Thursday, February 27, 2014

Park It Anywhere - The Harbor Island Community Meeting

UPDATE Feb 28 - The Harbor Island Parking Plan will not but on the agenda for the March commission meeting.  It is scheduled for April.  

In a post on February 13, I wrote about the half baked, poorly thought out response to the parking issue on Harbor Island.  While the two commissioners who live on Harbor Island, Eddie Lim and Jorge Gonzalez were perfectly fine with creating a residential parking program with no data, inaccurate counts of the condos and no resident input, two other commissioners, Wendy Duvall and Richard Chervony, both said they would vote no and clearly told the village manager two things.  

Thing 1.)  Get the data.  Find out how many cars are registered on Harbor Island, how many have off street parking available to them, and come up with a way to allow people on Harbor Island to have more than one guest visit them.  

Thing 2.)  Meet with the residents.   

The mayor broke the tie by voting No but only because she misunderstood the guest parking being proposed and no one corrected her.   

Anyway, last night was Thing 2 -  meet with the residents.  The meeting was held at the 360 with about 50 residents.  Representing the village were the manager, police chief Bob Daniels, Rodney Carrero, director of public works, Maurice Murray of code enforcement and Lt. McCready of the NBV PD.   

And the first question that came up was Thing 1.  What is the data?  How many cars?  How many spaces?   And the village answer was a resounding "I dunno."   Nobody had done the first thing they were asked.    

At the point the meeting should have been adjourned until they got the data.   But it wasn't.   

Instead, it was presented as a "listening" meeting.  The administration wanted to brainstorm with residents and have an "open" discussion.  The residents offered ideas - 

  • Why not a combination of parking decals and metered parking?  That would allow guest parking but would not be feasible for residents every day.   The idea was noted. 
  • How will the police, staffed at three over night and two on weekends, enforce the program?   They didn't enforce the old program.  Chief Daniels said they would.   
  • Could the village open up the parking lot where city hall used to be?  No answer.   
  • Could the village consider a bond issue to build parking?  Noted but the village claims to be broke (we are.  The police chief spent all our reserves on losing lawsuits.)  
I was impressed with quality of the resident's questions including from several who took the initiative to count parking spaces, something the village did not do.   

I remain unimpressed by our village administration.   Not only did they blow off the first thing they were asked to do - get the numbers but in the meeting, the responses were pretty condescending.    

The topic then moved to putting in speed plates, like the ones on Pine Tree Drive in the Beach.  These present a problem because they would eliminate 4 to 6 parking spaces per plate.   The residents wanted to know who brought up the idea to the commission and the manager didn't answer.   It was Jorge Gonzalez and Eddie Lim, the ones who live on Harbor Island, who put that through.  

So here's where we are at.  No data.  No counts.  No real plan.  No one owning the problem.   It's not just Harbor Island that's getting screwed, it's just more obvious there.  

In a final note, Commissioner Gonzalez was there and the Mayor rolled in about 7:30 PM.   Eddie Lim, the commissioner from Harbor Island did not make it to the first community meeting held on Harbor Island in his 3.5 year tenure.   

Now do you see why you have to show up at the commission meetings?  

Prediction.  Come March 11, the village still won't have the stats, the item will be at the end of the agenda, heard around midnight, some Harbor Island residents will show up.  Nothing will get done. 

Still, as the mayor will tell you, we have to think POSITIVELY, dammit.  

Kevin Vericker
February 27, 2014

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Growing Pains

As demand to build new housing in North Bay Village rebounds, there are inevitable concerns about what it means for the village.  Under current code, a complete condo canyon wall blocking the bay is possible.  

There are several new projects proposed for the north side of the Causeway and two of them have recently come before the village for consideration and approval.   In the first case, a proposal for a new condo hotel next to the Best Western/Shuckers had the potential for community disruption.  Through well executed meetings  and with the active support of Planning & Zoning, the residents of the Lexi and the developer were able to achieve a useful compromise on the design of the building.  Both sides realized that perfect is the enemy of the good and worked together on this.  

In its simplest terms, there are two ordinances governing development on the north side of the causeway - the traditional RM-70 which allows for shorter, wider buildings and the Bay View Overlay which encourages taller, narrower buildings.  There is no good reason why we should not only have one building ordinance, preferably the Bay View Overlay which is designed to ensure view of the bay from the street and neighboring buildings, but you've met our commission, a subsidiary of big developers.   

Anyway, the original building as proposed was tall and wider than allowable, particularly at the base, and the developer applied for variances.  After hearing the objections of the Lexi residents, P&Z requested that the developer and the Lexi meet to see if there could be common ground.  It turns out there is.  

The developer revised the building plan so that the tower portion is narrower, creating more open space and views, while the base is wide which would normally be a problem blocking views from the street but it is an open base, 30 feet high, with few structures to block the sight lines.   

It's not a perfect solution but it's one the village can live with.  Two of the P&Z members, Jim Carter and Barry Beschel, voted against it in very well reasoned arguments that the village needs to be strict on maintaining the views while three others thought that the spirit if not the letter of the law was well respected here.  Now it goes to the commission.  

