When Acting Miami Beach City Manager Raul Aguila put the First Street Neighborhood Improvement Project to replace aging infrastructure and mitigate flooding from sea level rise on hold, he acted based on a lack of consensus among stakeholders. Now back on the table, an Administration proposal to run the outfall from a storm water treatment system underground in South Pointe Park has coalesced the community which is speaking out against the City's recommendation. In a recent virtual meeting sponsored by the City and a follow-up meeting of the South of Fifth Neighborhood Association, the sentiment overwhelmingly was in support of an alternative location in a dog park at Washington Avenue and 2nd Street.
The so-called Option 1 recommended by the City’s Public Works Department involves a storm water treatment system installed in the South Pointe parking lot with an underground outfall through the park to Government Cut. After evaluating six options, the Administration says Option 1 “offers the lowest estimated cost, along with the greatest benefits and advantages, including minimal loss of greenspace, the least amount of utility conflicts, minimal traffic impacts, and easy access maintenance accessibility,” according to a memo from the City’s recently appointed Manager, Alina Hudak. The project is set to be discussed at this week's Commission meeting.
The Administration initally considered five options but agreed to evaluate a sixth suggested by the South of Fifth Neighborhood Association (SOFNA), the 2nd and Washington location. At the City-sponsored meeting, outgoing Public Works Director Roy Coley presented the options along with a chart summarizing the City’s thought process.
According to Coley, Option 6 involves a loss of greenspace, a greater distance between the pumping equipment and the outfall and has more utility conflicts than Option 1. It also costs $4 million more and would take three extra months to complete. SOFNA argues the potential legal action surrounding placement of the system in South Pointe Park erases the cost and time differential of the 2nd and Washington site.
“We are very mindful that there are other considerations than just cost or just the simplicity of the operation,” Coley told the participants in the City-sponsored forum. “We know the elected officials may or may not accept our recommendation” which is based on engineering factors. “From an engineering standpoint, the best location for the system is as close to an outfall as possible.”
“We’re staff. We have a role. We’re asked to do an analysis, a technical analysis,” he said. The elected Commissioners will take public comment, “contemplate our analysis and make a decision.”
SOFNA President Alyson Herman said the “overwhelming sentiment” among neighborhood residents is opposed to the South Pointe Park option and in favor of the 2nd and Washington site. Those opposed to the alternative option suggested by the association are primarily residents that live closest to it, she said, due to a lack of specifics on design, construction, operation, and aesthetics. “That’s a really important part that the City has not done yet,” Herman said. “That’s an extremely important component.”
By only considering the engineering analysis, South Pointe Park emerges as the top option, she said, but other factors also need to be taken into account including the treatment station’s visibility, number of residents affected, and the noise and traffic impacts, among other things.
“If their evaluation is only engineering and the pump will work equally well” in all locations, “why wouldn’t they go with the community’s preference?” she asked. “Option 6 met more of the boxes. It was the least negative option available.” SOFNA put together it’s own chart with the factors it believes should be considered.
“You’re not going to have unanimous agreement on a location,” Herman said. “The people most affected, those adjacent to the location, are likely not going to be in favor” but at the 2nd and Washington site, placing the above-ground pump station in the fenced parking lot of an unused police station would reduce its visibility as the building would block it. The association recommends placement of the underground pump “as far North and West as possible at the dog park.”
There are other advantages to the alternative location, Herman said. There are “no high rises looking down on it" and the block is “less dense” with low rises, fewer residents, and more commercial uses. It’s already a “noisy block” with trolley and bus service, she added. “When [the pump] does kick on, you likely won’t hear it.”
Despite opposition to the City’s recommended location, SOFNA supports the overall project. “It’s very important to have the project start and address the flooding” but the Park location is unacceptable, she said. “It’s the jewel of South Beach. Why would we put it there when we have other options available?”
“We want the project to move forward,” Herman emphasized. “We understand flooding is a big issue in the community. We want to be part of the solution and that is why we proposed a new solution… to allow the project to commence right away so that really is our intention to facilitate the commencement of the project.”
