The City of Miami set commendable goals when it enacted its newest zoning laws, called Miami 21. According to the city, Miami 21 “provides a clear vision for the city that is supported by specific guidelines and regulations so that future generations can reap the benefits of well-balanced neighborhoods and [a] rich quality of life.”
Unfortunately, the city frequently fails to enforce Miami 21. The latest and saddest example is allowing construction to commence on a trolley maintenance center in Coconut Grove so that a private developer, the Astor Companies, can create a lucrative mixed-use project.
According to a Jan. 18 letter from Astor’s lawyer, Mario Garcia-Serra, the maintenance center is “respectful of its surroundings and nearby areas” and will beautify the area. But the only way to believe that is to think, as Garcia-Serra wrote, that the land has been largely inactive. This is not so.
If allowed to be fully constructed, the proposed maintenance center would be on Douglas Road north of Grand, between Frow and Oak, in the middle of one of the Grove’s few major thoroughfares and at the heart of the West Grove community. This is a protected historic neighborhood under Miami 21. Bernice’s was a popular restaurant that operated on Douglas for 25 years, while Frow and Oak have long been a mecca for the Grove’s children, who like to play on what until now have always been safe side streets.
Even if the landowners received market value for selling their property to Astor, no one had the right to sell out this lively neighborhood.
Inexcusably, there wasn’t even an adequate debate before the city betrayed the Grove. Contrary to Astor’s claims, homeowners next to the construction never received notice of Astor’s desire to obtain a warrant, which would have described what Astor was trying to build. Nor was Astor obligated to go through the process of obtaining waivers from Miami 21, even though its plans violate zoning. Instead, the city issued permits to Astor without requiring that it provide notice of non-conforming plans and without holding a hearing where the public would have had the right to participate.
On its website, the Astor Companies claim to “take pride in providing families with the best possible new housing experience.” Clearly Astor never met the families who live in the Grove.
Shame on the city for allowing its own zoning laws to be flouted so that construction could commence on a facility that will do nothing to foster a strong, sustainable community. Until the city protects its citizens by consistently enforcing Miami 21, none of us should assume that well-balanced neighborhoods and a rich quality of life are in our future.
Sarah Hélène Sharp, Coconut Grove