County looks to expand downtown Miami wall murals zone
By Ashley Hopkins
The Miami-Dade County Commission is to hear March 3 a proposal to expand the boundaries of the City of Miami Urban Core, thus enlarging the area that permits large-scale commercial building wall murals.
In 2008 the county commission authorized use of mural signs within the city's urban core, later expanding the core's boundaries and increasing the number of mural signs permitted throughout the area from 35 to 45.
Commissioner Bruno Barreiro sponsored the current proposal to now extend the core's boundaries west of I-95 because "the area proposed for expansion… is aesthetically similar to the current boundaries of the City of Miami" and because the city would be "aesthetically enhanced by the addition of mural sign locations," county documents state.
Last week the county's Infrastructure & Land Use Committee unanimously approved the measure, sending it to the full commission.
But passing the measure would degrade tourism, said Ernie Martin, chair of the Miami River Commission's greenways subcommittee and a representative of the Spring Garden Neighborhood Civic Association, who spoke against the change at the committee's public hearing.
"It's a destination landmark that we hope will be a major feature for both tourism and residents," he said. "Billboards masquerading as murals are not going to enhance the experience of residents."
Expansion of the zone permitting the wall murals could increase "visual pollution" around Lummus Park, one of the county's "limited historic districts," said Peter Ehrlich, founder and vice president of Scenic Miami Inc. and Scenic Miami-Dade County.
"This is not a district issue, this is not a City of Miami issue. This is a countywide issue," he told commissioners. "The scenic beauty of Miami-Dade County is not enhanced by more mural ads, which are really just billboards on buildings so close to the highway to distract residents and tourists."
Laverne Holiday, assistant director of Curley's House of Style, a local 501(c)3 that caters to low- to moderate-income individuals and families, supported the mural zone expansion, telling commissioners fees the city collects from each mural would provide local non-profits with funds to support and improve services.
"We have first-hand experience… working with the poor," she said. "I believe that this community has some poor, and murals will bring revenue that will allow us to keep property costs down for property owners and will allow the property owners to upgrade their properties and make capital improvements that are greatly needed."
Hearing Ms. Holiday's concerns, Commissioner Audrey Edmonson said she had to support the measure in difficult financial times.
"Today municipalities have to be creative," she said. "The voters are asking us to cut back, cut back, cut back. Do not raise taxes. Everyone is looking for another source of revenue to bring into these municipalities. I just can't be the one to stop it, because I see too many services being cut as it is."
Guillermo Olmedillo, a former director of planning and zoning for Miami-Dade and the City of Miami, said he conducted a study to determine if the area could be included in the urban core before the item was placed on the county's agenda.
His study, he said, indicated that Lummus Park and the area west of I-95 was part of the urban core, as the cityscape was compatible with that to east.
"We took photographs of the area," he said. "I walked the area. They're similar in character, in architecture. Aesthetically they are consistent and they are part of the core."
Commissioner Jose "Pepe" Diaz supported the item, but said he wanted a City of Miami representative to address the commission at its next meeting to ensure the county doesn't infringe on city issues.
"The City of Miami has stated that they're supportive," he said, later adding, "Aesthetically it may not be the best in the world, but it's not the worse either."
While she also voted in favor of the item, Rebeca Sosa asked that the county attorney's office determine how the City of Miami uses the money it receives from the murals before the next commission meeting.
"Give us an idea of how that works, because my biggest concern is that the residents of unincorporated areas are going to come and say, "What's going on?" she said "The county needs to have all the information before we start making decisions."
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