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Wednesday, November 1, 2017


  Last Saturday I attended the second of two workshops put on by the City of Miami planning department. They had nine people wearing blue uniforms telling us what developers want to hear, 'We need less trees and more people".  
    I learned why the trees are coming down and the big white boxes are spreading like cancer. One city planner told us the City now allows developers to build on 77% of a residential lot so it looks like this,

Concrete covers 77%. The thin green perimeter is the other 23%, probably a ficus hedge.  Two small token trees sit out front.  Allowing this kind of density insures that,
 1) developers will make the most money and that
 2) Coconut Grove is screwed.

In the past, houses have taken up about 40% a residential lot.  This ratio allowed our tree canopy to flourish.

That's what the city allows and at the meeting they made it clear that they want to make it worse allowing bigger buildings  (increase the density further) and add more commercial space to our village.  This is great for developers and bad for Grove residents.  
    95% of the people attending were residents who said "No"  to this and the vocal five percent,  developer's reps, were all smiles. It is a shame that our Grove commissioner, Ken Russell, will not stand up for the community he lives in.  Now that he's running for Congress who knows where his head will be.
   Grove 2030's Dave Villano summed up the meeting very nicely in his Grapevine opinion piece yesterday:

     Will taller condo towers, more commercial building sites, and  increasing residential density help preserve the unique character of Coconut Grove? 
    As puzzling as it sounds, that’s the recommendation of the City of Miami’s Planning Department .  That's their reaction  to the growing concerns over lot splitting, mega-home construction, destruction of the tree canopy, and the loss of the Grove’s historic character.
“This will be an uncomfortable conversation,” warned City Planner Sue Trone, as she welcomed a hundred or so village residents and others to the second of two community zoning workshops last Saturday. She was right.

    Trone and a team of other City planners are charged with revising Coconut Grove’s Neighborhood Conservation District (NCD) zoning overlay. The code is an extra layer of protection approved years ago as a legislative buffer from the development pressures that threatened the village. The document’s intent is clear: “to preserve the historic, heavily landscaped character of Coconut Grove’s residential areas.” 

 But on Saturday Trone offered a revised interpretation of the code’s statement of intent. Preservation is out; affordability is in. That, she believes, is the overwhelming concern of Grove residents. (Protecting tree canopy is number two). And the best policy solution to the affordable housing crunch is to add more housing units. With that, workshop participants were handed red pencils and asked to mark up large maps of Coconut Grove where they believed residential and commercial densities should and could be increased. “A developer’s wet dream,” whispered one miffed participant.

With that, the focus by City planners is now on revisions to the NCD zoning code that likely will bring more people to Coconut Grove, rather than on simple measures to protect our lush, historic character, such as a reduction in the size and scale of the mega-homes that are overwhelming our single-family neighborhoods.

There is no question that affordable housing remains one of our intractable challenges, especially in Village West where multi-million-dollar homes are now common. And increased densities, to be sure, should be among the policy tools we consider to help residents remain in their community. But promoting up zoning and other increased density measures as the guiding legislative remedy for protecting single-family neighborhoods from the onslaught of development is, at best, misguided. And at worst, such suggestions – intentionally or otherwise -- derail any reasonable efforts for other meaningful zoning reform.
Commissioner Ken Russell’s role is unclear. Upon election to office two years ago Russell seized on the NCD zoning code as a legislative vehicle for promoting the populist, grassroots agenda he promised, and he has repeatedly assured community groups that it remains a key priority. But in recent months he’s been silent on the issue, noting that City staff had a process that needed to play out. Russell did not attend the Workshop on Saturday. Exactly what he would have drawn with his red pencil remains anyone’s guess.

Davie Villano
Coconut Grove

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