Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Ludlam Trail needs an angel: Armando Codina … by gimleteye

Yesterday's public hearing at the county commission on the request by Flagler Development (alternately, Florida East Coast Industries) to rezone the former rail line to what the public would like to create from its property, a linear public park, was cut short by travel schedules of commissioners.

For advocates of Ludlam Trail, that was a bit of good news if not a ray of hope.

The well-attended meeting happened on the same day as a hedge fund billionaire, John Paulson, announced a gift of $100 million to New York City's Central Park; the largest in the nation's history for an urban park.

Advocates for turning the entire Flagler property into a community asset hope Armando Codina was paying attention.

Codina's life story, from a poor Cuban immigrant to an acclaimed, successful developer and board member at the highest ranks of corporate America, parallels the rise of Miami from an insular southern city to a sprawling megalopolis. He charted his own financial course through the tangle of local developers who created great wealth from condos (ie. Jorge Perez) or zero lot line housing (ie. Latin Builders Association) to a position of unparalleled influence. Codina is a top shareholder of Flagler Development and FECI.

In the case of the future of Ludlam Trail, he is also the most influential.

Listening to yesterday's testimony by Flagler's lobbyist team, what emerged was a very complicated -- too complicated -- plan to develop its linear 67 acre property stretching from Blue Lagoon near Miami International Airport all the way southeast to US 1.

The 6.2 mile stretch is unique in Miami-Dade county, and partly in various municipalities along the way. In addition to nodes for intense development, there is a plan for secondary construction, and despite its claim that traffic won't be an issue because the development is matched to existing infrastructure, no one should believe it.

The net effect of the plan would be to increase its development potential from 1345 units to more than double that number while retaining some 25% of the property, or about 18 acres, for a "trail". The 1345 units is calculated by the Miami Dade planning department from the current zoning category for the former rail line right-of-way, as narrow as fifty feet in some spots.

Flagler and the county counter claims that neither evinced any interest in developing the property until neighborhood residents and leaders began discussing the great value of this unique vacant parcel as connector, in the form of a community path, in one of the areas of the county least served by public parks.

Whatever the case, the fact remains that elected officials who are inclined to do what their contributors want do not like being pushed to change their minds and usually come up with many arguments -- supplied in advance of public meetings by lobbyists -- to point away from the public interest and toward  private profit.

But all is not lost with Ludlam Trail.

First of all, it is clear from the position of local community councils that the public does not want more development in this area. The Planning Advisory Board -- always more friendly to developers -- is predictably on the other side (isn't it time to clean house and have a PAB more representative of the public interest?).

Although the Flagler lobbyists and county both note that there is no funding for outright purchase of the property, this is a negotiating position.

If Flagler, the county, and neighbors came together to petition the state of Florida, the Ludlam Trail acquisition could be a top candidate for Amendment 1 funding, newly available through a percentage of the documentary tax stamp in real estate transfers.

The main obstacle is the weight of bad past precedents with right-of-ways to benefit the public; namely, the Miami River.

In the 1990's, Miami insiders, property owners, and their lobbyists (ie. Greenberg Traurig) spurned the opportunity to create the kind of park space that would have defined a vibrant commercial and residential center by allowing condos to dominate the landscape. (I recall trying to talk to Art Teele, at the time the county mayor, about this and he just shook his head. "Marty Fine would never agree.")

The thinking that prevailed treated public access as an orphan who could be starved because he was too little to complain effectively. The result was tragic for Miami, notwithstanding the bulging net worth of its creators through the boom, bust, then boom again.

Now Ludlam Trail and its environs are different. Residences and taxpayers are solidly middle class. You can't gild that lilly like Perez, a board member of FECI, did at the Miami River.

The logic of buying out Flagler's entire property for the benefit of the community is just too powerful.

But it won't happen if, on December 4th -- when the CDMP hearing continues -- should the county commission fold and simply votes to "transmit" the Flagler development/zoning request to the state.

By denying the application, the commission would point Flagler to work with the advocates for moving the state legislature and Gov. Scott to appropriate funds. It would take a couple of years, but the former rail line has been sitting idle and unused for nearly 30 years. Plus, securing the needed approvals from various municipalities along the route is uncertain and would also take years and even more lobbyist and planning expense.

If the commission votes to "transmit" the application, the burden moves onto the shoulders of Ludlam Trail advocates who probably lack the resources to mount an effective campaign in Tallahassee without Flagler's support.

That is why the involvement of Armando Codina is decisive. He understands perfectly well the community's need. He has made a fortune enough for one lifetime. Will he take the dismal course of past precedent and use a "public access trail" as a fig leaf for shoe-horning a development plan that has many obstacles of its own to surmount, or will he consider lasting legacy of an "Armando Codina Trail", support full acquisition or at least give it a fighting chance, and still come out right for Flagler shareholders?

It is something for Codina to consider, because after all is said and done, you can't take it with you.


Anonymous said...

Call your state legislators, Republicans!

Anonymous said...

Great argument -- Come on Codina - this would be a wonderful legacy!

Anonymous said...

Codina works on Flagler Railroad, all his liv-long days, Countin' all the Ludlam Trail votes of all politicians he plays, Captains of Industry are shoutin' : Queue up early so you get some, Captains of Industry are shoutin' : Dinero blow your horn. Dinero won't you blow, dinero won't you blow, dinero won't you blow your horn, toot toot, Dinero won't you blow, dinero won't you blow, dinero won't you blow your horn. Codina's in the kitchen with Sosa, Codina's in the kitchen I know uh oh, Codina's in the kitchen with Sosa, Codina's on the old banjo, Singing free DI-n-e-r-o, Free DI-n-e-r-o, Free DI-n-e-r-o, Codina's on the old banjo

Anonymous said...

Codina's been workin on the Railroad, All his liv-long days/ Countin all the Ludlam Trail votes from all politicians he plays/ Captains of Industry shoutin' : queue up early so you'll get more/ Captains of Industry shoutin' : dinero blow your horn// Dinero won't you blow, dinero won't you blow, dinero won't you blow your horn, toot toot/ Dinero won't you blow, dinero won't you blow, dinero won't you blow your horn// Codina's in the kitchen with Sosa, Codina's in the kitchen I know/ Codina's' in the kitchen with Sosa, Strummin' on the old banjo/// Singin' : Free DI-N-E-R-O, free DI-N-E-R-O oh no, Free DI-N-E-R-0, Codina's on the old banjo.