Amid fears that gentrification is coming to East Little Havana, Miami’s planning department will consider protecting part of the immigrant community by turning it into a historic district.
The city’s Historic and Environmental Preservation Board voted Tuesday to have city staff prepare a final historic designation report for the Riverview Historic District, a collection of 94 bungalows, Art Deco buildings and Mission-style homes built between 1920 and 1960. The properties are located between Southwest Third and Southwest Fifth streets, and Southwest Ninth and Southwest 10th avenues in an area the city is considering up-zoning to encourage new development.
According to Miami’s preservation office, the proposed Riverview district is a concentrated collection of homes that help illustrate how the neighborhood was cleared out of pinewoods in the early 20th century and then welcomed Miami’s earliest immigrant communities. Around 1960, the area around Calle Ocho became home to Cuban immigrants fleeing the revolution and the Fidel Castro regime. Today, it’s home to many Central American transplants.
The proposed district has gone “through many periods of gentrification,” wrote city planner Marina Novaes, who nevertheless said “it has always retained the Latin flavor introduced by the Cubans that characterizes the neighborhood today.”
Residents and activists in the surrounding area, however, are worried about gentrification in 2015. Those who attended Tuesday’s hearing argued that the city was short-changing the neighborhood by sticking to a two-block area when there were other architecturally significant structures outside the proposed boundaries.
“It’s kind of pathetic to only think of two-and-a-half blocks,” said Miami Beach preservationist Clotilde Luce, who said the city would allow the district to be overwhelmed by surrounding projects. “You would absolutely destroy the graceful scale of what you have. You would definitely kick everybody out at that point. You would lose the character.”
Miami’s planning director, Francisco Garcia, has argued that increasing the zoning for the area won’t gentrify the community, but spur responsible redevelopment in a neighborhood where buildings are falling into disrepair. He has said that creating the proposed historic district would help preserve the remaining core of a neighborhood that still draws tourists for walking tours, in part by allowing the owners of the now-historic properties to sell of their “air rights.”
Some property owners worried Tuesday that their buildings will actually lose value. Neisen Kasdin, a land-use attorney and former Miami Beach mayor, asked that the city exclude properties belonging to a client. Kasdin said the buildings didn’t belong in a historic district, and pointed out that where air rights are worth about $8 a square foot, redeveloping his client’s buildings as condos would fetch about six times that amount.
But board members moved forward with the consideration of the district. And they told city preservation officer Megan Schmitt to survey the area to gauge the feasibility of expanding the district, should it be given final approval. A report on the expansion should come back by April, around the time Miami commissioners are set to vote for a second and final time on up-zoning East Little Havana.