In North Miami, an empty plot of land still sits where a city park was promised years ago.
Although more than $5 million was reserved for “Project 19” of the Miami-Dade County Building Better Communities General Obligation Bond, also known as Rucks Park, different visions for the property and environmental problems may keep it empty even longer.
The North Miami City Council was scheduled to discuss Rucks Park and the associated general obligation bond at its May 13 meeting, but council member Scott Galvin asked that discussion be delayed until the May 27 meeting.
The land at Northeast 137th Street and Fifth Avenue was to have been the spot for the city’s first attempt at affordable housing back in 2006, but the City Council scrapped that idea because of higher-than-expected costs. Afterward, the seven-acre site was designated for use as a new park.
But the delay of a different discussion May 13 could push back plans for the park yet again.
Mayor Lucie Tondreau was not satisfied with the idea of renovating the North Miami Public Library, and put off that conversation to suggest using the Rucks Park land as the site of a new library. She said the city needs a library to suit the needs of its growing population.
Tondreau did not return calls to her cellphone made last week by the Miami Herald. Tuesday, she surrendered to the FBI to face charges of mortgage fraud. Gov. Rick Scott suspended Tondreau from office on Wednesday because of the charges.
“I’m trying to see how we can expand the library,” Tondreau said during the council meeting. “For the size of the city, for the amount of children that goes to that library, it’s definitely too small.”
Although city Library Director Lucia Gonzalez agreed with the mayor, she said a new library could cost between $8 million and $15 million. Tondreau contended that the city should plan for its future now.
Interim city manager Aleem Ghany said money is the issue and the amount the city has put away for library renovations — $1.5 million — would be used to “repair what we have and keep everything status quo.”
The library was constructed in 1952, and was last expanded in 1985.
A $10 million expansion that Preserve Partners Ltd. agreed to pay for in 2002 did not come to fruition because the city never received the money from the developer, according to North Miami spokeswoman Pam Solomon.
“The funds pledged by Preserve Partners was one of the off-site development agreements for improvements under the original Munisport Agreement with the Swerdlow Group/Boca Developers,” Solomon wrote in an email to the Herald. “Since that agreement went null when they foreclosed on the property, the funds were never received.”
The City Council will discuss whether to pursue funding for a new library or go with a park.
In November 2004, county voters approved the general-obligation bond, a $2.93 billion borrowing plan to fund parks, streets and sidewalks countywide. The bond set aside $5 million for a facility of some kind in North Miami. It started as one to house an Olympic-size swimming pool, martial arts and fencing facilities, but was changed in 2011 “because of the community’s changing needs” to include basketball courts, a multipurpose field, playground, restrooms and parking.
As part of its agreement with the county, North Miami was to put $500,000 toward the project. That money would be used for pre-design, planning, architectural and engineering services for the final design. The county’s $5 million is for construction.
However, in February 2011 the City Council unanimously passed a measure that urged Miami-Dade County commissioners to reassign $500,000 of the project so the city could spend it immediately for the design and engineering phase, which would leave $4.5 million for construction.
The county recently made the $500,000 available, according to an update on city projects that Wisler Pierre-Louis, then assistant public works director, gave during the Jan. 14 City Council meeting.
Ghany, then the public works director, said during the meeting that the city would put out a request for design and cleanup proposals.
Cleanup is needed because the area was once the home of a waste-water treatment plant and, therefore, faces environmental issues that keep any project from getting underway immediately, according to Wilbur Mayorga, chief of the environmental monitoring and restoration division of the county’s Regulatory and Economic Resources Department.
If the city wishes to build on the land, it must follow the requirements set by the Regulatory and Economic Resources Department: properly dispose of any contaminated soil at an approved landfill, cover the remaining soil with clean fill to ensure there is no exposure to people using the site, and construct a concrete barrier. The department currently requires the city to maintain a fence to restrict access to the site.
Mayorga told the Herald that the soil has petroleum-related, arsenic and pesticide contamination, while the groundwater also has arsenic, ammonia plus some bacteria contaminants. But the city’s drinking water is safe, he said.
“The advantage of this particular area is that the drinking water does not come from the groundwater,” Mayorga said Wednesday. “There is no risk to citizens.”