News: Update on the Baywalk

City Dream or Developer Scheme?

By Anne Newport Royall

In a November 8, 2011 Letter to Commission, City Manager Jorge Gonzalez outlines the status of the public Baywalk in the rear of the properties along West Avenue from 5th Street to Lincoln Road.

Highlights include:

  • After holding the Bentley Bay condominium’s Certificate of Occupancy hostage for more than six years, the City reports that the block wall separating the Baywalk behind 540 West Avenue and its northern neighbor The Floridian at 650 West Avenue is gone and the grade has been adjusted to allow a direct connection between the two properties.
  • Report of a 50/50 matching grant from the Florida Inland Navigation District in the amount of $472,820.00 to fund bulkhead, storm drainage and street-end park improvements for 10th Street. Construction should start in the spring of 2012.
  • Plans for the public Baywalk behind The Mondrain Hotel, 1000-12000 West Avenue, hope to be submitted to the Department of Environmental Protection in Tallahassee in December; and,
  • Construction is underway behind the Grand Flamingo at 1500 Bay Road to allow public use of the Baywalk.

The City’s environmental consultant, Coastal Systems International, has developed a Baywalk Master Plan that includes properties from Fifth Street north to the Venetian Causeway.

In spite of all this progress, Baywalk proponents are not satisfied.

“The City of Miami Beach has not been a pro-active participant in bringing the Baywalk to fruition,” stated Mike Burke in an email to the Miami SunPost. Burke has been an outspoken critic of the City’s handling of the Baywalk process. “I think various developers thought of it (the proffer to build a Baywalk behind their projects), as a way to get the City to grant them variances to build “out of scale and compatibility” with the neighborhood. They then failed to uphold their end of the bargain.”

Currently there is a continuous public access from Fifth to Eighth Streets, with a pedestrian bridge planned to span Fifth over the MacArthur Causeway to link the Baywalk with the cut walk South of Fifth.

Moving north to the South Bay Club, located at 800 West Avenue, the Baywalk will be contingent on the condominium asking for major renovations where the Baywalk requirement would be incorporated into the Design Review Board orders, or when the City, at its own expense and with the approval of the condominium, constructs a Baywalk west of the property over the water.

Southgate Towers, Miami Beach’s first high-rise apartment, might in future have a Baywalk. In August of 2010 when the Gumenick Family who built and still owns the complex came to the City with a request to change the windows and balcony railings, they agreed to be open to the concept if a future, larger renovation project was completed. The City would be responsible for building and maintaining the over-water Baywalk westward of the property’s seawall should that day ever come.

The 10th Street-end will be enhanced and a new park formed in the near future. Then comes the Mirador/Mondrain.

At the time the Galbuts and Menins cherry-picked the middle of the three buildings that comprised The Mirador condominium complex, eyes were raised. As a condition of approving turning the once residential property into a trendy hotel, the applicant places $800,000 in escrow to ensure the completion of a Baywalk behind their property.

As a fallback position to the Baywalk, Mondrain was pressured into proffering its escrowed money to finish the 10th Street-end and mini park.

Originally, the hotel operators wanted a marina behind the hotel, of which the Baywalk would be a part. However, the Department of Environmental Protection nixed the idea of a marina, with the Baywalk idea floundering as well. When the applicant moved to recover their money from escrow, the City balked and forced them to submit an application for a Baywalk sans marina.

And while that project has a chance to move forward, the two surrounding buildings of the Mirador are under no order to build anything, leaving the Mondrain Baywalk, in the event it is built, standing alone in mid-block.

Moving further north to the rest of the 1200 block of West Avenue, the two condominiums lining the Bay, Bay View Terrace and Bay Garden Manor, are under no obligation to build a public access Baywalk. Should the City desire to enter into negotiation with these homeowners, it would most likely need to take responsibility for the planning, permitting over water construction, and the maintenance of any Baywalk built there.

Complicating the northern trail even more are the single-family homes known collectively as Monad Terrace. Hope for a completed Baywalk springs eternal, as the properties are zoned multi-family and someday a developer might come along in a bullish real-estate market and buy up the homes to build something bigger and higher—with a Baywalk behind it.

WHEN IS A BAYWALK NOT THE BAYWALK?

The Waverly built its Baywalk, but denied public access because, well, they wanted to. The condominium not only did not want to fulfill the promises of the successions of developers it took to complete the mammoth project, they litigated the City to keep it private. During the court battles the condominium was forced to change lawyers after the election of Michael Gongora to the Commission. Upon his election, his firm Becker and Poliakoff was barred from representing clients in front of the City (an ethics requirement Commissioner Gongora litigated and lost). In the end, the orders of the Design Review Board and the County’s Shoreline Review Board requiring a public Baywalk behind the Waverly were upheld. The Baywalk at 1330 West Avenue and the public park at 14th Street are now open from sun-up to sundown.

Next door to the Waverly, The Grand Flamingo was also required to build a Baywalk as a condition of its oversized redevelopment of the former Morton Towers. Like their neighbors to the south, the Flamingo built a beautiful Baywalk and wanted to keep the access private, by gating it off. The condominium quibbled with the definition of the word “public” and sued to keep the Baywalk private.

“After having spent over $1m to compel developers to comply with 10-year-old development orders to build public walkways on Biscayne Bay between Lincoln and 5th Street,” emailed Burke, “the City attorney still has failed to produce a Baywalk behind the Flamingo. This, even though the Flamingo lost in court, to outside counsel, of course, and agreed to open said Baywalk in December of 2011.”

In 2009, the City and The Flamingo settled their legal and semantical battles, and the new Baywalk currently under construction is expected to open publicly in early 2012.

Mae Capri at 16th Street and Lincoln Terrace proffered a Baywalk behind the property as part of a Design Review Board application. They did so, and other than a side issue concerning their private security guards shooing people off for short while, the Baywalk remains open and accessible to the public. It will connect to the Flamingo to the South in early 2012.

The Lincoln Bay Towers at 1450 Lincoln Road has no Baywalk requirement; therefore to connect to Mae Capri to the south and the Lincoln Road street-end to the north, both sporting Baywalks, the City would need to enter into negotiations with the owners, agreeing to take responsibility for the planning, permitting over-water construction and maintenance of anything built there.

Another strong advocate for the Baywalk, former commissioner Victor Diaz, emailed the SunPost, “The City’s handling of this issue shows a distinct lack of leadership. This would have been a good issue to press BEFORE they were all re-elected!” Diaz served as a one-year appointee replacement commissioner when Richard Steinberg resigned to run for a State House seat and is currently active in the South of Fifth Neighborhood Association.

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