News: Paul Pry Pages

Charles Branham Bailey

City of Miami Beach Meetings

By Anne Newport Royall

TUESDAY MORNING BREAKFAST CLUB

Tuesday, November 15

The SunPost on the SunPost

A large and diverse crowd, mixing old faces and new, gathered at David’s Café II on Miami Beach’s Lincoln Road to hear Miami SunPost columnist Charles Branham-Bailey read from his columns on global warming.

It was a fitting hometown start to the Miami International Book Fair happening in downtown Miami.

Branham-Bailey is a slight, engaging fellow. He began his time at the head of the table with an apology, “I have been remiss; I have not been here before”, and a shout–out to his inspiration Tom Brokaw. Brokaw was in town last week at the MDC Wolfson Campus in connection with his recently published “The Time of our Lives,” and Branham-Bailey went to hear him speak.

David Kelsey had read Branham-Bailey’s article suggesting climate change would be an impediment to the Genting Casino Project on Biscayne Bay and invited him to address the club.

Branham-Bailey delivered a brief tour of his political journalism chops which go back deep into the 1980’s. “I’m older than I look,” he quipped. But it was the prospect of the oceans rising and wiping out valuable real estate that drew the crowd on both sides of the debate to the café con leche and huevos. “I have been 17 years on Miami Beach and what I read is troubling.”

He clearly enjoys what he writes. He read from his December 16th column, chuckling at the start, “A new report released at last week’s U.N. Climate Change conference in Cancun predicts that rising sea levels from melting global ice will wreak damage to the Caribbean to the tune of billions of dollars by 2080.

“The bottom line is, book your Caribbean vacations now, folks, for there won’t be much of anything left to see in 70 years save for some coconut trees still protruding from the Caribbean Sea. And that’s billion – with a ‘b’”, he emphasized.

He read from his February 24th column, which also spoke of climate change. He shared his pleasure in his “Dear Genting” letter in his most recent column. And for those in the room who did not get enough of his words he brought “copies for everyone.”

He offered that he was not alone in South Florida opining on the subject. “My colleague Fred Grimm at the Miami Herald on October 22 wrote a piece that was brilliant,” he said.

And whether man-made or a moment in time, climate change is a reality that he was intent on waking up the political sleeping dogs to deal with. As in the aging infrastructure leading to the spectacular failure of a large sewer pipe in North Beach last April getting particular “short shrift” in the recent election cycle, he noted

“What are we as a City prepared to do to prepare for the rising water?” Branham-Bailey queried.

He closed his presentation with the linkage back to Genting and the destination resort casino option, which came “out of the blue.”

‘If Genting does build, I hope they will keep us in mind. We’ve been here longer than they have.”

Dwight Kraai, a member of the Capitol Improvements Office Oversight Committee (CIPOC), was recognized for his work on alerting the City to the rising water issue. “You did a great job of explaining the situation,” he complimented Branham-Bailey.

While several around the table also applauded his efforts to educate the public and public officials, others were ready to challenge the notion of the need to do anything.

Alan Pincus was not ready to take responsibility for the rising water levels. “We are just puny little humans. How can we be causing this catastrophe? Should people stop building here?”

Mr. Pincus is a construction contractor.

He suggested a little bit of climate change can do great things, linking the shift in temperature slightly upward over recent centuries to the development of the wine-growing region in France.

Branham-Bailey was not deterred, pressing on to make “commissioners and city-hall types” deal with the coming of the water he is certain will be lapping at his door in the next few years. “This is something that we can not afford to put off. (The rising water) has its own agenda”.

TMBC meets every Tuesday morning at 8:30 a.m. at David’s café II at the corner of Lincoln Road and Meridian Avenue. Visit their website www.MBTMBC.com.

PLANNING BOARD

Tuesday, November 15

No Way Out

The Gansevoot was back again defending its conditional-use permit, as all three required documentary requirements have yet to be satisfied by the current operators of the trendy SoBe locale.

The ability to operate popular venues hangs on the line.

While the sound system in the outdoor pool and nightclub area have been certified compliant by Audio Bug Donald Washburn, the Loading and Delivery Plan and the Traffic Circulation Plan have yet to be worked out between the hotel and the neighbors, which include the condominium owners in the former Rooney Palace that share the same building as the Gansevoot South.

Attorney Alfredo Gonzalez from Greenberg Trauig, representing Sandy Lane, current operators of The Gansevoot, had hoped not to have to return to the well while Kent Harrison Robbins, representing everyone else, wanted to make sure that they did. “We are making progress; everyone’s working together,” he promised.