Directly across the street from the  Lexi is another proposed project, a condo on the old Marathon lot.  In the  same spirit, the developer met with the Lexi residents and showed their building.  The bad part is that no matter what gets built, it will block their views but the Lexi residents seem resigned to that, they simply want to lower the impact.  Towards that end they proposed a different orientation of the building, not a rebuild but one that would take advantage of the open space to the east and maximize the view corridors.  It's not clear if the developer is willing but that will be the topic at the next Planning & Zoning meeting on March 18.   Below are two pictures of how it is proposed currently and the reoriented view:  

In this version, you can see the sight lines as the building is currently proposed

Here the building orientation is changed to allow a more open view.

I hope the developer of the new project listens carefully and considers compromise with his neighbors.   A more reasonable group you won't find.  

History Lesson:  In 2009, the Master Plan called for a limit of 5 stories for buildings on the north side of the causeway from the Kennedy House to the west side of Hispanola.  Our now mayor, then president of the CFD, led the developer directed charge to fire the city manager and ensure the condo canyon look that the developers had wanted.   Kreps was supported in this by a sitting commissioner who represented the Marathon and who stood to gain a great deal of profit from the sale of the property.   Kreps and crew were successful so now we are stuck with the inevitable closing of our causeway views.  At least there's some compromise available to us.  

Kevin Vericker
February 23, 2014

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Pennies from Heaven.

The first quarter financials for the Village are showing some promise, not a lot, but some.  Tax revenue collection is ahead of projection, new projects are bringing in new money, and except for the Police Department overtime, NBV is in a better financial position than midyear last year.  

In November, our taxes went up 15% on property and 16% on utilities to fund our reserve accounts and to maintain services.  The commission vowed to break the bad habit of coming up with random spending projects throughout the year and to maintain the discipline of not spending until it was budgeted.  Our villager manager committed to blocking new spending without compelling reason.  

Sounded good.  So what's the first thing the village manager proposed and the commission passed as soon as they saw a few extra bucks?  Was it:

A.)  Put the money in the reserve account and keep it there until they see how the year is going to end?

B.) Finally renegotiate the police contract which would have the added benefit of improving morale and reducing all the sick time? 

C.) Restore the community services for kids that they claim the village can't afford?  

D.) Decide to spend it on renting an unbudgeted new commission chamber so they are not slightly inconvenienced on those once a month Tuesdays when they show up?  

You know it was (D)!   That's right.  It seems the most important issue facing the Village is the lack of a really comfortable commission chambers and that the commissioners' offices are crowded.    

Man, I got about seven more pages I could write but what else is there to say?   Clearly Mayor Kreps and the village manager have decided to spend the last 8 months of her administration spending our money frivolously.   

Kevin Vericker
February 15, 2013

Thursday, February 13, 2014

No Parking For You

Did you watch the commission meeting on television this week? Oh wait, they don't broadcast them anymore even though Atlantic Broadband is required to carry the meetings free of charge.

I was there for the live show and once again, it was North Bay Village Crazy™.  There was a lot on the agenda but I want to skip to the part of the meeting that started around 11:45 PM.  

The item under consideration was a poorly conceived, badly structured stab at solving the Harbor Island parking problem.   There is simply not enough street parking to accommodate all the residents.   

This is not a new problem.  It is one that has been building for years and the Vice Mayor, who was elected from Harbor Island, has not once in his three years on the dais nor in his previous position on Planning & Zoning held a public workshop, engaged his neighbors in discussions about how to fix the problem. ,much less presented a plan. Apparently it's gotten more inconvenient for him to park lately so he asked the Village Manager to create a parking proposal.  

The Village Manager does not see community stuff as his job so he looked around and found the only person in the Village less interested in the community and assigned the job to him. Police Chief Daniels, the designee, then decided that the best thing to do was first make a list of properties that someone told him had sufficient resident parking and propose that they be prohibited from parking on the street.  

Not surprisingly, since he never reached out to verify the stuff that someone told him, he got that wrong.  Getting it right would have involved talking to the building managers and residents, and he doesn't enjoy those interactions since they often lead to other questions such as "Where are the police?" and "Are you new in town?"  

So anyway, the Chief created a list of 25 properties that he deemed had sufficient parking and summarily removed them from the eligible list for residential parking.  

Luckily, some people from the Islander were there (it was on the no parking list) and they were able to point out the obvious. The Islander has only spot per unit and neither the Village Manager nor the Police Chief had done the basic work of involving the community.

Vice Mayor Eddie Lim was visibly upset at the questions from the residents of Harbor Island and along with fellow Harbor Islander Commissioner Jorge Gonzalez voted to restrict parking on Harbor Island to a small number of buildings, allowing only one guest pass. Lim went so far as to lament that the permit charges were not high enough. Lim would prefer $100 for the first car and $150 for the second.

