Proposal would remove marine industry provisions from new river plan
By Risa Polansky
Explicit city protection of the Miami River's marine industry could be no more — at least for now.
A draft amendment to Miami's comprehensive plan would eliminate the optional element that encourages and safeguards marine uses along the river, with intent to write a new element within three years.
River industry supporters say this is the second time in recent weeks the city has been less than upfront about its intentions.
They were already alarmed by a less-severe amendment proposed last month.
Andrew Dickman, attorney for the Miami River Marine Group, calls the situation "Rivergate."
The move to alter the plan's Port of Miami River element comes after three appellate court decisions reversing commission-approved land-use changes along the river that would have allowed residential development there.
Either follow your comprehensive plan or change it, the court told the city.
Officials chose the latter, proposing last month an amendment to the plan that would have confined protection of the marine industry to areas west of 27th Avenue.
Industry proponents protested the city pushing the change separately from its ongoing public comprehensive plan review process, which so far has included less drastic proposed changes to the river element.
Some called the first-draft amendment a secret.
"It was an attempt to sneak it by," Fran Bohnsack, marine group executive director, said last month.
Maria J. Chiaro, the city attorney's land-use division chief, called it a language change clarifying the city's original intent for the river, which the courts misinterpreted.
After the specific language "wasn't received very positively," the city now plans to eliminate the river element altogether and, with comments and suggestions from stakeholders, rewrite it to avoid future misinterpretation, said Hal Ruck, the city's chief of community planning, at a Monday meeting of the Miami River Commission's Urban Infill Working Group.
"Rivergate — that's what this is turning into," Mr. Dickman said.
At a March 19 Planning Advisory Board workshop on the state-mandated overall comprehensive plan review, he asked city officials about the additional proposed amendment to the plan's river element, referring to the "west of 27th Avenue" version.
At the time, city staff did not reveal the city was moving to eliminate the protections.
Though the Planning Department had sent the new draft to a commissioner the day before, "At no time during this discussion did any city staff member or attorney disclose the city's intentions or the existence of new draft legislation to rescind the Port of Miami River sub-element," Mr. Dickman wrote to board chair Arva Moore Parks.
He said staff's omission "could rise to the level of lying under oath or willfully withholding critical information."
Planning Department spokesman Laura Lavernia said by e-mail that, at the meeting, "staff indicated that the city was reevaluating the amendments and would provide a draft for review as soon as possible... city legal staff also provided an explanation regarding the city's concern for misinterpretation of the Sub-Element."
The Planning Advisory Board is to vote on the amendment April 16.