Monday, October 7, 2019

Planning for #NBV100

For the last week, the Village staff, the mayor and several groups of residents have been at Village Hall participating in a strategic exercise to imagine and create a Strategic Plan that will balance the needs of the current residents, the plans for the future, incorporate resiliency in response to climate change and finally get us unstuck.

The hands on sessions, facilitated by the excellent Galina Tachieva of DPZ Design Consultants, ranged from the prosaic to the very ambitious, and actively sought the residents input while also proposing ways that we may not have thought of. 

The sessions were filled with many viewpoints from old timers and it was exciting to see the involvement by newer residents.

DPZ will be presenting the summaries to the commission at their regular meeting next month. 

And it's a good thing they are because none of the four commissioners could be bothered to show up at the sessions or the nightly summaries.

Wait.  We Already Had a Master Plan

That's true.  The Village, back when we were a City, went  through this exercise in the 2000's.   

The plan, as put into action, called for thinner, taller buildings on the north side of the causeway, wider safer sidewalks on the causeway, parking, even a pedestrian bridge to cross to the proposed BayWalk.   It lacked any mention of the resiliency issues but that was normal at that time.   

The costs for these improvements were to be based on impact fees from new buildings, increased balanced tax revenues from new businesses, federal and state moneys and the projects were to be designed to improve economic activity in North Bay Village and in turn generate more money.    

The plan was well thought out and very popular.   

In fact work started on the Causeway beautification project and the only decent sidewalk in North Bay Village was created in front of North Bay Island.   

The Plan Died Quickly

Remember the taller thinner buildings with open bay access?  That was the first casualty.  The Yellow Building, hulking over Treasure Island near Benihana's.   Instead of tall and thin, we got short and squat and although the plans called for bay access, the building was for some rea$on allowed its certificate of occupancy with bay access blocked off by concrete walls.  Similarly, the Bridgewater, a nice looking building did build a bay walk but has been allowed to block it off from public access, as has the Fortress 360.  

As far as commercial projects, the  Storage Unit place was deemed the highest and best use for rea$ons and dominates the south side.  

The contractor for the JFK Beautification project went bankrupt and whoop$, it turns out the Village never required a performance bond so the work stopped.   

In the meantime, the proposal for the waterfront quickly devolved into a proposed strip club and the restaurants one after the other were allowed to be torn down by people holding the land for later profits.   

What About This Time? 

Based on the workshops last week, I see that DPZ has a very clear  view of the potential for North Bay Village.  The preliminary ideas inculcate the same values as the previous master plan - walkable streets, businesses of value, residential development that addresses the environment and the city rather than walls it out, and has the additional benefit of understanding resiliency needs in the middle of the bay.   

My only concern about DPZ is that they do not seem to have a clear idea of who lives here now, why we live here and how we are using our environment today.   We have people walking on all islands.  You can see it around 7PM every day - walkers, bikers, strollers, dogs, joggers, even skaters, and they take over the street.  People do patronize local businesses such as the Presidente even if that is not the preferred business.   The parks are well utilized.   It's important to build on what you have, not just plan for what you hope to have.  And our population has increased by 16.1% in 9 years.  That means people want to live here.   

The preliminaries though are very encouraging.  I particularly liked the idea of using Pirate's Alley as a pedestrian walk.   They incorporated green space design and ambitious use of the causeway.   Every bit had a recognition of the climate dangers and how we can respond.   

So It's Going To Happen This Time...

Not so fast.  

  1. Our commissioners were pretty much no shows for the sessions as I mentioned at the opening.   I realize they were busy doing stage shows for captive senior audiences, moderating best practices for people they don't represent and other more interesting things but they missed the damn hard work and discussions that the Mayor and the  residents did to carve this out.   Here's a "Best Practice", show up and do your job. 
  2. Several of the same people who derailed the last Master Plan and their lobbyists were lurking around.   We need to watch our wallets because once again we are being told that we have to make sure the developers turn quick profits.   We saw how well that worked out. 
  3. A former faux commissioner showed up to wonder "How much will this cost?" and never asked "What is this?" 
  4. The Village has not published a clear well laid out piece on how the process will work, and what steps will be taken. 
  5. Even among the residents, there was grave danger of sub-optimization.  People, we're not getting a Trader Joe's.  Let it go.  Parking is always going to be a hassle in the most densely populated city in Florida.  Plan it and do the best you can.  The purpose of re-inventing is not just to raise property values for quick RE commissions.  It's to enhance value for people who actually live here.   
This is one of those times that I sincerely and totally hope I am wrong.  That the commissioners were secretly following the sessions and the developers want to be part of the community and the Village will publish and promote the planning in a form that residents can understand and people will look beyond their gated streets and locked condos and try to be part of a great community.  

Maybe this time?  

Kevin Vericker
October 7, 2019