Miami Dade County Community Forum

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.



  1. Leave corrections or additions here!

  2. The Seaquarium's long range plan should be to shut down, as the new Museum of Science will include a new aquarium. And that land should be returned to the County for a new park or used by UM or an animal rescue group to treat injured sea life.

  3. If City of Miami Manny Diaz is so "green" - he should agree to turn over Virginia Key to state or national park officials to run. Instead, he is proposing shopping centers, hotels and industrial marine buildings on Virginia Key. And trying to squeeze in approvals before he leaves office. What kind of legacy is that?

  4. Unless people come out to the City of Miami Waterfront Meeting and City Commission meeting next week and s object to the City of Miami's concrete plans for the island, the EDSA plan will be passed as is.
    Waterfront Advisory Board meeting, 6:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 5, City Hall
    email chair:
    City Commission meeting, 10:00 a.m., Thurs., Oct. 8, City Hall
    email mayor: