[Updated October 20, 2018 and January 17, 2019 at end of article]
The saga of the pedestrian bridge over the Collins Canal connecting Lincoln Court to Dade Boulevard continues. The Miami Beach Design Review Board (DRB) didn’t love the community approved option which includes decorative panels with a bubble design but were persuaded not to reopen the discussion when City staff recounted the two and half year long process to reach an agreement. They did, however, ask that the panels be continued on the accessible ramps for a more cohesive design and made suggestions for how they should be attached. Meanwhile, two City Commissioners have placed the item on next week’s Commission agenda to discuss safety concerns that some residents have expressed about the bridge.
At this month’s DRB meeting, one of the first questions asked by the Board was why there were so many turns in the ramp on the south side (above right). Luis Soto, Acting City Engineer, explained the elevation on that side was very low and required a drop from 7.5 feet to 1.5 feet in a very restricted right of way. The south ramp is temporary, he said, until such time when the roadway on that side is elevated and there would be less of a height differential between the road and the bridge.
DRB member Marsh Kriplen said, “I’m going to return to a term I used earlier which is 'iconic' and I think it’s important that we remember that this, really taking into consideration that the actual City limits are further to the west, this is really the first point where I think most people begin to believe they’re really on Miami Beach. There’s an opportunity here to do a really beautiful element. While I appreciate the effort that’s gone into this, as a design-build project, I think we are seeing stark differences in what’s happened with the bus shelter design [heard earlier by the Board] and how that’s been worked and how that’s been studied and this, which is essentially taking a standard gator bridge, trussed bridge, dropping it into a location and then cladding it with Venetian bubble panels… there’s not a cohesiveness to this design that implies to me that it has gone through the levels of study that a bridge of this importance needs to have gone through.”
Chief Deputy City Attorney Eve Boutsis noted the “design has changed substantially over time” referencing an earlier proposal for a “covered bridge” with lighting that she described as “iconic” and adding “The community did not want to see it.” She said the current design had evolved “because the other designs were not wanted.”
Planning staff member James Murphy told the Board that if it were “a standard bridge” it would not be before the Board. The panels were determined to need DRB approval. Those were “neighborhood driven,” he said, to cover the “standard, picket style” bridge ultimately proposed when more elaborate designs including “a Madison County covered train-style bridge which was not appropriate” were rejected.
Kriplen replied, “And as the Design Review Board, our purview is what exactly? To make recommendations in terms of looking at the panels again, to make recommendations in terms of choosing different plans for the landscape or where are we limited? What are we doing here?"
“The City does like iconic but not every neighborhood wants iconic,” Boutsis answered. “So the City is trying to take into consideration the desires of that neighborhood when it’s bringing the design to you and so I guess we’re also asking you to take that into consideration since I won’t tell you how many meetings they’ve gone to and gotten their butts chewed” she said of the City’s Public Works team.
“While I don’t necessarily think everything needs to be iconic, I think there’s definitely an argument to be made for elements fitting in with other elements that you see around the City,” Kriplen said. “If the residents have chosen this design solution and they have chosen these panels then you’re obviously telling me that’s where that relationship stops.”
“I think if those panels were proud of the bridge so that you didn’t see any of the frame, and if they had a little bit more of a sophisticated attachment detail, and if those panels also continued down the ramp on the north side with the intention of continuing down the ramp on the south side, now you start to have at least a cohesive design, albeit very different from other things that you see around the City,” Kriplen said.
When Boutsis asked the Public Works team if that could be done, Board chair John Bodnar stopped her. “I would not give them a specific design solution that could be explored and expect us to vote today. I think you should go explore a better bridge design that is more integrated with the ramping system and geometry of the site because there’s a number of issues that we could continue to talk about but I also don’t believe that this is the right answer nor is it just moving some panels around.”
Annabel Delgado-Harrington said, “I tend to agree with the comments said so far. I think it’s a missed opportunity… It’s not loud enough yet not quiet enough. My recommendation would be to either make it disappear and be totally utilitarian… or it needs to be a little more glamorous or a little more shine, right now it’s neither.”
Like Kriplen and Bodnar she said, “There’s discontinuity in what’s crossing the water and what’s reaching the land and it’s not quite there yet.”
At that point, Assistant City Manager Eric Carpenter reiterated his understanding that the design was before the Board because of the panels. “If my understanding is correct, if those panels were removed, this Board would have no purview over determining what the bridge looked like.” Planning staff confirmed the point.
Carpenter told the Board, “We’ve been back and forth on this for two and a half years and we’re getting a lot of heat from both the neighborhood and from the Commission that we can’t seem to get these projects done. I’m just trying to figure out where we go from here. It sounds like either we go back to the drawing board and come up with a more grandiose version or we remove the panels and don’t come back to the DRB.”
Bodnar responded, “You have the option to do what you want to do… Taking the panels off may not make the neighborhood happy. It may not make us happy but if the expediency of the project is the creed... now this is the first time you’ve come to us. It’s not like we’re holding you up if we ask you to come back again in a month or two.”
Carpenter said that would give his team “time go back before the Commission and ask for their opinion… since they already directed us to do a simple bridge.”
“We’re not talking about grandiose,” Bodnar said, “or a covered bridge or anything like that. I think we’re just talking about an elegant simplicity that would make the neighborhood happy and us.”
