Friday, December 05, 2014

For Friends of the Ludlam Trail: the good, the bad and the ugly … by gimleteye

The most controversial land use decision of 2014 -- at least the one generating the most public interest and scrutiny -- involves property owned by powerful Flagler Development, stretching along a former rail corridor from the edge of Miami International Airport to Dadeland. It is a possible 6.2 mile linear park instead of an abandoned rail line owned by Florida East Coast Industries.

Community and neighborhood activists are calling it: Ludlam Trail. Flagler Development, an FECI subsidiary, calls it an imminent planned increase in its asset portfolio.

The process through which the future of Ludlam Trail will be decided branches in several directions but begins with the county's land use planning ordinance, in conformity with state regulations.

That this thorny public process drew hundreds of neighbors and citizens to a cause is testament to the power of a good idea: creating an exemplary linear park in a traffic clogged, dense urban area where people are shuttered in cars from one place to another.

So count it a good result that at the conclusion of yesterday's hearing before the Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners, Flagler Development withdrew its application to give some time to work with neighbors and activists on a suitable park plan, including funding.

Count it a bad result, that the county commission voted to require the neighbors and activists to have its plan in place by May 2015. It is impossibly short time line. For the county, top land planner Mark Woerner said as much. Too bad commissioners didn't listen.

Lastly, count it an ugly result that the county commission voted to accept Flagler Development's application as its own, going forward.

To try to condense a complicated matter: the county commission voted in effect; that instead of a private application from Flagler Development to the state of Florida for its requested land use change, we (taxpayers) would accept responsibility for the application. As a county and not a private application, whatever emerges from talks between neighbors, advocates and activists and Flagler can be included in the Nov. 2014 cycle of land use amendments.

Flagler, of course, wants the time pressure to be put on the community but, in addition, it asked for and received the substantial benefit of having the county embrace its application, without any details attached.

It didn't have to turn out this way, and for a moment, it appeared some daylight had penetrated to the dais.

The discussion by commissioners was revealing. Pepe Diaz was the lead mouthpiece for the developer; his mantle since Natacha Seijas was booted off the commission by voters and Joe Martinez retired to run for Congress.

Although the deal had been worked out in advance of the meeting -- exchanging the withdrawal of the Flagler Development application in exchange for being included in the Nov. 2014 amendment cycle -- there was a point of near breakdown when it seemed that the county commission might embrace simplicity (KISS, in Xavier Suarez' comment) with Flagler Development: come back to us when you have worked out a deal with the neighbors. Period.

Flagler Development explained: if you (county commission) make us wait a whole year -- instead of four months -- then we will do whatever we have to do to maximize the value of our assets: ie. break up the property and destroy the dream of a Ludlam Trail. Sword of Damocles, appear!

That was the threat for which the county commission exchanged a reduced development application fee, four months time for the neighbors and Flagler to come to an agreement, including a funding plan, and -- in order to comply with its own municipal rules -- accepting the application as its own.

Only Commissioners Barbara Jordan and Xavier Suarez expressed how this deal wasn't a very good one at all. But, apparently, not persuasively enough. These two ought to have stuck to their guns and drawn out the discussion.

The gist of it: Flagler had agreed to withdraw its amendment before the commission voted to deny it, so why cut a bad deal now? (Jordan, Suarez, and Levine Cava voted "no", in the end.)

In a terse exchange, Commissioner Jordan said, "My concern is the public perception that we are taking over the responsibility for a private entity. It needs to come back as a private application. I don't want this to look like the county is allowing a private entity to come back and looks as though we are filing on their behalf." Suarez, "I agree with what you just said."

Although Chairwoman Rebeca Sosa ran a calm and organized hearing, the weight of thousands of dollars of Flagler Development and related corporate campaign contributions cast an invisible shadow on the proceedings.

Staff made clear, under prodding by the no-votes, that the county HAD NEVER before accepted an application from a private developer as its own during the land use planning process. Chairwoman Sosa was simply not credible when she claimed she had never known that her motion would set a precedent.

What would that precedent do? Commissioner Jordan didn't need to say, but her tone belied that every lobbyist in Miami-Dade County will be ringing doorbells to get county commissioners to accept their clients' land use applications to become county applications "for the public good". That will be a three-ring circus through which even larger gobs of money will pass through lobbyist hands: a make-work project for insiders on a grand scale.

At the end of the day, Flagler Development and its lobbyist, Joe Goldstein, won more than they gave up. By putting such a tight timeframe on "negotiations" with the neighbors -- from two community charrettes to a coordinated appeal to the state legislature for funding through Amendment 1 moneys, recently approved by 78 percent of Florida voters -- they shifted the burden of process. Or the county commission did. Plus, they got the county commission to make it, in effect, a county application.

The net result is not only a bad precedent from the public point of view, but it will also make it very difficult for county staff down the road, if and when a substantive plan materializes, to challenge Flagler Development. The clock is ticking toward May 2015, including community council meetings and the planning advisory board.

In sum, yesterday the county commission gave the community that wants Ludlam Trail a breath of hope. For that breath, it surrendered leverage and established a lousy precedent. Thumbs up, for Barbara Jordan, Xavier Suarez, and Daniella Levine Cava. Thumbs down, for the rest.


Stuart Grant said...

I may just be naive but I think that since the corridor extends through so much of the county - rather than being an isolated parcel and the intent is to end up with a major public use of the property it is not unreasonable for the County to take on the amendment as its own. Agreed that the time frame is not realistic to secure any significant public funding but we will try to get some commitments. I hope to work towards a good if not perfect solution and if it is not good I will fight to maintain it as a the existing transportation land use. I am optimistic that the community will be overwhelmingly engaged in a few more months so that if the solution is not good the Commission will not allow any land use change and the Community Councils will not allow zoning changes or variances. Thank you for keeping an eye on things.

Gimleteye said...

Thanks for the note. My skepticism is based on many years' involvement in CDMP processes including challenges in Florida administrative court. The best of plans and public pressure only go so far with the county: be strategic and tactical. The devil is always in the details.

Anonymous said...

Keep the pressure on for the next 6 months

Anonymous said...

I've been working Flagler Railroad, all my live long days, Countin' all the Ludlam Trail votes of all the politicians they play, Captains of Industry a' shoutin': Line up early and you'll get more, Captains of Industry a' 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. Flagler's in the kitchen with the Gov'na , Campaign contributions show Flagler's in the kitchen with many more, Flagler's on the old banjo, Singin'free di-N-E-R-O, free di-N-E-R-O-O-O-O, free di-N-E-R-O, Flagler's on the old ban, Flagler got the whole plan, Flagler own the whole damn show. Bob Welsh

Anonymous said...

Bob Welsh
TEAM FOOTWORKS EDUCATIONAL and FITNESS CORPORATION is in the Kitchen with City Commissioners-
Former President $70k a year then a raise to $100K but cannot afford the Fees for Special Events. Really?? at the expense of city taxpayers.
TFEandFC Year 2010 9 Program service revenue (Part Vill, line 2g) $1,238,679. $1,260,627.
Year 2012 9 Program service revenue (Part Vill, line 2g) $1,447,376. $1,794,173.