At a recent Board meeting, SOFNA passed a resolution recommending Option 6 and asking the Commission to defer the item so that more outreach can be conducted and more information provided to those in the affected area. “SOFNA believes that inadequate information has been provided to our community on crucial project elements including: Pump Design, Size, Footprint, Site Placement and Visibility; Impacts on Greenspace and Canopy; Generator Options, Appearance, and Siting; Street and Traffic Impacts; Construction Timeline; Potential for Odors and Noise; Ongoing Maintenance and Operational Impacts," the resolution states.
[UPDATE: May 11, 2021 Some opposition is brewing to the dog park (Option 6) though it's unclear who is behind the effort or how many people concur. Signs have appeared throughout the area with a link to this website expressing support for the South Pointe Park (Option 1) as recommended by the City.]
Meanwhile, the Master Associations of South Pointe Tower, the Continuum and Portofino, have engaged legal counsel to challenge the South Pointe Park siting. Phillip Hudson III of Duane Morris wrote to the Mayor and Commissioners on April 12 that the firm had been “retained to commence litigation, if necessary… to prevent the improper installation of a stormwater pump (either above ground or below ground) in South Pointe Park.”
Hudson cited the Miami-Dade County Save Our Parks charter provision which “requires a Countywide referendum in order to allow construction in the Park, subject to some narrow exceptions not applicable here."
“The other major legal impediment is a deed restriction contained in the original deed from the Federal government to the City conveying the land for the Park,” Hudson wrote. “The deed restriction prevents the land from being used for anything other than a park. Although the installation of minor drainage equipment solely to address Park flooding would likely be allowed, it is clear that the introduction of a major stormwater pump that would service the entire South of Fifth neighborhood (thousands of acres outside of the Park) would have no relation to the Park and, thus, would not qualify as exclusive ‘park use,’” according to the letter.
In a memo to City Commissioners regarding the project, City Manager Hudak wrote the City Attorney’s office does not believe underground components of a stormwater utility system would require a County referendum. “The City disagrees with the Associations’ analysis and conclusion that the Underground Utility Exception only applies to third-party service providers such as ‘AT&T, FPL, Atlantic Broadband, and similar providers’, but not the City as a utility provider,” she stated. “[N]owhere does the actual language of the Exception [in the County charter] use the words ‘third-party’ or expressly limit its application to third-parties.”
“Far from advancing the purpose and intent of the County Charter Section 7 – to preserve park lands for the benefit of the public and protect against private uses of parks – the interpretation that public underground utilities should somehow be treated differently from private utility service providers would only serve as a straightjacket on public entities that provide critical public utility services such as stormwater or water and sewer services,” Hudak wrote.
The City also submitted to the Commission an email from John Barrett, Program Manager for the National Parks Service, indicating it had undertaken a “review of the City of Miami Beach’s proposed installation of a new water treatment system in and adjacent to South Pointe Park.”
“We have no objection to either of the two options presented and are therefore pleased to extend our concurrence on the project,” Barrett stated. “We appreciate the City’s assurances that the improvements will in no way adversely affect the continued use and enjoyment of the park by the public in accordance with the terms of the transfer from the U.S. to the City.”
In his letter, Hudson stated, “As you well know, a goal of South of Fifth residents is that the Pump be installed immediately due to worsening flooding conditions. Even if the City does not agree with us on the merits of the legal issues, we can assure you that the lawsuit we will file, including any related actions, will take years to resolve and the installation of the Pump will of course be abated while the litigation is pending.”
Aside from the delays of a legal challenge, in a new letter this week, Hudson reiterated the need to go through City, State and Federal processes which will be lengthy and time intensive, during which no construction can take place. “[L]ikely several years will be lost and as a consequence, the residents of South of Fifth will have to endure the ongoing and worsening flooding conditions. Given these mandatory requirements, the necessary resulting delay, and the substantial risk of further delay from either non-approval or delayed approval, it seems electing an option that invokes these mandatory processes is not in the best interests of the citizens of Miami Beach and therefore not in the best interests of the City.”
The City’s recommendation and other documents relating to the project for the Commission's consideratin can be found here.
To watch the City’s virtual meeting and presentation on the project, click here.
Photos courtesy City of Miami Beach
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