A year and a half ago, Miami City Commissioner Frank Carollo managed to get the city to acquire two adjoining lots on Southwest 12th Avenue at 13th Street. He thought the site would be a great place for a neighborhood park.
“Parks are good for cities,” Carollo said. “I thought this would be a no-brainer.”
But neighbors aren’t so sure. The city is trying to rezone the property from single-family residential to “civic space,” a move that some neighbors fear would open the door for future business use. The city has tentatively agreed to put a restriction on the property to prevent future business use, and a final vote is set for March 27.
The controversy also highlights the challenges the city of Miami faces in trying to address a shortage of parks. The city says the rezoning is necessary if the city is to get credit from the state, which thinks the Miami needs more parks.
At issue are two lots totaling about 10,000 square feet at 1320 and 1330 SW 12th Ave.
Nearly a dozen neighbors told El Nuevo Herald that they are not opposed to a recreation area in their neighborhood. But they said they fear the zoning change may bring other changes that would turn the quiet neighborhood into a more commercial area.
“We’re not dinosaurs and understand the importance of parks, but we vigorously oppose the zoning change,” said Erick Aracil, a real-estate agent who has lived a block away from the place for 25 years. “If Miami allows a park to be built there without a zoning change, why are they insisting on doing it?”
Aracil is right. The master plan of city development, Miami 21, would allow, under a special exemption, creating a recreation area on the site without a rezoning.
However, without a designation of “civic space” — which includes parks and recreation areas — the place could not be included in the inventory of city parks, said Francisco García, director of Miami’s Planning and Zoning Department.
“The only way that an area can be included in the park registry is if it is rezoned as a park,” García said. “And in order to comply with our own development plan and state standards, Miami must do everything possible to increase the quota of spaces designated for parks.”
SHORTAGE OF PARKS
Several studies have concluded that Miami does not have enough parks in proportion to its population and land area.
In a report grading the park services in the 50 largest cities in the country released last summer by the Trust for Public Land, Miami ranked 38th.
According to the study, the U.S. Census Bureau determined that Miami devotes 5.2 percent of its land to parks, while the national average is 10 percent. At the same time, the average size of the parks in Miami is 2.1 acres, less than half of the national average of 5.9 acres.
The lack of parks in Miami worried the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO), which evaluates the validity of every city’s development plan. DEO recommended that the Miami establish policies leading to the creation of more public spaces.
“That doesn’t mean that there would be fines, for example, if we don’t comply with their recommendations,” García said. “Yet it’s about governing responsibly. We know there is a lack of parks and it’s something we must correct.”
FEAR OF COMMERCIAL CREEP
The group of residents opposing the rezoning lives in a radius of 500 feet of the site. They feel that their proximity to the place gives them a right to decide what to do with the area.
Dimio Delgado, an architect who has lived in the neighborhood for 25 years, said that he is concerned about the change because the designation of “civic space” allows other uses to the land if in the future the city decides to eliminate the park.
“A zoning change could establish a precedent that would allow other owners or entities to demand similar changes,” Delgado said.
In light of this concern, the city agreed to place a restrictive covenant on the property, stating that in the future the only change allowed would be to revert it to single-family zoning.
Yet that is not the only complaint from the neighbors. Some say that they worry about the traffic and the possible demand for parking. Others do not like the design proposed by Carollo, which includes a playground and an area for exercise.
On the other hand, not everyone objects to the city’s plans.
Brett Bibeau, who lives on 13th Avenue, has a 5-year-old son who would love to be able to walk to a playground.
“For me it’s ideal,” said Bibeau, who has lived in the neighborhood for 18 years. “I understand the complaints from the neighbors, but it is my understanding that those concerns were resolved with the covenant added to the ordinance.”
Carollo said he has gone door to door to talk with the residents about this issue. García has also met with the neighbors and has told them that if the project is approved, their suggestions will be taken into account. But it would be difficult to reach a consensus.
“Everyone wants something different and they have to understand that parks are for all,” Carollo said. “The fact that a park is built in a certain area does not mean that it belongs only to the residents of that neighborhood.”
In a meeting held on Feb. 27, Miami commissioners tentatively approved the rezoning. The issue is set for a final vote on March 27.