Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of profiles of candidates for the Miami City Commission District 1. All of the candidates’ profiles will run in print and online at miamiherald.com.
A first-time commission candidate but a known name in Miami politics, Horacio Stuart Aguirre says he wants to see a plan for how real estate development will unfold in the city’s District 1.
A zone stretching from the cluster of medical buildings surrounding Jackson Memorial Hospital to the Blue Lagoon south of SR 836, with Allapattah and Grapeland Heights in between, District 1 needs a master plan, Aguirre contends — even multiple plans that address ground-level concerns neighbors have about the way their corner of Miami is changing.
Aguirre, a 69-year-old commercial real estate broker and chairman of the Miami River Commission, is one of seven candidates vying to fill the District 1 seat on the City Commission. Commissioner Wifredo “Willy” Gort, who holds the seat, is term-limited this year. Vote-by-mail ballots are scheduled to be sent to voters beginning Oct. 14. Election Day is Nov. 5.
Aguirre espouses balance in allowing developers to invest in a transforming swath of the city while protecting the interests of residents who fear displacement from gentrification, from low-income seniors to multi-generational households. To that end, he wants to see the city carve up the district and create community-driven road maps for new development.
Aguirre said that historically, Miami was not a well-planned city, and decades of planning and zoning have been ineffective in properly steering redevelopment. He advocates for bringing in third-party experts to craft a vision for the district, with broad community input.
“Without a master plan, what we’re going to get is a hodgepodge — no cohesiveness, no plan for aesthetics and no plan for lifestyle experiences,” Aguirre told the Miami Herald. He would want to bring neighborhood associations, clergy, developers and business owners together to craft strategies that work for their respective neighborhoods.
Aguirre was supportive of the Miami Produce special area plan, which won approval from the commission earlier this year — despite the fact that it fell short of the required nine acres needed to qualify for expanded rights that allow developers to build dense, large-scale projects. The plan’s critics said the Miami Produce team did not provide enough in the way of public benefits for the neighborhood.
Special area plans have proven controversial for fear of intense gentrification, and Allapattah could be fertile ground for more of them. Aguirre said planning, along with smart negotiating, could yield better community benefits on such deals. He added that he did not believe that demanding tens of millions in cash would work. He said the bargaining should focus on concrete improvements to the surrounding areas.
“It has to be more like, ‘We could use a new wing for the YMCA. We could use a new playground. We could use a new community center,’ ” Aguirre said.
As chairman of the river commission, Aguirre plays a role in managing development along the Miami River. The commission, funded by the state and city, serves as clearinghouse for riverfront policy and projects. In recent years, several large projects have launched on the riverbanks, including River Landing Shops and Residences, a 2-million-square-foot mixed-use development on eight acres at 1400 NW North River Dr., and Pier 19 Residences and Marina, a 199-unit apartment rental building at 1951 NW South River Dr.
Aguirre spoke proudly of seeing the riverfront redeveloped with a combination of mixed-use buildings, entertainment and a sturdy maritime industry. He maintained that balance is the key for the future of District 1, from steering development to taking an even-handed approach to addressing the district’s problems with illegal dumping and code violations. He wants to empower residents to take ownership of beautifying their streets while carefully employing the city’s workers to enforce its laws.
“Code enforcement should not be a political tool,” Aguirre said.
The principle of balance does not apply only inside the district boundaries. Aguirre said he would aggressively work to keep developers’ impact fees in the neighborhood where a project is built, pledging to be an effective horse trader with four other commissioners who want to steer those dollars to their districts.
Through the end of August, Aguirre had raised $123,305, the third most in the seven-person race. He had spent $66,806, the most of all candidates.
Aguirre comes from a civically engaged family with ties to national Republican politics. He is the son of the founder of Spanish-language newspaper Diario de las Américas, Horacio Aguirre. His sister, Helen Aguirre Ferré, is the former Hispanic affairs coordinator for the Trump White House. She currently serves as communications director for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Aguirre is married to Lynn Summers, an advocate who serves on the board of the nonproft Friends of the Miami-Dade Public Library.
Aguirre is also close with former Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado, who is supporting him in the election. In addition to his service on the river commission, Aguirre is a former chairman of the Civilian Investigative Panel, a citizen police oversight board in the city of Miami, and president of the Durham Park Neighborhood Association.