More than 400 citizens -- nearly every single one in favor of converting the FECI property at Ludlam Trail into a public park -- poured into a Town Hall style meeting last week in South Miami.
The citizens believe that the rail corridor, abandoned by its owner for decades, could provide a unique civic amenity in the form of a linear park, if county commissioners can be persuaded that the land's value to quality of life and to the tax base is higher than if converted to condos and buildings.
FECI (Florida East Coast Industries) suddenly sprang to life when it caught wind of the civic activists and decided, only then, to change the property's underlying zoning to maximize its developable potential while retaining a fig leaf of accommodation for parks advocates.
One of the developer's most disingenuous claims by the developer is that it can't provide hard and fast details on its "compromise solution" on Wednesday, because those details would be ironed out AFTER the decision to re-zone and the parties (without the public) begins negotiating with county planners (read: captives to a deformed process tilted in the property owner's favor.) Believe me: I have been through this wringer so many times by fingers look like strands of spaghetti.
But never mind past or history (voters appear disinclined to pay attention to either). What about now?
On Wednesday, dozens of speakers will testify against a hasty decision by commissioners in favor of FECI. They will lament back room deal making. They will try to sway county commissioners who are closely tied to powerful, wealthy individuals who are the largest shareholders and FECI insiders.
Teachers interested in civics lessons for students ought to bring their students to the County Chambers this Wednesday, to watch what happens when elected officials "listen to the people".
Before funding for Central Park was committed in the 1850s, the creator of Central Park in Manhattan, Frederick Law Olmsted, explained that the park would be self-financing. His argument is as relevant today to Miami-Dade County.
When Olmstead convinced key decision-makers in 1856 to acquire title to the land, he based his argument on economics. To persuade elected officials, the New York City Comptroller repeated the essential point, "The increase in taxes by reason of the enhancement of values attributable to the park would afford more than sufficient means for the interest incurred for its purchase and improvement without any increase in the general rate of taxation."
This economic fact even more true in a region of Miami where developers and elected officials skipped over a well planned and funded park system; dragging down our quality of life and economy.
The Ludlam Trail is located in an area where hundreds of thousands of residents lack altogether opportunities for children and families and visitors and residents to bike and to recreate.
On Wednesday last week, South Miami Philip Stoddard who moderated the meeting told the crowd, ‘Everyone in this room knows that you start with a vision. But the vision did not include a public process.’
At the very least, Miami-Dade County Commissioners should defer any decision about a zoning change. More facts need to be presented, including the potential for funds from the wildly popular land acquisition provisions in Amendment 1, that passed the state-wide ballot earlier in November by a whopping 75% of the popular vote. Stand up for people for a change, county commissioners.
Plan to develop along old rail line draws ire
BY KATHRYN VARN Special to the Miami Herald
A town-hall style meeting Wednesday night regarding the fate of an abandoned railroad corridor running through the heart of Miami turned contentious quickly as residents and the development company continued to butt heads.
The meeting, sponsored by citizen group Friends of the Ludlam Trail, was organized as part of a series of attempts to iron out the tension between residents abutting the commonly known Ludlam Trail Corridor and the company that owns the property — Florida East Coast Industries subsidiary Flagler — which wants to develop the land into a bike-and-pedestrian trail alongside mixed-use development. The corridor runs in a straight shot from Dadeland Mall to Miami International Airport.
But as soon as FECI Executive Vice President Rafael Rodon began answering questions from the audience, there was a mass exodus of disgruntled residents, bringing the attendance from standing-room only to, at most, half capacity in the South Miami Senior High School auditorium, which seats about 300.
The meeting started out tame enough with a poll led by Victor Dover, a Friends board of directors member and local town planner. Using a keypad, residents were able to answer questions regarding the future of the trail. The answers predictably revealed that residents wanted to see the trail become an open-air, linear park with little to no development.
But perhaps the most interesting answer came from a question regarding how many additional tax dollars residents would be willing to take on, to which 51 percent answered the most expensive option: up to $100 per year, per household, for five years.
Following the poll questions, Rodon went over the amendment language Flagler has drafted to address resident and county staff concerns related to the development density, which he emphasized would occur most heavily at nodes that already have high densities: Dadeland Mall, Bird Road and Blue Lagoon.
Many of the audience questions following Flagler’s presentation pertained to the width of the trail.
Flagler has maintained that it would designate 25 percent of the 6.2-mile corridor, which is 100 feet wide but bottlenecks to 50 feet in some places. But residents were demanding a foot measurement, citing the county parks department’s recommendation of at least 35 feet as an adequate trail width.
But, like many of the questions requesting details on how Flagler plans to fit the development into the corridor, Rodon said the width measurement would come during the zoning process, which follows the procedure Flagler is in the middle of right now: planning.
“We’re going by the book, by the county planning process,” Rodon said.
Based on the number of residents who walked out, they aren’t willing to wait that long for the details. Plans were submitted in May, and it could take many more months before zoning is even in play.
In an attempt to explain resident frustration, South Miami Mayor Philip Stoddard, who served as moderator, addressed Rodon and the remaining participants in the audience.
“Everyone in this room knows that you start with a vision,” Stoddard said. “But the vision did not include a public process. I think the place the public and company become disconnected is that the public has not been part of the process.”
The public is invited to an open house with Flagler representatives from 4-8 p.m. on Monday at the Gables Banquet Hall, at 7360 SW 24th Street. Flagler’s case will go before the Miami-Dade County Commission at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday in the second floor commission chambers of the Stephen P. Clark Center, located at 111 NW First Street.