Commissioners Chervony and Duvall looked at the proposal, saw that no one had done their most basic homework and voted No.  Chervony and Duvall asked that the Village engage the residents and come back with a workable program. 

Which left Mayor Kreps as the tie breaker. Mayor Kreps gets tired at these meetings. By about 10:30, she lost control of the floor and never really regained it. Kreps had clearly not read the proposal, which contained the onerous restriction of allowing only one guest pass per unit meaning that if for example you have two adult kids you'd like to invite for dinner, you better decide who you like better as that's the one that gets the parking pass. Instead, Kreps heard from somewhere that there would be a $5 charge for each guest. That might actually work if it was in the plan which it was not. Kreps objected loudly to that phantom voice and joined in the No vote.

So it failed to pass, as it should have. Parking will remain open on Harbor Island, which is a shame. Had the Village engaged the Harbor Island buildings and crossed the bridge say to Miami Beach, they would have been able to create a workable parking plan for the residents modeled on other plans that well, work. Not perfectly but not punitively.

Interesting side note, during her dialogue with herself, Mayor Kreps asked Commissioner Gonzalez if the 360 would consider allowing parking on their unused land. Gonzalez, President of the 360, ignored her as roundly as the 360 ignores their legal obligation to open the waterfront to the public.

Now here's what could happen. The Village could approach the residents and the associations on Harbor Island, could get an accurate count of the parking spaces available and figure out an interim solution that won't be perfect but could work. But you know, when you have a village manager and a police chief who have never engaged the community in anything, and when you can push the discussion to so late in the night that it's impossible to engage residents, why should you do actual work? Much easier to just shove some bs at the commission and ignore them.

Kevin Vericker
February 13, 2014

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Pardon me, you're blocking my view

The Bay View Overlay Code was put in place December 2012.  It was a new type of coding for properties on the north side of the JFK Causeway and was implemented specifically to encourage taller, narrower buildings that would have less impact on the views of the bay.  It was designed to prevent the condo canyon beachfront that diminishes much of the Beach area.  The Ordinance specifically allows higher buildings in exchange for open view corridors.  

The first building to apply under the new zoning immediately asked for three significant variances - to exceed the height, to change the zoning from commercial to hotel, and most importantly, to exceed the width.   This has the residents at nearby buildings, particularly the Lexi, deeply concerned and last night the developer B Developments held a meeting at the Lexi to discuss the issue.  

The message from the people attending was clear.  They all understood that something would be built there.  There were questions but not a lot of concern about changing the zoning to allow a hotel, but everyone present opposed the idea of a width variance.  

The developer promised to talk to the architect and will meet again with the Lexi residents this Thursday to discuss potential changes.   

The matter will come before Planning & Zoning on February 18 for reconsideration.  It's critically important, I believe, that we should hold firm on the width requirements.  We don't want to completely lose our views and access to the bay and that's exactly what could happen now that construction is starting anew in the city. There are projects planned for the lot where the old gas station was, the now shuttered Crab House and the lot next to Channel 7.   If we cave on the first one to allow them a wide building in spite of the Village's clear intent to keep the views open, we will have set a dangerous precedent.  

I will watch this closely and keep blogging about it.  

In the meantime, on tonight's agenda the village manager is proposing a resolution to change the parking permits on Harbor Island to require permits for residents to park overnight.  All other parking from 6 PM to 8 AM will be prohibited.   The permits will be limited to 2 per apartment, with a guest parking program allowing one guest permit per apartment, and permits will not be issued to those who are in buildings that are deemed to have sufficient onsite parking.   

The buildings who will not be allowed street parking are:

  • 7900 Harbor Island (the 360)
  • 7904 West Drive (Bayshore Yacht & Tennis)
  • 7914 West Drive
  • 7916 West Drive
  • 7918 West Drive
  • 7928 West Drive (Islander Club)
  • 7929 West Drive
  • 7933 West Drive
  • 7934 West Drive
  • 7938 West Drive
  • 7940 West Drive
  • 8000 West Drive (The site of the new Blu Development)
  • 7905 East Drive *(Will only be allowed one (1) parking permit per apartment)
  • 7922 East Drive
  • 7923 East Drive
  • 7924 East Drive *(Will only be allowed one (1) parking permit per apartment)
  • 7925 East Drive
  • 7928/7930 East Drive (Eloquence)
  • 7935 East Drive (Cielo)
  • 7939 East Drive
  • 7941 East Drive *(Will only be allowed one (1) parking permit per apartment)
  • 7945 East Drive
  • 7946 East Drive
  • 7948 East Drive *(Will only be allowed one (1) parking permit per apartment)
  • 8000 East Drive (Biscayne Sea Club Co-Op)
What surprises me the most about the list is 7904 West Drive, a building I believe offers hardly any parking to its residents and the Island Club which only offers 1 per apartment.  

This is a resolution so it will only be heard once and voted on.  If you live on Harbor Island, and have issues with this, tonight is your only chance.   

Kevin Vericker
February 11, 2014