Miami-Dade County

Critics of Midtown Miami Walmart plan appeal planning director’s decision

Opponents of Walmart’s plan to build a store in Midtown Miami filed an appeal with the city’s Planning Department on Tuesday, arguing the 203,000-square-foot project doesn’t conform with neighborhood design standards.

The seven-page appeal filed by attorney Paul Savage on behalf of several local business owners and neighborhood activists argues that the giant retailer’s plan has too many large blank surfaces and disparate architectural styles on the exterior walls, and that the parking structure setback doesn’t meet Midtown’s requirements.

“In bringing this appeal and alleging the project’s non-conformity with the governing code requirements, the appellants stand on the shoulders of the learned members of the Urban Design Review Board,” Savage wrote. The city’s architectural advisory panel rejected the plan in February when it determined that improper screening would be used to cover parking garages on the second and third floors.

City Planning Director Francisco Garcia moved Walmart a step closer to construction two weeks ago, when he determined the company’s plan met local land and development regulations. He set a number of conditions Walmart must abide by before building, including filing final construction plans, replacing uprooted trees, and not allowing delivery vehicles to enter Midtown Boulevard from Northeast 31st Street.

The three-story structure would have 577 parking spots on the second and third floors, and ground level retail. It would be built between North Miami Avenue and Midtown Boulevard, and between Northwest 29th and 31st streets.

“They have complied with the minimum set of requirements,” Garcia said.

Since opponents of the plan filed the appeal within the 15-day window of Garcia’s decision, they have the right to a hearing before the city’s Planning Zoning & Appeals Board, likely in October, said Acting City Manager Daniel Alfonso. City Manager Johnny Martinez hasn’t returned to work since suffering a stroke more than a month ago, but Alfonso said he’s expected back for September’s budget hearings.

Alfonso said he expects a final decision to go before city commissioners, probably in November, since both sides have another right to appeal any decision made by the zoning board.

Last week, anticipating the appeal led by mortgage broker Grant Stern, Walmart’s director of communications, Steven V. Restivo, sent out an email blasting Stern for concerns over luxury condominiums that might not be built in Midtown because of Walmart’s pending construction. Restivo also questioned why opposition is so adamant when Target, Ross, Sports Authority, and Marshalls already have spaces in Midtown.

Restivo said Tuesday’s appeal is “without merit,” and said he hoped “the majority of local residents who want a Walmart will hold those pursuing an appeal accountable for any delay of new jobs and grocery options from coming to Midtown.”

Opponents of the plan began complaining almost from the moment Walmart announced it would build in Midtown 18 months ago. They flooded City Hall’s chambers during hearings and created a website in opposition, arguing that a Walmart in Midtown would crush the neighborhood’s trendy feel, ruin small businesses, snarl traffic and hurt local food growers.

Walmart countered that the new store would create more than 300 new jobs and offer affordable shopping options.

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