Beach book ever written by somebody who grew up on, lived on, went to school on and worked on Miami Beach and is Bramson’s second dealing with his hometown. Unlike most books on the famous resort city, more than 90%of the photographs in SUNSHINE, STONE CRABS AND CHEESECAKE have never before been published and the information that Bramson brings forth for the first time on various individuals, events and places on Miami Beach will prove to be revelations to the serious local or American resort historian.
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The Urban Environment League does not endorse all the views on this blog. This is a forum for open dialogue for members of our community, including UEL Board Members, that may have differing views from that of the Group.
The mission of the UEL is to support environmentally responsible development including protection of the waterfront, public places, and historic and natural areas in urban Miami-Dade county by using advocacy, action, education and engagement in governmental planning and political processes.
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