Seven months ago, Palmetto Bay Village Hall staffers asked a volunteer task force of architects, urban planners, bankers and other specialists to come up with a plan for a village downtown east of U.S. 1 in the Franjo Road area.
In December, the 40-member Downtown Redevelopment Task Force brought the council a plan for the project’s first phase, but at least two council members have reservations about details of the proposal.
The task force proposed an ambitious plan including restaurants and entertainment, shops, offices and condominiums mixed together in a manner reminiscent of South Miami’s Sunset Place. The village would create new regulations and would upgrade streets, sidewalks, lighting, water lines and other services to accommodate the project, while private developers would design and erect the new buildings.
The Village Council has endorsed the concept in principle. In September, the Council budgeted $2.8 million for this fiscal year for downtown redevelopment.
But two months later, the council asked Ed Silva, director of the village’s Department of Building and Capital Projects and staff adviser for the task force, to withdraw a request to spend $40,000 of that money for a traffic impact analysis study.
Silva said the committee’s volunteers feel they have been getting “mixed messages” from the council.
“What I am here asking for is to spend some money on a traffic study, infrastructure and a code rewrite, so that we can have developers understand that we do mean business,” Silva told the council at a recent meeting.
And the longer it takes for the council to decide on these items, the more frustrated task force members become. Task force members are becoming discouraged, Village Manager Ron Williams said.
“You’ll notice you don’t have as many task force members in here tonight than you had the other night,” Village Manager Ron Williams told the council at its recent meeting. “The point is we are getting there. Fast.”
But Vice Mayor John DuBois and Councilman Patrick Fiore recently raised some specific concerns about the task force’s plans.
Both men say they want to see more details about how the tax money set aside for the project would be spent.
Fiore said he would like to see a list specifying “here’s the money we are going to spend on a traffic study, here’s the construction bid we are putting in for the sidewalks.”
“I don’t think anybody is saying that the project should be pulled back,” Fiore said. “But there’s a lot of questions that have to be answered.”
“I haven’t seen the numbers, so I don’t know how much will come from village of Palmetto Bay taxpayers and how much will come from private outside investors,” said DuBois at the recent meeting.
DuBois also wants the village to hire an outside “unbiased” consultant to opine on the task force’s plan, said DuBois.
“All the people in the task force may not have a financial interest in the project, but they are biased in terms of the hours of work they have invested in it. It’s hard to call your baby ugly,” DuBois told the Miami Herald. “An unbiased third party will get paid regardless if he says the project will work or not.”
That sentiment has not been popular with task force members.
“We don’t need some outsiders coming in and telling us what we already know,” said task force member David Zisman.
“If I were in their shoes, I would want a third party’s validation,” DuBois responded later during the meeting.
DuBois has said that he will host a monthly town hall meeting to discuss the project.
“I am not going to let you off the hook,” he told task force members at the meeting. “Maybe the other four will. And if nobody wants to listen to me, I’ll be there alone in my town hall meetings.”
The first such meeting will be held at 5 p.m. Jan. 6 before the regular council meeting at Village Hall, 9705 E. Hibiscus St.
The task force is proposing a two-phase project. The first phase extends from Southwest 184th Street north to 174th Street.
It would include entertainment, residential, office and medical districts as well as a community hub and an extension of Palmetto Bay Park. The larger park would serve as a buffer between the multi-story residences and offices planned for downtown to the west and the existing suburban neighborhoods to the east.
Silva has said that creative architecture and careful planning would accommodate more residents without the need to construct imposing condominiums. For example, a tiered design — with higher stories set back further from the street than lower stories — and street landscaping would avoid the concrete canyon effect.
In addition, “when we have services that are close to home, it actually reduces traffic,” said Silva at a recent presentation of the task force’s plan. Residents could walk instead of drive to the grocery store.
The task force has been touting an, “if we build it, they will come,” concept for the project. While the village would have to invest in infrastructure improvements and planning, such as traffic studies, roundabouts, sidewalks, lighting and a re-zoning of the area, developers would come in to make the larger investment into building the condos and restaurants, according to the task force.