HOME » Press Room » Sunday, July 10, 2005
 News Article:  Public Gives Spirited Input on Development Plan


Scores of residents turned out for the working launch of Miami 21, the city's effort to map out future development.

Miami residents Saturday gave city officials more than an earful about Miami 21, their grandly ambitious plan to create a new blueprint for urban development. And the city people couldn't have been happier.

Despite blustery weather spawned by far-off Hurricane Dennis, more than 200 ordinary Miamians joined a couple of dozen public administrators, elected officials and consultants at Miami Dade College downtown for a nearly daylong conclave focused on the city's eastern quadrant -- the first in a series of Miami 21 public working sessions.

Atop the list of residents' concerns: affordability of housing, or the growing lack thereof; protection of neighborhoods from high-rise encroachment; preservation and expansion of the city's relatively small stock of parks and open spaces; and relief from increasing traffic.

The city's high-powered consulting team, for its part, took notes and began to outline some broad ideas that ranged from the mundane, like better lighting to make downtown more hospitable after dark, to the thoroughgoing -- purchasing land for new parks or establishing buffers between single-family neighborhoods and abutting high-rises by replacing some adjoining homes with town homes or small apartment buildings.

Another idea: establishing ''nodes'' for intensive commercial development and public transit at certain major intersections, including 79th Street and Biscayne Boulevard, to lessen development pressure on nearby neighborhoods.

The team also unveiled a startling statistic. The city's population, now about 375,000, is expected to grow by 87,000 people in the next 20 years, said the city's economic consultant, Tom Moriarty of Economics Research Associates. He said the projected rate is especially remarkable because it follows many years of no population growth.

The trend, he said, illustrates both the challenges and the opportunities that Miami 21 must embrace. It means the city must quickly figure out how to house and transport a fast-growing population while enhancing livability, Moriarty said. But higher population density also provides the means to do so, he said, by establishing a bigger economic base to support expanded public transit, parks and private businesses.

The quality of questions and discussion on Saturday -- residents came armed with written questions and proposals and handily tossed around planning terminology -- impressed and pleased Miami Mayor Manny Diaz, who has made Miami 21 the centerpiece of his administration.

''My sense is that people really feel energized and they will be an integral part of this process,'' he said in a brief interview during a break. ``People have begun to understand how it all ties together.''

As residents rotated among sessions dedicated to zoning and parks, transportation and economic development, many began to grasp the complexity of the task that city officials have set for themselves.

In spite of skepticism and occasional bitter talk and finger-jabbing, some expressed hope that the city has finally gotten serious -- and smart -- about solving long-standing planning and development problems.

Maria Luisa Castellanos, an architect with an office on Coral Way, praised the town-house and apartment-house idea as ``wonderful.''

''Miami suffers from lots of single-family homes and 50-story buildings, and nothing in between,'' she said.

The aim, elected officials said, is a comprehensive approach encompassing not just a zoning overhaul -- Miami 21's linchpin -- but also a new parks master plan and a guide to economic development that would serve the city for decades.

But they counseled patience.

''It has taken us 100 years to get where we are -- and much of that is a mess,'' City Commissioner Johnny Winton told attendees. ``And it's going to take us 100 years to get where we want to be. Our job is to take what we have and make it spectacular over the course of a relatively long time.''

Still, some who have long battled City Hall over intrusive development -- in particular, residents of Miami's Upper East Side -- remained leery even if eager to participate.

''It's hard to tell what's going to be generated by this and whether they will stick by it,'' said Karen McGuire, president of the Bayside Residents Association.

Saturday's workshop focused primarily on areas east of Interstate 95. Next will be public neighborhood planning sessions at the city's Neighborhood Enhancement Team offices. A schedule and other details of the plan are available at the Miami 21 website, miami21.org.

Chief consultant Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk said she hopes to have a new zoning regulatory plan for the east quadrant ready for approval by the City Commission by fall. The three other quadrants will follow in six-month increments, but which comes next has not been decided, she said.

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