North Miami - NMB

NMB plan to change zoning and land development codes nearing approval

North Miami Beach is just one council vote away from ushering in a comprehensive overhaul of its zoning and land development codes — a plan that officials hope will establish favorable rules for future development and redefine the small city of nearly 41,000 into a vibrant pedestrian and business friendly community.

For years, the city has struggled to build its downtown, clean up decrepit areas and repair its outdated parks system, while trying to boost its tax base. Conflicting zoning and outdated land-use laws, along with opposition over how to build near the city’s parks and waterways, have slowed economic growth, according to officials.

After years of discussions and nine months of public meetings to discuss the plans, the council voted 7-0 Tuesday night to adopt the ordinance allowing mixed-use high-rises in some areas, develop pedestrian walkways and green spaces. Council members did not take a vote on how to expand further development along Maule Lake — among other things.

Residents from the neighborhoods of Eastern Shores and the Reef Club, both communities bordering Maule Lake raised concerns about what the future holds for lakefront development. Last year, a Dutch team of developers and investors expressed tentative plans to build 29 lavish floating homes costing about $12.5 million a piece on 38 acres of the lake. So far, no application has been filed with the city and it’s unclear how the project would fit in within the confines of the designated critical habitat.

“There’s been a lot of rumors about the potential of building floating homes on Maule Lake and it’s causing a lot of apprehension for people in the community and apparently our section of Maule Lake has no zoning applied to it, which is really surprising,” said Mayor George Vallejo.

City attorney Jose Smith assured the public that under current laws, construction around the lake is prohibited because it is submerged land.

“Its underwater so therefore, under our code, no one would be able to build there,” said Smith. The council directed assistant city manager Richard Lorber to investigate the issue before the next vote.

But far from the affluent Eastern section of the city, residents from Washington Park said they wanted the new zoning rules to help improve their park and encourage safer neighborhoods.

Last year, two of the city’s three municipal park pools, including the one at Washington Park were closed for the summer due to unsafe electrical wiring issues. City Manager Ana Garcia assured the public that the city is optimistic about a grant proposal submitted to the Florida Recreation Assistance Program (FRDAP), which is state funding mechanism that matches funds for aquatic and pool facilities in the state.

“I just heard today that our FRDAP request, which is for improvements and enhancements for Washington Park Aquatic Center has been rated 21 out of 130 major projects in the state. We’re talking about $400,000 in enhancements for Washington Park. I can tell you that last year a majority of the projects were funded. This is a very, very good position,” said Garcia.

In other action , the council voted, 7-0 in favor of a resolution and two ordinances (on first reading) to hold general elections May 5, 2015 and a run-off election if required on May 19, 2015. As of March 4th, Council members Phyllis Smith, Frantz Pierre and Marlen Martell are running for reelection. Mayor George Vallejo is unopposed.

City Clerk Pamela Latimore, said the sole reason for the changes was to allow enough time for the county to tally votes.

“Our Charter states that our run-off election is to be held one week after our general election,” said Latimore. “The county needs time to get the machines re-calibrated and so forth, so therefore they ask that we move it two weeks.”

The next city council meeting will be held at 7:30 p.m. March 17 at City Hall, 17011 NE 19th Ave.

Follow Patricia Sagastume on Twitter @patsagastume