South Miami

On South Miami’s ballot: New City Hall and rule changes for development projects

South Miami City Hall on Wednesday, April 7, 2016.
South Miami City Hall on Wednesday, April 7, 2016.

South Miami is asking voters to consider four measures on the Nov. 8 ballot, including an advisory vote on building a new City Hall and new voting rules for affordable housing and downtown development projects.

The first measure deals with updates to South Miami’s charter. South Miami Mayor Philip Stoddard said several parts need to be changed to stay in compliance with state law. Though city law requires a vote, an update is required regardless.

“State law supersedes our charter, so even if this doesn’t pass a vote, the charter will still be updated,” Stoddard said.

The second measure is a nonbinding referendum on the City Hall building. Updates for police department and library buildings are also being considered. In addition, the measure also includes language about replacing septic tanks with municipal sewage lines. According to the ballot language, the improvements will involve “no cost to the taxpayer.”

Commissioner Walter Harris said that though nothing is set in stone, the preliminary plan would be to sell the current building. The cost of the new City Hall would be funded by the sale of the old one.

Stoddard said the current buildings are run down and not comfortable work environments for city employees.

“Our workers currently do not have a good spot to work,” he said. “It’s a building that is relatively old, small and has run into structural problems such as mold.”

Though the adjacent Silva Martin building would be preserved, the current City Hall building would likely be torn down, Stoddard said. The exact location of a new City Hall has yet to be determined.

The police building, he said, would potentially be moved from its current location on Sunset Drive to an area north of the South Miami Metrorail station.

“Our officers often have trouble getting in and out simply because of the traffic in the area so the new building will add relief to that,” Stoddard said.

Commissioner Gabriel Edmond, however, stressed that no decision has been made regarding any new buildings, and he still has a lot of questions regarding the funding of the projects.

“I’m skeptical that we even need to sell City Hall,” he said. “I don’t believe we’re ready for that yet.”

Finally, the measure asks for voter input on sewage problems in low-elevation areas.

“The last thing I want is for residents to be forced out because of failing septic tanks,” said Stoddard, adding improvements would also have an environmental benefit.

The last two measures on the ballot involve loosening requirements for approvals on development and affordable housing. Currently, all five commission members must give their approval for variances to city codes on such proposals, among other items. The measure, if approved, would reduce the necessary vote of approval to four of the five.

“In the past we have had one person vote opposite of the other four commissioners and just one vote can scrap the entire thing,” Stoddard said.

The measures are focused on two specific, and separate, areas. The development measure deals with the business district around downtown including the Shops at Sunset Place, while the affordable housing measure deals with the areas near the intersection of Southwest 64th Street and Southwest 59th Place.

Outside of the areas in the ballot measures, development variances will still require a unanimous vote.

The mayor said the city wants to redo Sunset Place, a plan he believes will not happen unless the unanimous-requirement rule is changed.

“We’ve had projects scrapped and not done because one person voted no and then that person eventually left office,” Stoddard said. “And it always ends up being because of a small disagreement or the commissioner feeling they are not getting enough out of it.”

Similarly, the mayor said the unanimous rule has blocked needed — and federally required — affordable housing projects.

“Four times we have had the plan for replacing affordable housing blocked by a single vote,” Stoddard said.

Most people seem to be on board with each of the four measures, he said.

“We may have one or two people that do not agree, but there really is no organized opposition to any of these measures,” Stoddard said.

South Miami’s clerk’s office confirmed no official opposition has been filed to any measure on the Nov. 8 ballot.