They have 60 more days to make it work.

Whose Parking Space Is It Anyway?

There was a time when the City discouraged landowners from using their empty lots for parking, hoping that undeveloped land would be put to a better use.

Permission to use the lots for storage was first limited to two years, then ten, then ten again only if severe changes were made to the property to bring the spaces up to code for parking with proper lighting, drainage and landscaping.

Ron Bloomberg, through his company American Rivera, operates such a lot at 309 23rd Street, the site of a former service station that now holds 44 cars in the heart of SoBe.

While Mr. Bloomberg at one time owned the land his lot sits on, he was recently bought out by the City of Miami Beach, which plans to add to its inventory of municipal garages designed by Pritzker-Prize winners.

But during the time it takes for Zaha Hadid to design and have built her pantheon to the automobile (joining the parking garages designed by Herzog and de Meuron and Frank Gehry that grace our town), Bloomberg wants to keep parking cars the old-fashioned way.

As cheaply as possible.

So it’s no surprise that in the 18months since he was given his last conditional use permit to operate, Bloomberg has not hired the drainage engineer or lumens expert or planted a bush in compliance with his Planning Board orders that he do so.

Bloomberg seemed contrite and admitted to letting his obligations to the Zoning Board for his variances go by the wayside as well. The site still houses the boarded-up service station.

‘If the City owns the property, why am I talking to him?” Board member Jonathan Frye wanted to know.

But fellow Board member Henry Stoller saw another side to the delay in much-needed improvements to the corner. “This is just running down the clock’” in hopes the City will get the construction started on their project before Bloomberg is forced to make his costly improvements. Stoller wanted to start the process of removing Bloomberg’s permission to operate the parking lot for non-compliance.

Chair Randy Weisburd would have none of it: “I’m not going to shut down that business and take 44 spaces away during season.”

“We are not going to revocate this permit,” Weisburd stated.

But other Board members were not so quick to defend the delay and wanted Bloomberg put on notice that the work has to be undertaken post-haste. Bloomberg will appear 60 days hence to deliver a progress report.

WEST AVENUE BRIDGE PD&E

Tuesday, November 15

I Have A Bridge I Want To Sell You

The Planning, Development and Evaluation (PD&E) of the West Avenue Bridge keeps moving along schedule, with project engineers presenting four alternatives to the public for a bridge to span the Collins Canal west of Alton Road connecting the Sunset Harbor Neighborhood with Lincoln Road.

This $5 million project continues to be fast-tracked, even though the traffic study done in conjunction with the 2008 DMJM Harris Feasibility Study showed that this bridge and road extension would not help the traffic in the intersections around West Avenue. In addition, the consensus of residents on both sides of the canal who attended the meeting favored a connectivity solution that does not involve cars.

Town Homes at Sunset Harbor President Marilyn Freundlich expressed her concern that creating this new road would take traffic from Alton Road onto 20th Street to use a West Avenue cut- through. She advocated for a pedestrian/bicycle-only bridge

Cyril Silverman, president of the Sunset Harbor Yacht Club wanted the bridge to accommodate cars, busses and trucks as well. “This bridge would add a third entrance into our Purdy Avenue Neighborhood.”

“This is no longer a sleepy little area,’” opinioned developer Michael Comras, whose offices are on 20th Street adjacent to the site of a future condominium and retail center to be built on the former Mark’s Cleaners site. The found the bridge was all about balance. “I like that it has bike lanes.” He said.

And while Ted Weinman had a complicated traffic solution to the entire neighborhood that involved the City taking eminent domain over the future Modani furniture store at the corner of Alton and 18th, and Christopher Thompson was “against the bridge before and is now on the fence,’” Mark Wohl certainly let his feelings be known against the alternatives presented today.

“Where are the reports. Where are the data?” he asked, only to be told that the traffic studies and environmental considerations of the project have not been completed.

‘If a bicycle/pedestrian-only bridge is an option, why not show it as ‘alternative five?”

Wohl had done considerable work on the project, pointing out flaws in the planning and offering several suggestions that could be implemented quickly to improve the intersection of West and 17th, bridge or no bridge.

The alternatives ranged from a two-lane bridge with sidewalks and a bike lane to a six-lane behemoth crammed into the West Avenue end. Over 50 parking spaces would be lost with that alternative—but it sure would move cars.

The other design consideration is the requirement that the bridge be high enough to provide 6 feet of clearance under the bridge at hightide to maintain the canals navigability.

Ultimately, the decision rests with the commission to approve a new bridge in any form, or fix the streets they have now.

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