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Monday, January 23, 2017

An Open Letter to Commissioner Ken Russell


As the Landscape Architect serving in Parks Administration for the City of Miami, Department of Parks and Recreation, I generally avoid commenting on issues of a political nature within the City of Miami, and so seldom express a view on a subject as "delicate as the potential for modifications to "Miami 21," the City's current zoning/development code. However, as a resident of this community for almost 50 years, I have observed changes - many positive and some negative - in how our community uses and manages its natural and man-made resources.Far too often, such decisions are made on the basis of personal benefit and gain, and not under the umbrella of benefit to our community and our neighborhoods.

While I understand that there are flaws and weaknesses in almost all rules, regulations, and codes, the overwhelmingly positive intent of "Miami 21" is to ensure an orderly process that addresses the desires, wishes, and needs of the majority within our community. So, when a real estate speculator, or a developer, seeks to modify an aspect of "Miami 21", one must ask rhetorically: "Does such change benefit the community at large, and the neighborhood that will be directly impacted?" Or, in the alternative, "Is such a proposed change beneficial - financially and in other ways - to one (or a select group)?" Most often, the answer is obvious.

Rules on setbacks and height restrictions within "Miami 21" fundamentally recognize the inherent right to use one's property to the "highest and best" purpose, without burden. However, the lengthy process of review, discussion, debate, and resolution accorded the process of adopting "Miami 21" has manifest extensive and detailed community involvement from among significant numbers of Miami residents. for some to argue now that - for example - a setback of fifteen feet is too burdensome, but a setback of nine feet is appropriate, seems to border both on the disingenuous and the egregious.

Each and every citizen resident of the City of Miami resident had the opportunity to be heard throughout the nurturing process of drafting, refining and adopting "Miami 21," which is equitable for all parties - absent the regular "assaults" on its objectives and its integrity.

I would certainly appreciate hearing your thoughts on the issue! Thank you for your continued interest in and dedication to our community and neighborhoods.

Ted Baker, FASLA
Landscape Architect

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Basically follow the rules without exception.

January 23, 2017 5:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank You Mr. Baker.. For an exceptionally thoughtful and well written letter.. I do not fault Miami 21 for the majority of the problems that this current and new wave of residential development is causing this community. It appears to me that laxity of code enforcement or interpretation is where the real problem lies.. That Said I also believe Miami 21 NCD-3 Governing Coconut Grove should support preservation of both the existing housing stock and Greenscape..New Home construction should only be allowed in extreme cases where the exiting home is structurally unsafe and cannot be repaired..

January 23, 2017 5:48 PM  
Anonymous Ken Russell said...

Hi Ted,

Thank you for your open letter. There have been several email chains regarding changes to the Neighborhood Conservation District portion of Miami 21. I'd like to clarify how this came about and what the current intent and process is.

Many of the planning and zoning issues that have come up in the past year have had to do with Coconut Grove's NCD. For any readers who are not familiar, this is a specific overlay that is meant to give added protection to coconut grove's canopy and character when compared with the code for the rest of the city.

In dealing with some of these P&Z issues, my office found that different departments within the city were interpreting sections of the NCD differently. Also, the wording left room for the exploitation of loopholes by developers and their lobbyists. In particular, there was one case where a developer on Battersea Road was splitting one lot into five without going through the required warrant process. Several months of negotiation and community meetings led to heated discussion at City Commission. It was very clear to me that the NCD was not being adhered to and the re-plat was finally denied unanimously at commission. In the process we discovered 15 other properties that had gotten through the system without following the appropriate steps.

Our initial intent was to clarify and tighten the NCD as a whole.

From that point we decided to get community input on the changes that we were proposing so that all adjustments could be made in concert. I understand that Grove 2030 visioning group and the village council may put together their recommendations for any changes to the NCD as well.

All of this will go through full public hearings and all changes will be redlined for full disclosure and transparency. Please know that this is not intended to be a small group that will change Miami 21 in general, but rather a strengthening of Coconut Grove's Neighborhood Conservation District portion of the Code.

Thank you for your involvement and your letter.

Kind regards,
Ken Russell

January 23, 2017 9:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To add insult to injury, the developer of the single family property at 1621 S. Bayshore Drive, across from the Mercy Hospital ER entrance, which was illegally subdivided into three lots, has had crews working outside, sawing wood, past 10 p.m. for the past two nights. Where's the city? They let them get away with dividing the original lot and now they're allowing them to blatantly ignore code once again. What gives?

January 24, 2017 10:19 PM  

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