Planning advisory board supports river's marine industry
By Risa Polansky
Protect the marine industry on the Miami River, Miami Planning Advisory Board members told administrators last week in the first official action against recent moves to change the Port of Miami River element of the city's comprehensive plan.
They're sending the same message to city commissioners via a resounding no vote on an administration-crafted amendment to the plan that opponents say would leave the industry vulnerable to residential encroachment.
The amendment proposes renaming the plan's "Port of Miami River" element the "Miami River" element.
It reads, in part: "Development along the Miami River shall encourage residential and mixed-use development and continue to provide for water-dependent and water-related commercial, industrial and recreational uses along the Miami River."
The existing element makes no mention of residential use.
A goal included now, "to discourage encroachment by incompatible uses," would be eliminated through the city's proposed change.
"What is being presented to us might, in effect, eliminate the protections" of the marine industry, board member Ernest Martin said.
It's not the first time the city has tried to do it in recent months, said Andrew Dickman, attorney for the Miami River Marine Group.
"This is the third-type attempt that we've seen," he said, calling the first — a measure that would have limited marine industry protections to west of 27th Avenue — the "eviction item."
Administrators pulled it off the table and instead proposed an amendment that would have temporarily taken the protective river element out of the comprehensive plan altogether.
Mr. Dickman called it the "repealer item."
The city backed away from the idea last month and last week proposed the most recent: "the anything goes amendment," Mr. Dickman said.
Administrators maintained the idea of removing the word "port" and inserting the word "residential" is to promote mixed uses, not favor any one sector.
"We're not saying no to the river industry," Planning Department Director Ana Gelabert-Sanchez insisted.
The city wants to encourage other uses, she said, "as long as they coexist."
Board member Mr. Martin said taking the word "port" out of the element puts "residential properties over marine use."
Harold Ruck, the city's chief of community planning, said the "port" no longer exists.
Only 15% of land-use designations on the city's portion of the river are industrial, he said.
Advisory board member Betty Gutierrez called the city's presentation "misleading."
If you add up other non-residential land uses along the river, such as commercial, "those numbers indeed are the marine industry," she said.
Fran Bohnsack, executive director of the Miami River Marine Group, said that, of 998 wet slips along the 5.5-mile river, 74% are within Miami city limits. Of 350 dry slips, 69% are in the city. Sixty-five percent of the 306 commercial slips along the river are within city bounds, as are 76% of the 1,030 recreation slips, she said.
Without protection from the city, Ms. Bohnsack said, "they will be pushed out of the river."
River marine industry has already dropped from 80 acres to 37 due to land-use changes, Ms. Bohnsack said.
Recent appellate court decisions overturned three such commission-approved changes that would have allowed large-scale residential developments along the river.
Follow the protective river element of your comprehensive plan or change it, the court told the city.
Officials have maintained the court misinterpreted the plan, calling their attempts to alter it a move to clarify the city's original intent.
"I don't agree the courts have misinterpreted," board member Mr. Martin said.
"My recommendation to my colleagues is that our job is not to avoid adverse litigation."
Six of eight board members voted to recommend the city commission reject the administration's proposed change.
In separate votes, they agreed to amend the comprehensive plan to reflect industry-suggested protections.
The final decision is up to city commissioners. They are to vote today (5/8).