Regional planning agency faults Miami on river plan
By Risa Polansky
Miami's recent move to remove Port of Miami River protections and open the door to more residential and mixed-use development along the river — opposed already by marine industry players — could face more resistance.
Removing the word "port" from the Miami River element of the city's comprehensive land-use plan, as commissioners voted to do this month, goes against the Strategic Regional Policy Plan for South Florida, according to a report by South Florida Regional Planning Council staffers.
They're recommending the council board vote June 2 to approve the findings and send an objection to the Florida Department of Community Affairs along with analysis of the rest of the city's planned comprehensive plan revisions.
The state planning agency is in the midst now of reviewing the changes. It has the final say on whether amendments comply with state law.
The regional planning council plays an advisory role in the process.
Its staff report says the city's river-element changes are inconsistent with regional goals and policies, including:
- "Increase employment opportunities and support the creation of jobs with better pay and benefit for the region's workforce."
-"Enhance the region's mobility, efficiency, safety, quality of life and economic health through improvements to road, port and public transportation infrastructure."
-"Maintain a competitive, diversified and sustainable regional economy."
-"Improve economic diversification in South Florida and enhance the region's labor force."
-"Protect marine-related industries through innovative comprehensive planning and zoning regulations that provide incentives such as mixed-use in areas that can sustain both residential and non-residential water-dependent uses."
-"Enhance the roles of airports and seaports in economic development."
The findings support the main concern of marine players: killing an industry.
Marc Sarnoff, a maritime lawyer and the only city commissioner to oppose the changes, fears the same.
"Once you allow it to go laissez faire, I don't think you're going to have a marine industry," he said before the vote.
City staff and other commissioners maintain they support marine uses but want to leave open the door to other types of development along the river.
But the planning council staff report also says "the proposed (river element) revisions replace the importance of maintaining the port as a valuable component of a significant industrial base without sufficient supporting data and analysis."
Attorney Andrew Dickman, who represents the Miami River Marine Group, has made the same point, asking the city to back up its action.
The report goes on to say that "Working waterfronts represent an issue of regional significance and the implications of this amendment may have adverse regional impacts that require further information in order to be addressed or mitigated."
Marine group Executive Director Fran Bohnsack said she is cautiously optimistic about the planning council staff's stance.
"I'm happy about it, but I'm not counting them in yet. I hope their board will understand," she said. "I think it's important, yes. I don't know if it's enough to save the day."