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North Miami Beach adopts strategic plan for city’s future

After a year of planning and public meetings, North Miami Beach last week adopted a strategic plan that sets guidelines for development, design and zoning for the next 15 years.

“This puts us in a position to hold ourselves accountable in regards to your vision for the city and, along with our master plan, to move our city forward with a very comprehensive, budget-oriented, timeline-oriented approach,” City Manager Ana Garcia told the City Council at its Sept. 23 meeting.

Garcia thanked the council and particularly Councilwoman Marlen Martell.

“One of the reasons I was so passionate about this is that I wanted the city to get its money’s worth,” Martell said. “The bottom line is that we need to look at where we were. We need to look at what we need, and we need to look at how we get there, and that’s exactly what the strategic planning does.”

The “visioning” framework, which was guided by outside consulting firms Lyle Sumek Associates and Redevelopment Management Associates, is intended to help catapult the city of nearly 41,000 into a vibrant community that will rival its affluent neighbors such as Sunny Isles Beach and Aventura.

North Miami Beach has struggled to build its downtown, clean up decrepit areas and repair its outdated parks system, while trying to boost its tax base. Conflicting zoning and outdated land-use laws, along with public sentiment that disagreed with how the city should grow, have slowed the city’s economic growth, city officials say.

The new strategic plan will encourage mixed-use high-rises in some areas and expand further development of high-end residential towers surrounding Maule Lake, among other things. Now, the Marina Palms development, which was recently featured on the Bravo program Million Dollar Listing Miami, will bring the first full-service marina/yacht club to the area.

“The second building of Marina Palms sold out, and I got a news from the developer that they are planning to move up their start date. It will be finished before Jan. 1, 2017, so that means we will have those tax revenues in that budget, so that is really, really good news,” said Mayor George Vallejo.

Some of the top priorities for change include revamping zoning laws to allow mixed-use development and taller buildings — sometimes up to 20 stories from the current limit of 15, for areas along West Dixie Highway, Northeast 19th Avenue and Hanford and Biscayne boulevards.

The city also hopes to attract more businesses to the area around Dixie Highway and 163rd Street.

With the strategic plan in place, funds have been identified for a comprehensive parks master plan, which at times became a testy issue.

This summer, the Parks and Recreation department closed two of the city’s three public swimming pools in low-income neighborhoods due to dangerous wiring problems. In addition, the park centers, which were built during the 1960s and ’70s, have not kept up with the residents’ needs. Highland Village and Washington parks are in communities with the greatest needs.

The 2015 budget calls for almost $300,000 for building and maintenance costs for the Parks & Recreation, Education and Culture Department. Councilwoman Phyllis Smith objected to the $220,000 allocated for painting the City Hall complex that she said she didn’t get to vote on. Smith contradicted City Manager Ana Garcia about whether the budget would include painting Washington Park restrooms.

“I want to vote on painting the buildings because I had to fight for $50 for my kids in Washington Park. I begged you once and I begged you twice and I begged you three times till I had to call Paulette Murphy [the Parks and R.E.C. director] and tell her that I had to vote no for the budget unless they fix those bathrooms in Washington Park,” said Smith.

But Smith could be in trouble if she gave orders to Murphy to do something. City Attorney Jose Smith said it is a clear violation of the city charter for council members to give orders to city staffers.

“I don’t know the facts that were discussed, but it would be inappropriate for a council member to give direction to someone other than the city manager. That’s pretty clear in the charter. Asking a question is not a violation. Giving direction, instructions, commands, do this, do that, that would violate the charter,” said Smith.

Later, Smith denied that she ever gave directions to anyone.

Councilwoman Barbara Kramer said Smith’s statements gave the wrong impression that Washington Park was being ignored.

“To say we’re not taking care of our children ... I just think that’s emotional,” Kramer said.

Garcia defended the painting expenditure, saying it would send a bad message to single out one place for repairs without considering the master plan.

“The budget would include all parks and not continue to have this Band-Aid approach and tell the residents of Washington Park that if we paint their bathroom, that that is sufficient. As a parks and rec professional, I want to do things right, by Washington Park, by Highland Village, every single park in our city,” said Garcia.

A motion was made to amend the budget to remove the paint job, but it failed 4-3, with council members Smith, Beth Spiegel and Frantz Pierre voting to remove it.

A public meeting to address changes for the parks will be held in Highland Village, a community of small homes and trailers between U.S. 1 and Oleta State Park, at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 6 at the Highland Village Community Center. For more information, call the Planning and Zoning Division at 305-948-2966.

In other business, the City Council:

▪ Voted 6-1 to adopt the fiscal-year 2015 budget of nearly $116 million. Spiegel cast the dissenting vote.

▪ Voted 7-0 to renew a mutual-aid agreement between the North Miami Beach and El Portal police departments to collaborate on volunteer and criminal investigations.

▪ Approved a three-year, $248,468 contract with Elan Lawn and Landscape Services to maintain the grounds of city buildings, parks and public rights-of-way. According to an analysis by city staffers, the cost is 29 percent lower than the current pricing.

▪ Agreed to fund half of the restoration costs for the almost century-old Fulford-by-the-Sea monument at Northeast 173rd Street and 23rd Avenue. The city plans to apply for a state grant of $225,000 — which would require the city match half of the cost and provide $10,000 worth of in-kind services.

▪ Said farewell to Finance Director Janette Smith, whose last day was Sept. 23. Smith will stay on as a consultant to help her team through the transition. Barbara Trinka, the former public utilities director, was formally appointed to replace Smith on Sept. 25.

Information Technologies Manager Patrick Rosiak said he summed up the sentiment of the staff by describing the news of Smith’s resignation as “literally like a punch to the gut.”

“Jan has been such a godsend to this organization from a finance perspective,” Rosiak said. “It gave me an immediate concern about what our future would be in terms of successful implementation. Knowing that Jan is going to stay on board to assist with the transition has given me hope.”

The next City Council meeting is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 17011 NE 19th Ave.

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