Miami Gardens / Opa-locka

Miami Gardens

Miami Gardens approves expansions at two churches

 

ldixon@MiamiHerald.com

For two churches in Miami Gardens the third time proved to be the charm Wednesday night, as the City Council approved their applications to change their zoning from residential to neighborhood commercial after twice deferring their vote.

Representatives from Harvest Fire Worship Center, at 18291 NW 23rd Ave., and Antioch Missionary Baptist Church, 21311 NW 34th Ave., appeared before the council and had their applications on the agenda at meetings in January and last month. A vote was deferred on both occasions to allow for further conversation between the churches and the surrounding communities.

Both churches were zoned for residential use and had to change to neighborhood commercial to comply with a city ordinance and land-development regulations that were passed in 2010.

Residents in the surrounding areas voiced concerns that the change in zoning would affect their property values. And, because churches are non profit organizations, some citizens said they were concerned about more land being taken off the property tax roll.

“Churches do not pay taxes. Miami Gardens needs money, money that we get from taxes,” said Beverly Bush.

Mayor Oliver Gilbert said that he recognized that concern and also doesn’t like to see a reduction in tax income, but noted that the churches already own the land and the rezoning wouldn’t take any new property off the tax rolls.

The mayor was also vocal in his support of both churches and explained that his ideology, and the reasoning behind churches’ non-profit status, is based on the work they do in the community.

“The idea is that they’re going to give back altruistically to the community,” Gilbert said. “We have very few churches that do as much as the churches that are here tonight.”

Harvest Fire had a large amount of support at the meeting as dozens of members of the church packed the City Council chambers, wearing red shirts with the church’s logo. Bishop Donald Clarke said the church intends to use the property for an early childhood education center to teach math and for career preparation.

“This center will allow us to change the paradigm of Miami Gardens,” Clarke said.

Those opposing of Harvest Fire’s plan, including resident Ruben Burke, said they took issue with the open-ended possibilities for neighborhood commercial property in the city. Some of the uses include: banquet halls, parks, public education facilities, offices among many other possibilities.

“Once you vote tonight you’re opening up 136 categories of changes that could be made,” Burke said.

Councilman Erhabor Ighodaro, who asked to defer the vote in February, asked the city’s planning and zoning manager, Cyril Saiphoo, if the applicant had to give any notice about their intentions for the property in their rezoning application.

“When there’s a request for rezoning — particularly a rezoning — there is no requirement that you can place on the applicant to give any plans or any proposed intent,” Saiphoo said.

The mayor said that if the church plans to add anything that would require a special exception and deviates from what church indicated in its application or presentation, he will not support those items. The City Council reserves the right to grant or deny special exceptions, although not all uses allowed in a Neighborhood Commercial zone require special exceptions.

“As it comes back before us, before site plan approval and other things, you will understand the nature of that lack of support,” Gilbert said. “But, I believe that the church will do the things they say they’re going to do.”

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