How should you vote? Coconut Grove journalist, David Villano, studied the issues and wrote his findings below.
While debate has centered on the preference for Scotty’s v. Shula’s, the waterfront restaurant is just one small portion of a much larger development plan that voters must approve or reject in November.
After reviewing the City of Miami’s commission-endorsed restaurant/marina development plan, along with the proposed lease agreement for the 7-acre project, the City’s two RFPs (2012 and 2013), and the Coconut Grove Waterfront and Spoil Island Master Plan (Sasaki), I have reached the conclusion that the Grove Bay development proposal is not in the best interests of City of Miami residents and taxpayers.
Here are a few of the departures from the Sasaki Plan (a community-endorsed template for improvements to the Coconut Grove waterfront) that would occur under the Grove Bay plan:
- The southern-most hangar will convert from existing marine or other recreational usage to non-specific retail.
- Dry dock stacks will be relocated within the site, with boat entry redirected to northern basin.
- “Floating tourist docks” will replace existing boat entry point on southern end.
- An unspecified “historic aviation element” will be constructed.
- Retail space in MPA parking garage will be changed from “marine” to general.
- “Non-historic additions” to marine hangars will be demolished.
- The existing causal waterfront restaurant with be demolished and a larger replacement facility will be constructed nearby.
- Scotty’s -- the only existing lease holder named in the Sasaki plan to be retained: “a staple on the waterfront” -- is removed from development proposals.
- A minimum of three new restaurants with be constructed.
Further, the proposed lease agreement should raise the following concerns:
- There is no contractual limit to the number of restaurants that can be built and operated on the property. The lease will allow: “one or more casual restaurants, one or more formal restaurants” and “other related food services.”
- There are no restrictions on retail other than no “gun shops, pawn shops or adult novelty.”
- The proposed restaurants as identified – Shula’s Steak House, Oceano, and Hangar 42 – are not designated under lease terms and may be replaced at any time with other food service concepts and operators.
- Restaurants, retail sites, marine services and all other parcels within the 7-acre development site can be "subleased or reassigned” largely at the discretion of the leaseholder (Grove Bay).
- 80-year lease term will restrict the City from reevaluating and re-designating the site for emerging needs.
Viewed in its entirety, it's my belief that the development plan as presented by city staff, the development team, and as defined in the proposed lease agreement represents a significant departure from the vision expressed by community stakeholders and, ultimately, conceptualized in the Coconut Grove Waterfront and Spoil Island Master Plan. The community-backed Sasaki plan designates the site as the waterfront’s “Civic Core.” The challenge faced by the design team’s planners was to specify limited, low-impact development in a way that would enhance, rather than alter the existing character of “working waterfront.” In my view the proposed development – both as publicly presented and as legally permissible under lease terms – runs contrary to the public’s expressed preferences for access, usage and design character.
Lastly, it should be continually noted that despite the existing structures and commercial operations on the entire 7-acre parcel proposed for development is zoned CS (Civic Space) and the City’s land use designation is “parks and recreation.” In a city that ranks last among major U.S. cities for parkland per capita, we should move cautiously when considering best options for a limited public resource. The city has a long history of leasing public land to private development interests: Bayside, American Airlines Arena, Museum Park at Bicentennial Park, Marlins Stadium, and, here in the Grove, Monty’s mixed-use complex. While the argument is strong to maintain existing boat storage and entry facilities at Dinner Key, we should be asking if the best use of our limited recreational space and park land is for the construction and operation of restaurants, shops, parking facilities and, under the open-ended nature of this lease, other possible commercial ventures.
I’ll hold on to my suggestions for how this site might better serve the civic needs of Miami residents and taxpayers. Right now we need to encourage city voters to reject this lease proposal by saying “NO” in the November referendum. That will give everybody time to sit down and rethink a decision that will affect us for many decades to come.