homeowners to tie into stormwater system without charge

Susan Askew
Susan Askew

homeowners to tie into stormwater system without charge:

commission rethinks earlier plan, will incentivize instead

As Miami Beach raises roads in anticipation of sea level rise, the question of what to do with water drainage from private properties has troubled homeowners. Until now, gravitational flow has drained water from properties, but with elevated roads, homeowners have been concerned about water pooling in their yards.
 
The City initially floated the idea of a plan to allow homeowners to drain water into the public stormwater system for a fee. This week, City Commissioners supported a resolution to allow them to tie in without charge and to incentivize those that retain stormwater on their properties through the use of cisterns or other means.
 
The resolution was sponsored by Commissioner John Alemán who said the plan represents a paradigm shift. “The City was going to implement our stormwater system, raise the roads, raise the public properties, and then because County code said that you’re not allowed to shed from one property to another, then residents were going to have to figure out what to do their water.”  That didn’t sit well with her. “We’re not trying to leave people behind and leave single-family homes and other private property owners sort of holding the bag of sea level rise.”  
 
Her resolution includes a commitment that the city will provide the engineering solution for how individual private property owners can tie in and shed water into the public system.
 
Alemán said a system that encourages people to tie in now without charge encourages resiliency rather than a fee system, which could cause people to decide to opt out and not add to the overall resilience of the city. “It’s a paradigm shift,” she told the audience at the Commission meeting. “I think it brings all of us along as one city together in terms of where the water’s going to go and how it’s going to be handled.”
 
The Commission voted unanimously to adopt the resolution. During the discussion on the item and several other items on the agenda related to resiliency efforts, tension was evident at times among residents and Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez and her colleagues.
 
Rosen Gonzalez favors allowing homeowners to determine if they want to defer their road elevation projects or change the recommended height. Specifically, she mentioned a request from North Bay Road residents to defer their project for five years. At one point she cited “depreciating property values” from road elevation.
 
Commissioner Ricky Arriola took exception to the comment. “That’s flying in the face of what’s actually been happening since we started this resiliency program which is escalating property values throughout Miami Beach from North Beach to South Beach so I think’s that the confidence in the market that we’re doing the right thing. I think stopping this would be catastrophic to the community.”
 
Rosen Gonzalez replied, “Nobody’s talking about stopping [just] reducing height.”
 
Arriola continued, “When you tell people pause for five years, I think that shows a lack of commitment to the program and I think that would cause depreciation in the market.”
 
North Bay Road resident Glenna Norton said her homeowners association would like a town hall meeting with the Commission saying their town hall meeting with staff was unsatisfactory. Rosen Gonzalez said she was in favor of a workshop where residents could vote. “I don’t think anyone wants to postpone all work forevermore,” she said. “I think we should find out how many people in the neighborhood would like a deferment.”
 
After much back and forth on the subject, Gary Ressler, another North Bay Road resident spoke passionately in favor of the project. “You keep talking ‘North Bay Road wants, North Bay road wants,’” he said. “I live on North Bay Road. I have many neighbors on North Bay Road who want this to proceed as scheduled, who don’t believe in a deferment, who don’t see a need for a delay.” On behalf of his neighbors he said, “I want to thank you all for your vision and your proactivity and your leadership … leadership that led us to invest in this area. We want to have that investment protected.” He praised the City for its outreach efforts. “Thank you again for scheduling so many public meetings. I’ve been to each one of them. They’ve all been educational. They’ve all been eye opening and participatory. Further, we’ve taken advantage of multiple personal visits to our property where each of our questions have been addressed specifically, all of our concerns addressed politely, intelligently, with facts and figures and numbers that have been studied for years.”
 
There was a brief commotion as some in the audience disagreed and Rosen Gonzalez stated once again her feeling that North Bay Road residents should “have the right to vote.”
 
Commissioner Michael Grieco then added his thoughts. “This is more than just about how water is going to affect your house. This is about how insurance underwriters and insurance companies are going to bill you in anticipation of what we are going to do now. We need to do something.” The cost of doing nothing, he said, extends beyond a particular neighborhood. “If one neighborhood doesn’t want it, that affects more than just that neighborhood because that means we’re sending a message beyond our borders to banks and insurance companies and the Federal government that we are not committed to anticipating and battling and mitigating sea level rise.”
 
Greico continued, “This is about economics just as much as it’s about water … it also has to do with the economics as to whether or not your flood insurance bill is going to be five figures.” That he said will have individual economic consequences. “If it’s going to be five figures now or five years from now, that means you’re not going to be able to sell your home. It means that a potential buyer’s not going to be able to get a mortgage because no bank is going to give them the funding. And that will have an impact on your home and your next door neighbor’s home and your neighboring neighborhoods’ homes.”
 
To the potential for voting neighborhood-by-neighborhood, Greico said, “This is not government by little local referendum. We are listening. There have been multiple, multiple public meetings about this specific project. I know that because I was there. Several of us were there. And there was a lot of talk, and a lot of presentations and a lot of specificity and a lot of questions and a lot of concerns that were aired in these meetings." It's time to act, he said. "We need to put our big boy and big girl pants on and have a grown-up conversation about what we’re doing here … These projects are necessary for citywide resilience, not just from stormwater, not just from sea level rise, but economic resilience.”
 
The economic resilience piece is, Grieco said, “an essential part of this conversation [that] we need to be concerning ourselves with just as much as we should about water … I and several of us up here are committed to seeing this forward and I don’t care how many meetings we have to have, public or private, to get everybody or as many people as possible on board but this is what needs to get done.”
 
Rosen Gonzalez argued flood insurance prices will increase no matter what, which caused Commissioner Joy Malakoff to say “If we don’t do these projects, you’re not going to get flood insurance."
 
When Rosen Gonzalez asked what the next step was, Arriola said, “You’re asking for a slowdown. I don’t think you have the votes.”
 
Alemán reminded the group that, at Commissioner Micky Steinberg’s initiation, the City is working on scheduling a workshop to talk about the project schedule and proposal “for a slower pace based on resident feedback” looking at “what is the proper schedule, what is the proper sequence of neighborhoods and really re-evaluate that whole rollout.”
 
She added that during the month of June, there will be public open houses, one per week, to help residents understand the “very complex” process of the road and stormwater projects. She said residents can come to one or all four “so you can really have your hand held all the way up that learning curve.” She urged residents to “Try to withhold judgment in your decision making until you get all the information … we’re all in this together. Try to keep your mind, your heart, and your spirit open to move up that learning curve.”
 
Finishing up the discussion, North Beach investor Matis Cohen told the Commission, “There is no negotiating with the climate and there is no negotiating with science.” The science, he said, is what “this Commission has based their policy on, taxed its residents and businesses on in order to fund the activities that are being proposed.” He said it’s not up to individual residents or neighborhoods to opt out of the resiliency projects. “That’s what this legislative body is responsible for doing,” he said. “This body accepted the principle you do the lowest lying areas first. That was the principle in which you made those decisions and I, for one, would like to hold you accountable to maintain that. Without doing that you undermine the entire market.”