For Miami Beach to realize its vision of a public Baywalk along West Avenue from 5th Street to Lincoln Road, private property owners have to be coaxed to provide access. Negotiations over the value of the easement, the rights of property owners, the City, and the public, and who will pay for various costs have been successful in some cases but not others, resulting in frustration all around. Not to mention, an incomplete Baywalk.
At a meeting of the City Commission’s Finance and Citywide Projects Committee this week, owners of the Mondrian and representatives of the Mirador Condominiums indicated an agreement is close to build a Baywalk behind the properties between 10th and 12th Streets along with a marina.
As a condition of approval by the Design Review Board in June 2007 for exterior modification to the Mondrian and conversion to a hotel, the owners offered to construct a public Baywalk behind the Hotel and Mirador Condominium buildings.
Commissioner Ricky Arriola, frustrated by the lack of progress in completing the Baywalk, began calling owners of the private properties along West Avenue who have not yet completed their segments. At the Finance Committee’s July meeting, Arriola said that while he believes the owners of the Mondrian are contractually obligated to build the Baywalk, when he asked them if they would be willing to move forward on its completion, they suggested adding a marina as part of the Baywalk project. He brought that proposal forward for discussion as a means of jumpstarting the Baywalk in that area. When neighbors expressed concerns about noise, security, and parking, Arriola suggested the Mondrian owners have further conversations with residents of the Mirador to see if a consensus could be reached.
This week, Russell Galbut, representing the ownership group of the Mondrian, indicated an agreement is in the works to build the Baywalk and a marina. Galbut asked for another 30 days to refine the concept but told the Committee that after working with the associations in the 1000 and 1200 buildings, “We were really able to work together and come up with a plan that would work for all of us together as it relates to the Baywalk and marina.” Due to summer travel and Hurricane Irma, he said the groups had only just been able to discuss the options. “We have worked it out and, we believe, come to a conclusion that will please everybody, but we need the time to redraw the plans entirely and get signoff from all of the boards as well,” Galbut said.
Arriola said, “I’ll express my personal opinion on this the same as I did last time [in July]. I believe there’s a path where it’s a win-win-win. Win for the City, win for the developer of the marina, and win for the neighbors there on West Ave and I really hope you all can work together and find that path to victory because it’s critically important to the City that we open the Baywalk.” He acknowledged the concerns of neighbors and said that if through further conversations “this could culminate in a deal that makes everybody happy, I really encourage you to explore it and hope to bring it back and I think you might have some support up here [on the dais] for it.”
Jason Youngman, a resident of the 1000 building, said, there will still be plenty of time for residents to give their input. Once the proposal is redrafted, he said, “We’re going to have sort of a town hall meeting where our community can again voice their concerns, opinions in favor, against, whatever, and then to again just facilitate the process. So by no means is this a finished thing. This is just another step in the process in a very favorable direction.”
“I think by what was included in our material, I think most real estate experts would opine that having a marina behind your condominium development enhances property value,” Arriola said. “And so I think for folks that may be concerned about a marina, I think they should consider the fact that this could increase their property values which is a good thing.”
Youngman responded, “I think the biggest concerns for a lot of people are quality of life issues and scale, so as long as those things are mitigated or at least worked on, we come to agreement. We all want the Baywalk to open as long as it’s good for all of us.”
When the Design Review Board approved the project, it required an escrow fund to ensure the Baywalk’s construction. In 2008, the owners posted $800,000 in escrow funds, $350,000 of which was released in 2012 following its permit application to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP). Because this portion of the Baywalk needs to be constructed over water, it requires approval of FDEP. The remaining $450,000 has been sitting in escrow for nearly a decade.
Commissioner John Alemán noted the owner’s obligation to build the Baywalk but said litigation to force that obligation would be costly, “So it’s great if we can find this path.”
Galbut said that if the owners were to forfeit the escrow money, “The obligation is gone … Once you take that money, we have no obligation.”
“I may disagree with that point,” City attorney Raul Aguila responded. Aguila said he would include his thoughts on the obligation in a memo to the Committee for the next discussion on the issue.
Alemán clarified her point, “To me that’s the negative, unpleasant way to get this done. A much more positive, productive way to get this done is to come up with a new public amenity that the neighbors love, that increases their property values, that adds something new to the city, that’s a benefit to all. That would be the positive way so I hope that we are able to come up with that solution.”
But, the Committee members emphasized, it needs to work for everyone. Arriola concluded, “That’s why I call it a win-win-win. One win for the City, one win, obviously, for the developer, but also for the neighborhood. And if we can’t get a triple win, I don’t think we get a deal.”
Image: Mondrian Hotel, 1100 West Avenue