Miami Beach

Vision for North Beach met with mix of support and skepticism

Rendering depicts a redeveloped commercial center on Normandy Isle, near the fountain.
Rendering depicts a redeveloped commercial center on Normandy Isle, near the fountain.

Celia Polhemus loves the distinct flavor and charming vibe of her North Beach neighborhood.

As she walked out of a presentation outlining a future vision for the area Wednesday night, complete with elaborate renderings and detailed plans for redevelopment, she saw positives and negatives. She loved creating public spaces on government-owned land. She wasn’t so sure about losing parking and traffic lanes on a main thoroughfare.

“People do use their cars here,” she said. “We need our parking.”

Polhemus’ responses echoed throughout a packed house at the Byron Carlyle Theater, where more than 300 people saw the unveiling of a sweeping master plan of North Beach authored by Coral Gables-based town planning firm Dover, Kohl & Partners.

Planners presented a synopsis of the 189-page document that Miami Beach commissioned to provide a blueprint for the future of North Beach. The plan, almost a year in the making, is multifaceted and meant to be implemented over the next 30 years.

Read the Herald’s coverage of the master plan for North Beach

Different aspects, whether they were short- or long-term visions, were met with equal parts support and skepticism.

When the rendering of a revamped commercial center on Normandy Isle appeared on the screen, someone whispered “Wow” while others nodded their heads approvingly. The plan proposes a physical environment around the Normandy Fountain that would look radically different from overhead and aim to preserve the small-town feel on the ground, all while employing the MiMo aesthetic in mixed-use buildings that would ideally have lower vacancy rates. The plan recommends closing Rue Vendome by the fountain to create a broad plaza around it — a project the city has already put in motion.

On the other hand, when planners forecast that during the next few decades changing commuter habits could allow the city to take travel lanes away from drivers and give them to bicyclists and buses, one man muttered “This makes no sense” as he stood up and walked out. North Beach’s streets are already traffic-choked, and the thought of bringing more people to the 71st Street corridor while taking lanes away from cars seemed unrealistic to some, even in the long run.

“I like the development of a town center,” said John Conte, who lives on Park View Island. But he took issue with losing any parking and travel lanes. “This is a car city. That will never change.”

The town center concept, which encourages taller mixed-used buildings along 71st Street, had some fans. Another popular proposal: converting eight consecutive government-owned lots directly across from North Shore Open Space into a mix of public and private uses. On what are now surface parking lots, new development could include a competition-size swimming pool, a skate park, a mid-rise condo, a community garden, a parking garage and a hotel. The public-private balance would be determined later.

Others worried new development would gentrify North Beach. The neighborhood is known for being the last section of Miami Beach where a diverse array of working-class renters can find a place to live.

“The plan is beautiful,” said Rembrandt Peralta, who rents an apartment on Normandy Isle. He worried that even if his area is protected as historic, as is recommended, costs of maintaining an old structure would be passed down to tenants like him and drive up his rent. “One of my biggest concerns is the affordability of this neighborhood.”

When Peralta voiced his concerns, the planning team pointed to sections of the document that outline strategies for keeping longtime residents from being pushed out, including the construction of housing geared to low- and middle-income people. That can happen through the property developed by the city’s housing authority, partnerships with the nonprofit sector and mandates requiring developers to include below-market-rate units in their buildings.

As locals dished about the plan afterward, Wednesday night’s reactions reflected what planners said is a central tenet of the document: Everyone got something they wanted, and no one got everything.

Jason King, the planning firm’s project director for the plan, said he took note of supporters who want to see the plan realized soon and skeptics who have reservations.

“They both have their points. So what we need to do is to make sure as the plan is implemented, none of those voices get lost,” he said afterward.

City commissioners are expected to consider the plan in October. But even if approved, the document would not become law. The individual recommendations would have to be considered as individual pieces of legislation. The plan is meant to guide policy decisions for the Beach’s elected officials.

“There will be more public input,” said Jeffrey Orris, the Beach’s economic development director. “There will be more hearings.”

Joey Flechas: 305-376-3602, @joeflech

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