Upper river meeting finds business concerned over residential projects
By Paola Iuspa
Some owners of businesses along the Miami River said they worry that plans to redevelop the waterway corridor won't go far enough to protect industry from mixed-use and high-rise development.
Business leaders from the upper river, an industrial zone stretching from the 22nd Avenue bridge to NW 42nd Avenue, are concerned about a master plan being drafted for the Miami River area.
"Some people are more interested in development and (building) condos," said David Gregory, who said he owns a towboat company. "I would like to see some kind of strong support for the working river, like marine-protection zoning."
A public meeting with the business owners was sponsored last week by the Miami River Commission, a state-created group in charge of promoting the redevelopment of the river areas and the planned dredging of the river.
The commission hired consultants to gather data and come up with a report on a master plan, said Brett Bibeau, the commission's assistant managing director. He said the report and master plan should be ready in six months and would have to be approved by the City of Miami and Miami-Dade County.
Those living and working in the river corridor are eager to see a change for the better, said David Miller, the commission's managing director. "But they are somewhat apprehensive that the marine industry and neighborhoods will be squished out of there by new development."
The need for a master plan is tied to the state's Miami River Improvement Act 2000, which calls for an urban in-fill planning initiative for the 5.5-mile-long river and areas within one-half mile from the river's edge, Mr. Miller said.
By identifying vacant and blighted land for projects, he said, and proposing new zoning, land-use and environmental regulations, the river commission, in a joint effort with the City of Miami and Miami-Dade County, plans to transform the central urban area.
Mr. Bibeau said a tax increment financing district, or TIF, will be created to fund improvements along the corridor once the urban in-fill plan, which includes the master plan, is approved by the city and county, probably in mid-2002.
Although last week's meeting focused on the upper river - which includes Melrose, Grapeland Heights and a portion of Allapattah, mostly low-income neighborhoods - two other meetings were held in October for the middle and lower river.
The middle-river region, mostly residential, is defined as the area from the Fifth Street bridge to the 22nd Avenue bridge while the lower area, with entertainment and mixed-use properties, stretches from Biscayne Bay to the Fifth Street bridge.
Mr. Bibeau said more public hearings will be held likely next month and early next year before a report on the master plan is drafted. They hope to have work completed by mid-2002.
The commission has raised $155,000 to work on the urban in-fill plan. The state chipped in $50,000, the county another $50,000, the Environmental Protection Agency $20,000, the Miami-Dade Empowerment Trust $25,000 and the commission $10,000, Mr. Miller said.
Among changes suggested by the marine business community, he said, is to set uniform zoning for the upper river. Mr. Miller said that it was important to update zoning laws on county-governed land because those regulations differ from those for the city. The City of Miami, he said, governs most of the land along the river.
While the city calls for marine-industrial use, the county permits industrial use, leaving room for non-water-related uses in the upper river section, he said.
If there is no rezoning, Mr. Miller said, "anybody can build a cement factory there."
He said restricting zoning to marine-industrial use, on the other hand, could limit or lower property values.
After Steve Lefton, an urban planner with Kimley-Horn & Associates, the consultant firm hired by the Miami River Commission, proposed creating a buffer between industrial and residential areas of the upper river, those who attended the meeting said they did not want a wall between the two.
Fran Bohnsack, executive director of the Miami River Marine Group, said restricting business owners to a limited space was not a good idea.
"There is a tremendous need for warehouses and potential for business consolidations," she said. "Companies in the shipping industry need to grow and for that they need space to expand."
Others asked Mr. Lefton to include in the report a need for more police and fire hydrants in the area. They also requested that North River Road, with many of its adjacent lots being used as dumping grounds, be paved and patrolled.
The lack of public services and a high crime rate near the upper river is contributing to higher insurance premiums, some said. They asked for an increase of public services for the industrial, Melrose, Grapeland Heights and nearby Allapattah communities.
Bud Morton, who said he was with Ferrous Processing, cited dumping as an increasing problem. He said it was happening on properties owned by the Florida East Coast Railroad and wants regulations to prevent it.
Xavier Cortada, a resident, proposed developing what he called a marine-village character.
"Let's give it a village spin," Mr. Cortada said. "Residents will be proud to live in or close to a marine village."