Developer puzzled his block omitted from ban on panhandling
By Risa Polansky
Panhandling in the heart of downtown could soon disappear. Except on one block.
A proposed Miami law that would ban panhandling in areas of downtown and Brickell covers every block between Northeast Second Avenue and Biscayne Boulevard from Southeast First Street to Northeast Fifth Street — except Northeast Second Street.
One downtown developer and property owner thinks the omission is inadvertent and is lobbying commissioners to add the block before enacting the measure.
For months, Rafael Kapustin has asked officials why the street is left out, reminding them it's an access road for what he estimates to be more than 1,000 residential tenants in developments such as Everglades on the Bay and the new Loft projects — which he in part developed — as well as to 20,000 square feet of new commercial space.
The Downtown Development Authority created the ordinance.
Commissioner Tomás Regalado has backed Mr. Kapustin, pressing legal staff to explain why the measure excludes a single block "like a hole in a doughnut," he wrote in a March e-mail to City Attorney Julie Bru.
Assistant City Attorney Veronica A. Xiques, who serves as counsel to the development authority, replied that "the DDA did not "exclude' any streets or blocks from the map."
Board members identified the areas where they "deemed the most economic benefits would come to the downtown core if panhandling was banned," she wrote, adding that "this idea was based on the investment of monies by the city, county and DDA into the particular areas."
The ordinance itself lists three reasons the boundaries were chosen. They encompass areas where:
"Citizens are more likely to be vulnerable to harassment and intimidation."
"Incidences of panhandling have the greatest impact on the health and safety of persons within the designated areas."
"Incidences of panhandling have the greatest impact on commerce, tourism and the attainment of the city's goals" to improve quality of life and economic vitality.
Because the authority never requested the portion of Northeast Second Street be included, it does not appear on the map commissioners are to vote on today (4/10), Ms. Xiques wrote.
Mr. Kapustin plans to request the addition in person at today's meeting.
"It appears that there is no real, good explanation as to why this occurred," he said. "What we're trying to do is provide a safer environment, and just excluding this block doesn't make any sense."
He called the area "probably the one block in downtown Miami that has access to the largest number of new residential tenants," meaning it's a target for panhandlers.
The development authority board agreed in November not to blanket the agency's entire 1.7-square-mile area with the law, citing legal concerns. They feared prohibiting panhandling throughout the district might be unconstitutional, because passive panhandling has First Amendment protection.
A similar ordinance covering a five-mile stretch of highway A1A along the beach in Fort Lauderdale has withstood legal challenges, Ms. Xiques told the board at the time.
Commission and development authority Chairman Joe Sanchez has deferred consideration of Miami's ordinance since February, asking for time to assure its constitutionality and demanding a fiscal impact report.
Sandra Hernandez, board secretary and administrative supervisor for the development authority, told officials in an e-mail included with the agenda item that, because the city spent less than $25,000 prosecuting aggressive panhandlers citywide in a recent year, and because the proposed area is small and offenses are expected to decrease once penalties are in place, "the fiscal impact of this ordinance will be so small as to be insignificant and not measurable."