Carpenter said he appreciated the Board’s expertise and asked for further feedback adding, “We’re just trying to build a project in a timely fashion and, ultimately, a suitable A or B option would be much better for us so that we know what we’re up against.”
Bodnar said his preference would be to remove the panels “but find an engineering solution that is elegant” suggesting a simple arched truss.
Carpenter said that option was presented to the community but it was “well down on the list of options that they preferred.”
“We’re getting into the discussion of beauty is in the eye of the beholder and we’re just trying to make the community happy to the greatest extent possible,” he said.
Kriplen added, “I think we’re at a disadvantage in that, again as was mentioned, this is the first time we’ve talked to you guys and that’s unfortunate and we don’t, I particularly don’t, have the benefit of having seen some of these prior proposals to vet them versus what we have in front of us today.”
Thinking through the process, Kriplen said, “I think It’s risky. Well, there’s two things. We either recommend that they pull the panels, in which case they don’t need to come back and see us and whatever gets built gets built. I think the horse has probably left the barn in terms of returning to different structural solutions, although I don’t know, but again we don’t have any control over mandating that certainly. So I think our only path forward as a Board is to recommend some other options for the cladding and that they keep the cladding which will allow us to maintain our oversight as theoretically the design professionals who the City has chosen to represent them in matters like this.”
He suggested the panels be attached to the exterior of the bridge frame versus being set into it so that instead of seeing the frame and the panels, you would only see the frame. He also recommended that the panels be continued down the ramps on the north and south sides.
Bodnar said “I do hope you come back to this committee because there’s an opportunity. Our real role is to increase value, increase the quality of our environment, and we want to do that. We don’t want to be seen as some obstacle people have to trip over on their way to the finish line… We want to help so if you want to come back, we’d love to have you come back.”
Member Katie Phang said “I didn’t realize this was a two and half year journey but in fairness to us, it’s the first time we’re seeing this and we had no idea there’s been different iterations of it but we’re respectful of the fact that the members of the community have taken the time to not only be here today but that they’ve also seen different versions of this and have kind of come to peace with what this is.”
Kriplen said given the process the residents have gone through in reviewing the different panel designs, he said to Phang, “Like you’ve said, they’ve come to peace with this ornamental panel. I don’t know that we’re interested in backing up that far” but he said he was “interested in making the panels more ‘legible’ and make the aesthetic appearance of the bridge more cohesive.”
Board member Marvin Weinstein disagreed saying he wanted to leave the panel design open.
Phang proposed the Board approve the project with the bubble panels with Kriplen’s suggestions for attaching the panels to the bridge’s exterior and wrapping them around the ramps. “I think that, perhaps, would be the happy medium between what the City has worked with the community to achieve and what the Design Review Board is trying to refine.”
The vote was 5-2 with Weinstein and Bodnar opposing.
Last month, City Manager Jimmy Morales informed City Commissioners the Public Works Department planned to move ahead with the fabrication of the panels prior to DRB approval in order to have the bridge installed and open to the public in time for Art Basel. “In the event that DRB does not approve the side panels and/or railing, then we could appeal to Commission to move forward with the neighborhood selected option OR move forward with the basic bridge fabrication removing the decorative panels during the fabrication.” (The City Commission is the body to which DRB appeals go.)
Given the DRB comments, we asked for more information on the status of the project. Specifically, given the plans to move the panel fabrication forward in advance, have the panels already been ordered? City spokeswoman Melissa Berthier wrote in an email, “The Contractor delayed ordering until the last week in September and as a result we asked them to hold off until DRB. We are discussing the attachment options now.”
She said the item will “likely have to go back to commission. We are evaluating options right now.”
Regarding the cost of adding panels down the ramps, Berthier said, “There was additional funding allocated under a budget amendment last year that did not get assigned to the contract so we believe some additional funding is available if needed.”
And what about additional community input? Would that be needed? “At this point, I believe we have gotten direction from the Community and the Commission, we just need to make that work with the DRB suggestions,” Berthier wrote.
The bridge is the topic of a discussion item on next week’s Commission agenda but for a different reason. Commissioners Kristen Rosen Gonzalez and Michael Góngora have asked to address residents’ concerns “that the area surrounding the pedestrian bridge is going to create dirt and crime in an area that is currently very passive and quiet,” according to a memo placing the item on the agenda.
DRB member Kriplen responded to those concerns at the DRB meeting. “As a former neighborhood resident, I can appreciate both sides of the access, no access. I tend to believe that more eyes on a street is better and activating that cul de sac… is a good thing, providing pedestrian pathways that, independent of vehicular circulation, is a good thing. Providing a pedestrian bridge at that location that gets us closer to the baywalk and closer to the park are both good things.”
UPDATE, October 20, 2018: This project is moving forward after the City committed to addressing safety concerns raised by residents of Lincoln Court. Specifically, the area will receive new lighting and a security camera following questions about the impact of increased foot traffic in the cul de sac as well as some design accommodations to discourage people from congregating or sleeping under the ramps.
UPDATE, January 17, 2019: The City Commission this week approved $390,000 for a change order to reflect agreement with the neighborhood and Design Review Board on the design of the bridge. Public Works Director Roy Coley said the bridge will be installed 90 days after contract execution.
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