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Sunday, July 14, 2019

Coconut Grove CRA? Say Goodbye to Livability and Historic Character


There are two principal reasons to establish a Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) or create an additional CRA District. The first allows the CRA to capture the growth in property tax revenue within the District from the County and from the City and those funds can only be spent within the boundary of the District (through Tax Increment) to alleviate “Slum & Blight."

The second reason for establishing a CRA is to avoid having to ask the taxpayers for permission to spend money on larger projects, and here is where the proposition becomes a risky one: as once the CRA trust fund receives money from the County and the City, it is revenue, and not tax dollars, and can be spent without having to go to the voters for permission.

Extending the Omni CRA’s boundaries into West Coconut Grove – by gerrymandering the area’s disadvantaged, predominately black communities – does indeed create the potential for allocated funds to fight poverty here, but it also creates a mechanism whereby funds from here could be redirected outside Coconut Grove to other parts of the CRA.

Further, the prospect of CRA allocations in West Coconut Grove will only add more fuel to the speculator-dominated investment cycle that is stalling, rather than promoting, real progress in helping West Grove residents. Property owners (both long-standing and out-to-town investment interests alike) are sitting on properties, allowing market forces to continue to value properties up – call it investor driven “Slum and Blight.” The designation of the area, under federal law, as an Opportunity Zone, will further fan the flames.

Case in point: A couple of weeks ago the development group Metronomic purchased some of the Berkley & Berkowitz parcels on Grand Ave. for $6.6 million – an increase of $1.2 million from the sale price just a year and a half earlier, despite the property resting in the heart of an area alleged to be so depressed and economically stagnant that both local and federally dollars are needed to kick start it’s revitalization. And this example is hardly the exception. According to the Finding of Necessity report accepted by the City of Miami Commission, the growth of assessed values of Real Property (the driving force behind a CRA’s income potential) with in the five-year study period (2012-2017) showed an increase of 83.8% or $300 Million.

What’s more, the proposed Interlocal Agreement which was passed by the Omni CRA and City Commission awaits Miami-Dade County approval and calls spending commitments on several county initiatives in the Omni area of close to $900 million through the life (and extension) of the CRA, Yet there is no mention of any spending in Coconut Grove -- only that priority projects will be “NEGOTIATED”.

The argument Commissioner Russell made for extending the CRA is that we cannot save the historic nature of the neighborhood and help residents stay in the neighborhood without funds programs to promote affordable housing. But while true up to a point, the real legacy of a Grove CRA will not be the handful of affordable housing units it preserves or creates, but the skyrocketing property values that, in time, will render much of this historic neighborhood unaffordable for all but the most well-heeled owners.

Is the tradeoff worth it?

Extending the Omni CRA is not the answer. Instead we should be focused on other legislative options. One example is the Neighborhood Conservation District ordinance that can be amended and implemented to assist in protecting the historic nature. To be fair, a recent effort to do so, under Commissioner Russell’s leadership, was soundly defeated by fellow Commissioners. When the City Commission debated the merits of extending the Omni CRA to Coconut Grove I stood up and made it clear that, as a real estate professional, the warning signs made such a proposal unwise: “Development” as CRA’s are meant to do, will only hasten the demise of this historic neighborhood and will only hasten the displacement of its long-time residents. Alas, my words were ignored.

The CRA expansion is shortsighted political theater by Commissioner Russell which, compounded with other political moves, will have long term financial consequences for all residents of Coconut Grove and the City of Miami.

Javier Gonzalez,
long-time Coconut Grove resident, is a candidate for the
City of Miami District 2 
commission seat.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting point. I never considered the possibility that expanding the Omni CRA to the West Grove could cause the West Grove's generated revenue to be spent in the Omni region or elsewhere. Did Ken ever address that? This would seem like an obvious argument for creating a separate CRA for the West Grove. Why was that not done? This CRA is all starting to seem a little suspicious to me.

Can you please ask Ken how to assure us that tax revenue generated in the Grove will not be sent elsewhere? I would also be interested in understanding from Ken how he considers himself a champion against gentrification yet failed to vote against the new mega project in Little Haiti that is doing just that.

July 14, 2019 4:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Currently, there are not any funds to help the West Grove, so even if "funds from here could be redirected outside Coconut Grove to other parts of the CRA" the West Grove is still in a better position. On the other hand, funds from the Omni area could be used to enhance the West Grove, you forgot to mention that possibility.

July 14, 2019 6:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

@Anon 6:51 P.M., you prove my point. Thank you. The wishy washy nature of the CRA, especially one that expands beyond a single neighborhood, is reason enough to end it. The geographic allocation of funds should not be left to the discretion of the unelected pawns that run the CRA.

July 15, 2019 6:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ken Russel is doing this to give out insider deals to all his developer friends. Look at his donor list! Over 130k in donations so far this year from real estate interest. I hope Mr. Gonzalez beats him, so Ken can get a real job instead of handing out our tax money to developers.


July 15, 2019 12:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I support Javier because he has Coconut Grove's interests at heart--not his friends in the construction business.

July 16, 2019 9:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow. I just reviewed Ken's donor list based on the previous commenter's suggestion. It is mind-boggling how many of Ken's donors are real estate developers. This needs to be exposed.

July 16, 2019 1:01 PM  

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