Fred Grimm

Fred Grimm: Miami-Dade “desperately needs” the Ludlam Trail

The debate over the Ludlam Trail demands a new term. Try “desperately needed.”

It’s not just that the proposed linear park would offer a pleasant amenity for the area south of the Miami International Airport. That traffic-clogged stretch down to Dadeland desperately needs the relief of a landscaped walking, biking passage through an area where cars trump people.

Thousands of residents living along the 6.2 miles of abandoned railway desperately need what Peter Rabbino of the Friends of The Ludlam Trail calls a “world class, iconic greenway.” The tree-lined pathway would connect three parks as it passes through warehouse districts south into an area of middle class, suburban homes.

Whether they get that or a glorified, development-impinged sidewalk has become a contentious issue. Florida East Coast Industries (the corporate descendent of the FEC Railroad), which still owns the corridor, has its own, still vague plans for a less cloistered, more lucrative version of Ludlam Trail.

FECI’s subsidiary, Flagler Development Co., is seeking county approval to build at least 1,345 housing units along the old rail bed that the FEC quit a dozen years ago. Flagler officials have called their project the Ludlam Trail Corridor and have promised something lush and wonderful is in the works, but so far the details have been sparse. Community activists fret that they’ll end up with the Ludlam Squeeze.

South Miami Mayor Phil Stoddard worried that in the northern reaches, Flagler’s envisioned development would reduce the width of the throughway to only 25 feet. He predicted that communities along the way will be outraged if their dream is diminished to an elongated housing development.

The room ought to be packed and roiling when the Miami-Dade County Commission takes up the Flagler proposal on Dec. 4. By the county’s own reckoning, Ludlam Trail would serve more than 30,000 county residents in an area bereft of park space. Kids along the way would have a safe route to walk or bike to the three schools that abut the old railway.

But popular opinion might not matter, up against a powerful developer. So far, Xavier Suarez has been the only commissioner who has shown much fervor for a true linear parkway.

Rabbino tried to sound optimistic. He talked about new state money for land acquisition made available when voters approved the Florida Water and Land Conservation Amendment earlier this month. The measure requires the state to set aside a portion of the state tax on real estate transactions “to acquire, restore, improve, and manage conservation land.” He thinks (hopes might be more accurate) that the Ludlam land would qualify — if Flagler would agree to sell.

He talked about appealing to the civic altruism of the Flagler Development Company’s execs. “We’re not wedded to the name “Ludlam Trail,” Rabbino said, suggesting that the name of ... say ... one of the members of the Flagler board of directors would fit nicely on the project. Besides, Flagler could use a bit of positive PR to help grease public support for All Aboard Florida, the company’s planned Miami-to-Orlando passenger train service.

But forget altruism. Flagler could offer up plans for something close to an unadulterated linear greenway next month for very selfish purposes — to enhance profits. Mayor Stoddard cited national studies concluding that property values within a few blocks of linear parks show marked jumps in value. An analysis of the effects of three greenbelts in Boulder, Colorado, found that property values rose 32 percent higher within 3,200 feet on either side of that city’s parkway. In Ohio, a University of Cincinnati study found that home buyers in Cincinnati were willing to pay an additional $9,000 just to be within 1,000 feet of the Little Miami Scenic Trail.

Flagler has plans for three high-density developments on land adjacent to the old railroad right-way. Stoddard argued that if Flagler elected to keep the project closer to the wide, green parkway envisioned by the Friends of The Ludlam Trail, the value of the company's high density housing along the way would be so enhanced “that they could have their cake and eat it, too.” And the county, meanwhile, would rake in money from increased property taxes.

The county’s own “Ludlam Trail Case Study” predicted that property values within a half-mile of the greenway would increase from $121 million to $282 million over the next 25 years.

Stoddard said, “I didn’t just invent this.” He cited Frederick Law Olmstead, the great 19th century landscape architect, who sold New York City on the construction of Central Park by promising a “vast increase in value of eligible sites for dwellings near public parks.” You might have notice: that worked out pretty well. More recently, the Highline, the city’s 1.4 mile aerial greenway built on an abandoned elevated railroad, has attracted $2.2-billion in new investment along the 1.4 mile route and inspired a national frenzy to build urban linear parkways.

Andrea Heuson, a University of Miami finance professor who’s leading a study on the economic impact of the proposed 10-mile “Underline” linear park running along and under the southern leg of the Metrorail, noted that “walkability” has now become such an important commodity among home buyers that the real estate industry has embraced a service called Walk Score that rates communities according to their pedestrian amenities.

The Ludlam Trail would lend a wildly improved Walk Score rating to an area that now rates zilch. A place in desperate need of a walkable greenway.