Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Access to the Bay

As new building projects were developed on Harbor Island, the Village gave significant reductions in impact fees and variances in exchange for access to the bay.  The following buildings all have existing conditions that require them to provide public accesss to the water: 

  • 360 The largest project in the Village.
  • Eloquence on the Bay at 7928 East Drive
  • Cielo at 7935 East Drive
  • The Adagio at 7939 East Drive
  • Blue Bay at 7927 West Drive
  • Space 01 at 7934 West Drive 
  • Blu at the northern end of West Drive (under construction)  

Only one has complied according to an internal memo presented to the commission on Feb 20, 2013, the property at 7927 West Drive.  The rest have simply ignored the requirement to provide pedestrian access to the water.   

It's important to remember that these projects sought and received significant value from the village in exchange for waterfront access.  It was an agreement made in good faith.  

Unrestricted access to the water and to the areas surrounding any building clearly creates problems and the plan all along was to develop legislation to create the rules of access, similar to park use.  Should the access be 24/7 or sunrise to sunset?  Are dogs allowed?  Fishing?  Smoking? Picnics?  Bicycles?  How about noise?  And what about the security issues?   

The commission has never, not once, dealt with these issues.  Never even brought them up for discussion and has pointedly ignored every attempt to discuss the issues of waterfront access brought to them by the residents.   This is harmful to the residents who want the access and to the ones who live in the buildings affected.   

The commission could and should deal with this now.  My recommendation would be to apply the same rules as those in place for Vogel Park - sunrise to sunset, limits on activities similar to the park.  There may need to be other considerations but ignoring the issue makes it worse for the building residents and for the village.  

The building residents need to be concerned that an agreed plan is not in place because at any time, and unpredictably, they could find themselves on the losing side of a lawsuit if they continue to deny access.  The courts have been very strict in Florida on water access.  It's much better to agree a workable plan and counter-intuitively, having a well regulated public access increases property values.  You only need to look South of Fifth in Miami Beach or along the walkway above 63rd St. to see that a vibrant public park enhances the properties.   

One resident noted on the Facebook page North Bay Village Residents Speak that the 360 had opened access and promptly suffered from acts of vandalism so the 360 closed it.  The first thing I'd say is that this is like someone deciding to close off a sidewalk because there were issues.  You're not allowed to do that.  You need to work with the police to ensure safety and no building is better connected with the village administration than the 360. 

But much more so, the 360 is in a unique position to lead the way on how this should be managed.  The president of the 360 Condo is Jorge Gonzalez who is also a sitting commissioner in North Bay Village.  He could have led the effort to ensure public safety and public access to protect the safety of the 360 residents while promoting the community.   Gonzalez could have done that, and still may yet, but in his two years, he has shown little interest in any of the quality of life issues in North Bay Village.  Gonzalez first voted for an unworkable permit plan to address the parking issue on Harbor Island and then dropped the subject.  Gonzalez has never brought the Master Rec Plan forward and certainly has not once addressed the waterfront access issue except to vote for a $100,000 giveaway for an engineering firm to make a drawing of a crosswalk on Treasure Island that will never be built.  

It seems that Commissioner Gonzalez only responds when free suites to the Heats game are offered (click here for that story.) or all expense paid trips to the Near East are in play.  (click here for that one.)  

I have little hope that the current commission will do anything more on the waterfront access than they have done on the parking problem, the dirty sidewalks, the Tot Lot or the coding issues but it would behoove them to try.  

Kevin Vericker
July 1, 2014

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