Miami Beach

Seaside facility for disabled gets initial commitment from Miami Beach

Supporters and opponents filled the Miami Beach commission chamber Wednesday for the vote on whether the city would allow the Sabrina Cohen Foundation to use a beachside city-owned building to store equipment used by people with disabilities to swim in the ocean.
Supporters and opponents filled the Miami Beach commission chamber Wednesday for the vote on whether the city would allow the Sabrina Cohen Foundation to use a beachside city-owned building to store equipment used by people with disabilities to swim in the ocean. jflechas@miamiherald.com

Miami Beach has committed a portion of a beachside parking lot in Mid-Beach to build a facility where people with disabilities can store equipment necessary for them to go in the ocean and provide fitness programs.

The 6-1 vote marked a victory for the charity not-for-profit, the Sabrina Cohen Foundation, that will now use the commitment to raise money for the design and construction of the building. A management agreement still must be approved.

Commissioner Michael Grieco was the lone no vote.

The building, which would be built next to the fire station at 5301 Collins Ave., would be completely funded by the foundation. The land and building would be city-owned.

Several dozen supporters filled the commission chamber, including many in wheelchairs who would benefit from having easily accessible equipment readily available near the ocean.

$4.5 million Estimated cost of building for equipment and fitness programs

“I am overjoyed,” Cohen said after the vote, adding that she wants to continue to work with the city and skeptical residents to develop a facility that will make everyone happy.

A group of residents who oppose the facility was also present, and some argued that the city was giving away public land to a foundation. An attorney hired by a neighborhood association that covers several condos argued that there has not been enough public outreach to neighbors on the project.

“The folks that you represent are the folks who live on the Beach,” said Rosa de la Camara, of the Becker and Poliakoff law firm. “And you need to do what a majority of the residents want.”

Parking was a concern beause the facility will eliminate up to 20 of 139 existing parking spaces. Others thought the foundation and city are underestimating the cost of such a building, which is pegged at $4.5 million.

The folks that you represent are the folks who live on the Beach and you need to do what a majority of the residents want.

Rosa de la Camara, attorney

“The numbers don’t work,” said Mojdeh Khaghan, a Mid-Beach resident.

A survey by the city’s parking department found that the lot, on average, is only about half full.

The plan was almost derailed when it appeared there weren’t enough votes to pass the proposal as it was presented. Commissioner Micky Steinberg wanted to further vet the management agreement that would allow the foundation to operate the city-owned facility for just under 10 years. One of her concerns was that she wanted to consider suggestions from City Manager Jimmy Morales to give the foundation a strict set of fundraising deadlines.

As a compromise, commissioners agreed to commit to the site but then revisit the management agreement at the commission’s finance committee. The agreement is expected to come back to the commission in September.

Among the details that will be discussed in the coming months: A strict time line for the foundation to hit fundraising benchmarks and provide designs that would allow the city to walk away from the agreement in as soon as six months if the foundation is not on track.

Some city officials want to set up strict deadlines for the foundation to meeting fundraising benchmarks.

During public comments, Cohen shared her experiences during adaptive beach days her foundation has sponsored, which allow people with disabilities to take a dip in the ocean with the assistance of specialized equipment and a team of trained volunteers.

“It is life-changing, and we have witnessed it,” Cohen said.

A facility would allow the foundation to host more frequent beach days for people with disabilities. Currently, they haul in equipment on two Sundays each month for the program.

The mood grew emotional at times. At one point, Mayor Philip Levine cut off public comment and called for a vote without allowing much comment from other commissioners.

“Vote your conscience,” he demanded.

Once given a chance to speak, Grieco said he didn’t feel comfortable voting yes without further review of the logistics of building a two-story structure on a 5,000-square-foot footprint in the parking lot.

“If we have to vote on this, it is a painful no for me,” he said.

Steinberg insisted the city would work with Cohen to solidify the management agreement and keep the planning process going.

“We want to be your partner,” she said.

Joey Flechas: 305-376-3602, @joeflech

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