Revisiting Miami Beach's Road Raising Policy

Resiliency

Susan Askew
Susan Askew

Revisiting Miami Beach's Road Raising Policy:

Commissioner says objections are delaying critical infrastructure projects

Since getting elected this past November, Commissioner Mark Samuelian has hit the ground running, becoming the lead voice on Miami Beach’s governing body for residents unhappy with the City’s road raising policy to combat sea level rise.
 
From joining Mayor Dan Gelber’s call for a “red team” review of the resiliency projects to date to leading the charge to delay the $90m La Gorce neighborhood project, Samuelian supports what City Manager Jimmy Morales has called a “reorienting” of the City’s program to include permanent generators on future and current projects under contract, finish projects that are underway and fix issues that have been identified with completed projects, integrate green, blue and grey infrastructure into projects, and proceed with the West Avenue project through an accelerator program.
 
For him, it goes a few steps further, to include a review of the resiliency policy as it relates to road elevation and potential alternatives. That’s the gist of his discussion item on the Commission agenda this week.
 
Samuelian acknowledges, “’Do nothing’ is not an option.” He said, “The City has made some important progress over the last few years.” With that learning and the recommendtions of outside experts from the Urban Land Institute (ULI) and Harvard, Samuelian said, “We’re in a situation where we are going to… ‘reorient’ our resiliency program which, to me, means real change in how we’re doing it.”
 
“There’s one specific item that jumps off the charts and that is the idea that we have a policy in place to elevate streets to 3.7 NAVD across the City unless hardship is proven, so there is an out clause. That policy, in my opinion, is flawed and we need to change it,” Samuelian said. 
 
“First, putting private property below grade is never a good thing. There are significant downsides and risks to doing that including potentially flooding. Why might you have flooding? It could be an event that’s outside of what was contemplated in the design. It could be a drain that gets clogged or the system may not function exactly as it was designed,” he said, mentioning Sunset Harbour.
 
In addition to the flooding, he said, are the costs to the private property owners to address elevated roads in front of them and the aesthetics. “What we’re doing to our neighborhoods, I think the aesthetics are troubling. We haven’t even tackled how we want to raise to 3.7 NAVD in historic neighborhoods and I also have concerns about accessibility from an ADA standpoint.”
 
His other concern is “the cost and complexity of doing these projects.” Referencing projects on Palm and Hibiscus Islands, he said, “When we raised the streets, we’re then trying to help the private property owners – it might be ballpark 100 small scale construction and engineering projects that we’re involved in” because each homeowner’s situation is unique. “That adds significant time, cost and complexity to the project,” he said.

As a result, he said, “a large swath of the community, certainly not 100%, they’re rejecting this idea. They do not want their properties materially below grade and they’re pushing back.”
 
His agenda item (R9L) includes letters from residents and community associations objecting to the road raising policy. 
 
The objections to the road elevation, he said, are “delaying some of the proven solutions that we know work: Pumps, one way valves, more heavily engineered pipes and, hopefully, now green and blue solutions.”
 
“So this policy that is such a problem, that has now caused the community to be up in arms, is now stalling our ability to get things done” he said referencing the La Gorce project that was delayed at the last Commission meeting.

Given those concerns, Samuelian said, “I do not believe that raising streets at this time is helping to address the real flooding problems that we have and I believe that we need to find alternative approaches.”
 
When asked for alternative approaches that he would support, he said, “I’m going to let the City administration figure that out but, obviously, one of them is to not raise streets, to raise streets nominal amounts, to raise streets only in specific circumstances. I’m going to let the flood water experts come back to us” with recommendations but he said, “It’s a critical issue that we need to get on with before it delays our program even more.”
 
In a letter to constituents, Samuelien said he also wants to the City come up with “proper aesthetics that make our city distinct and attractive”, “more actively support neighborhoods that want to pursue undergrounding power lines as part of neighborhood projects”, improve community engagement, and “enhance our financial planning and oversight for this several hundred million dollar investment.” He also supports “seiz[ing] unique opportunities to create truly innovative resilient parks including potentially 500-600 Alton, North Beach West Lots, etc.” Samuelian and several commissioners said they were willing to explore the potential of using the proposed General Obligation (G.O.) Bond issuance for purchasing the 600 block of Alton Road from developer Russell Galbut for a resilient park.
 
Samuelian said he is looking for a “healthy, productive discussion" on Wednesday.  "I hope to come out of it with a better understanding from the dais of what some of the issues are, an airing of different points of view on this issue and, ultimately, the opportunity for the administration to come back with an assessment of the alternatives that we can then discuss."
 
 
 

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