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As North Miami continues plans for Chinatown, councilman calls out former foe

Norrh Miami Vice Mayor Alix Desulme. Desulme is the lead proponent of the city’s Chinatown district and said a resident’s opposition is based on “bigotry” and “racism.”
Norrh Miami Vice Mayor Alix Desulme. Desulme is the lead proponent of the city’s Chinatown district and said a resident’s opposition is based on “bigotry” and “racism.” ctrainor@miamiherald.com

North Miami staff members presented the latest on the city’s proposed Chinatown district during a homeowners association meeting last Thursday including an updated timeline on the development of the plan.

Community Planning and Development director Tanya Wilson-Sejour and other staff members addressed the Sunkist Grove Homeowners Association, the neighborhood that is part of District 4, which will house the arts district.

Residents will be invited to give input at workshops throughout the summer and the city plans to appoint a steering committee to assist in the district’s development. The city plans to have a draft version of the master plan ready in November and to have it approved by December.

The area, which will run along Northwest Seventh Avenue from Northwest 119th to 135th streets, was approved in February and a city delegation took a trip to China last month to meet with urban planners and leadership of the Florida International University campus in Tianjin, China. The city believes that the new designation will encourage development along Seventh Avenue by incorporating Chinese design and facade elements.

Wilson-Sejour also said that the delegation’s trip to China was necessary to build relationships with leaders from the Florida International University campus in Tianjin, China, and to meet with investors and urban planners.

“You could certainly fake something you don’t know, but to give it authenticity you would need to understand the culture,” Wilson-Sejour said.

Residents such as Richard Scott said they were supportive of the project and appreciate staff’s efforts to plan out the district. He thinks the area could be a destination for visitors and residents.

“I love the concept and it’s always been my idea that when I come to my city I ask ‘What do we have to offer as a tourist attraction?’ ” Scott said. “And I looked at it and we didn’t have anything.”

Wilson-Sejour recommended at the meeting that both supporters and opponents make their voices heard as the plan develops.

“You either embrace and work with the process or you watch it pass you by,” Wilson-Sejour said.

The meeting was mostly civil, but briefly became contentious when Vice Mayor Alix Desulme accused a resident of bigotry and racism.

Resident Jessica Alston has questioned the project at several meetings and some of her criticisms are related to the demographic makeup of District 4. The area is primarily made up of Haitian and African-American residents and she has expressed fears that those residents and business owners will be displaced.

Desulme called out Alston by name at the meeting and said that the project will move forward even if she voices opposition at future city council meetings.

“If you want to come up to the podium, which you are welcome to do, I will call you out on your bigotry and your racism,” Desulme said.

He said that Alston has spoken out against Chinese people and spread misinformation about the project. She denied his allegations.

“I am not a bigot, I love everybody,” Alston said. “I love people who speak Creole, I love people who speak English and I love people who speak Spanish.”

Desulme and Alston have history as they both competed for the District 4 council seat in 2015. Desulme ultimately won the race after a runoff election against Carline Paul. Alston didn’t make the runoff and received about 3 percent of the vote.

After a brief exchange between the two last Thursday, Desulme left the meeting and said that if Alston wanted to speak to him she should call his office.

“If you want to run against me then you do that when my term is up,” Desulme said. His term ends in 2019.

Lance Dixon: 305-376-3708, @LDixon_3

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