Opinion: The City of Miami should reject Walmart zoning request

This opinion piece is part of an ongoing Open Media Miami series about the proposed Walmart in Midtown.

Walmart’s affect on communities may be a subject of debate, but its disregard for Midtown Miami’s Master Plan is not in question. Walmart wants to place a major loading zone at the intersection of Midtown’s main streets. Midtown Mall owner DDR Corp., which is selling the southwest corner of Midtown Miami to Walmart, has requested those changes and more from the City of Miami as a parting gift.

Walmart’s request that the city waive zoning restrictions, which was submitted to City of Miami Planning Director Francisco Garcia by DDR Corp.’s attorney, show a massive loading dock fronting Midtown Boulevard, as well as a raised concrete divider in the middle of the road to protect the trucks from N.E. 30th Street traffic. They also call for a five-lane intersection at N.E. 29th Street and Midtown Boulevard to accommodate big rigs and significantly increased auto traffic.

If allowed, Walmart’s proposed modifications could render Midtown Boulevard useless as an entry point for residents of the Midtown towers on the East side of the district. The Midtown Overlay District zoning code clearly states: “Service access and loading areas shall not be permitted to front the following streets or portions thereof; Midtown Boulevard, NE 29th Street.” The requested changes clearly do not meet existing code, nor the intent of the district or the letter of the law.

Last month, I opined that Walmart is a “poor fit” for Midtown and there might be nothing we could do to stop them from opening if their project conformed to zoning regulations. My friends and associates encouraged me to establish a petition to solicit opinions and boycott a Midtown Walmart location, which I did at www.NoWalmartinMidtown.com.

The #NoWalmartinMidtown petition sparked discussion among neighbors, sometimes a debate on the merits and drawbacks of the World’s Largest Retailer’s proposed location in Miami’s newest up-and-coming retail district.

Nine days after my first column about Midtown Miami and Walmart came out, DDR Corp’s attorney, former Miami Beach Mayor Nielsen O. Kasdin of Akermann Senterfitt, amended his initial request to instead pursue a complete waiver of Miami 21 zoning code, leaving the final decision with City of Miami Zoning Director Barnaby Min, this time without a public hearing requirement.

The records shows that Walmart’s latest request is actually their second go-round with the city. In December, using dense legalese, DDR’s attorney requested “minor modifications” to the proposed Walmart site under the Miami 21 zoning code’s provisions. That original request would have required a public hearing. At the hearing, they would have been required to prove that “the components being modified after modification shall be in compliance with this Code, even though the remainder of the approved development plan is not in full compliance.”

Mr. Kasdin wrote: “The proposed Modifications … for Midtown Boulevard impact only a 350’ section of roadway”. Furthermore, he argues that changes “are made necessary due to the co-location of egress for delivery trucks and garage entrance and exits the southern end of Midtown Boulevard”.

Mr. Kasdin goes on to state that: “The placement of these service … entries at this precise location (on Midtown Boulevard, in front of N.E. 30th Street) is a deliberate attempt to eliminate … adverse impacts … specifically to N. Miami Avenue and N.E. 31st Street”. The submission ends: “We believe that the proposed modifications constitute a minor deviation given their consistency with the overarching goals of the Standards”.

Midtown Miami’s Special District consists of 56 acres of former brown-field situated between N.E. 36th Street and N.E. 29th Street, west of the FEC railway until North Miami Avenue.  The east and west sides are zoned to promote “ground level activities and uses with strong pedestrian orientation are mandated to front streets to generate a lively pedestrian street life.“

The Midtown Miami Special District designates certain streets as “Primary streets”, aimed at pedestrian activities including Midtown Boulevard (N.E. 1st Avenue), N.E. 29th Street, and N. Miami Avenue, which require 65 percent of frontage to have retail use. Others, noted as “secondary” or “tertiary”, have no retail or pedestrian requirements. For example, N.E. 31st Street, a “tertiary” road, is designated to provide entrance to service areas.

Walmart, DDR Corp., and Mr. Kasdin believe that Midtown Miami’s Special District zoning requirements should be reversed to protect service streets (N.E. 31st Street), while a main thoroughfare (Midtown Boulevard) becomes a loading zone to provide precise accommodation to Walmart.

The DDR sale of this prime retail space marks a disturbing trend.  Miami’s large, publicly listed companies are selling realty assets to raise short-term cash at the expense of the local community.   Some folks might loudly, and erroneously proclaim this multinational corporate buying spree is catalyzing neighborhood improvement; the truth is just the opposite.

I firmly believe that the City of Miami should not give in to DDR Corp. and Walmart by granting them a Zoning Waiver.  Our city spent years crafting a brilliant plan to revitalize Wynwood, and clearly Walmart does not fit into Midtown Miami.

Grant Stern (@grantstern) writes realty articles on his blog CondoTerminators.net as well as for CondoVultures.com. Stern sits on the Board of Directors for Grand Central Park’s sponsor, OPRA.

Related Links

-- "Puerto Rican business group supports Midtown Walmart"

-- "Midtown Walmart Would Force Art Fairs Out"

-- "Plans for Midtown Walmart emerge with zoning request"

-- "Op-ed: Midtown Walmart will hurt job growth, local businesses"