Miami-Dade County

PortMiami zoning district could open door to private development

A new zoning designation that received preliminary approval Thursday could open the door to private development on PortMiami — though not necessarily a soccer stadium.

The rules, given an initial nod by a group of Miami-Dade County commissioners, would for the first time outline building standards for the seaport, allowing commercial, office and residential construction along the northern shore and on the southwestern corner of Dodge Island in downtown Miami.

A 25-year master plan envisions better linking of PortMiami to the mainland by bringing a hotel, offices and mega-yacht harbor to the edge of the port facing Bayside Marketplace that is too shallow to accommodate cargo or cruise ships.

The development would generate much-needed revenue for the seaport, which has plenty of debt to repay for big-ticket projects. It could also lead to more billboards, which has alarmed some activists.

Not on the books: a 25,000-seat soccer stadium on county-owned land for a potential Major League Soccer team being pushed by superstar former player David Beckham.

The PortMiami zoning district, which must still be approved by the full commission, would not include among its permitted uses a sports facility, the typical stadium designation.

Seaport administrators said they began drafting the zoning proposal months ago, long before Beckham’s investment group zeroed in on Dodge Island as its preferred stadium location for an MLS expansion franchise.

But that doesn’t mean a sports-facility use couldn’t be added to the district down the line, said Eric Silva, the county’s zoning chief, and Bill Johnson, the seaport director.

That satisfied commissioners on the economic development and PortMiami committee, who said Thursday they were more worried about the proliferation of billboards on the seaport, across from the scenic MacArthur Causeway to Miami Beach.

Under the proposed zoning district, the same sign rules that apply to the county’s business and industrial areas would now apply to the commercial areas of the port not designated for cruise, cargo or related uses. Those rules permit billboards — though not electronic ones with bright LED lights.

“Would it be for internal consumption, or would the billboards point outwards from the port?” Commissioner Juan C. Zapata asked. “That I would be a little bit hesitant about.”

Johnson said the port is too far away from the mainland or the causeway to serve as a good location for regular, “static” billboards, so he is not interested in having them pop up on the property.

“Billboards are really of little value to your port because of the setback,” he said.

But that has done little to quell the fears of local activists who have opposed relaxing sign rules in the past, particularly in the city of Miami, where the city attorney has opined that the municipality is essentially exempt from more stringent county regulations. Electronic billboards have cropped up as a result.

The city has no say over the seaport. But if commissioners adopt the new port zoning district and later allow electronic billboards in business and industrial areas, the seaport would be able to take advantage, said activist Nathan Kurland.

“To me, if this zone is enabled to be there, I think the next thing Bill Johnson will do is take advantage of the possibility of income and throw up LEDs,” Kurland said.

Absolutely not, Johnson insisted to the Miami Herald. He said the push behind the zoning district is to bring order to the rules that govern the port, which for about 60 years has been covered by general government zoning regulations that do not detail maritime uses, for example.

“We’re not interested in doing billboards,” he said. “We don’t want to be a ticky-tacky port.”