Miami Beach commissioners have agreed to spend about $200,000 on a traffic study to analyze the impact of a long-awaited project on Miami’s Watson Island that faces staunch opposition from Beach residents and commissioners.
Residents filled the commission chambers during Wednesday’s meeting, speaking out against Flagstone Island Gardens, a mix of luxury hotel, upscale shops and yacht marina on Watson Island. One after another, they raised concerns about traffic snarls that could be created on the MacArthur Causeway by the Flagstone project. That traffic, they believe, could gridlock the causeway enough to stifle transit to the Beach and hurt tourism.
Commissioners immediately echoed residents’ angst before they directed City Manager Jimmy Morales to pursue a traffic study from an “unbiased” firm — most likely a company from out of state. The study could have little to no impact on what gets built, but it could yield data that the Beach could try to use to pressure the city of Miami to scale down the project.
In addition, it could give the city legal standing if the two governments would need to go through a mediation process. Raul Aguila, Miami Beach city attorney, said the study would help the city determine if the project affects the public interest of Beach residents.
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“It’s important to do the study because it will helps us determine if there are significant public issues,” he said.
While Flagstone’s representatives tout recent progress on the project by Turkish developer Mehmet Bayraktar, part of the strife from the Beach stems from a series of changes Flagstone has made to its plans, including a revision as recently as December. At one point, before the latest revision, critics pointed out that plans showed an increase of 60 percent in parking and an additional 140,000-square-feet of restaurant and retail space.
Cesar Garcia-Pons, deputy planning director for Miami, told the commission Miami is still determining the process by which the city will review the modifications to the plan. In an interview after the meeting, he said it’s too early to be drawing conclusions.
“It’s premature in the fact that we have not started the review of the modifications,” he said adding that the application is not complete yet.
Meanwhile, Miami Beach Philip Levine did not mince words as he criticized the development.
“It’s an assault on the MacArthur, it’s an assault against our economy, and not just the Miami Beach economy, but the Dade County economy,” he told the Miami Herald. “Miami Beach has a few hotels, and we pay a little bit of resort taxes, everyone has noticed, that support this county. To choke off the MacArthur Causeway with a project like this is wrong fo the people of Miami Beach, wrong for the people of the city of Miami, it’s wrong for Dade County, and it’s wrong for our economy.”
Commissioner Deede Weithorn called the estimated $200,000 to be spent on the study money well spent because it could help prevent a blow to the island’s tourism industry.
“I can think of really no better use of resort tax dollars than to look at the impact, because the MacArthur Causeway is really what tourists know as the way to get here,” she said.
Brian May, lobbyist for Flagstone, told the commission that a previous traffic study done years ago showed the development would not create traffic that is beyond what is allowed on the causeway, and he said the developer is going through all the same processes any applicant would.
“The notion that the city of Miami has made this easier for the developer is absurd,” he said.
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