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Monday, September 30, 2013

SAVE SCOTTY'S ON FACEBOOK

  I just discovered  a Facebook page that's trying to keep the City of Miami from tearing down Scotty's Landing, the Grove's coolest place.   You probably know the whole City gets to vote on this November 5.   It's a scary thought as,
 
A)  90% of the voters don't know about Scotty's (we like our little secret) and,
B)  The City is launching an expensive campaign to convince voters that tearing down Scotty's (and building a shopping mall there) is a great idea.

   I got a kick out of reading the Facebook page's interpretation of the ballot language.  Here it is,

"SHALL THE CITY BE AUTHORIZED TO LEASE APPROXIMATELY 7 ACRES OF WATERFRONT AND SUBMERGED LANDS IN COCONUT GROVE TO GROVE BAY INVESTMENT GROUP, LLC, PROVIDING FOR 1) A MINIMUM OF $1.4 MILLION IN GUARANTEED ANNUAL RENT AND 2) APPROXIMATELY $17.9 MILLION OF PRIVATELY FUNDED IMPROVEMENTS TO REDEVELOP AN EXISTING MARINA AND PUBLIC BAYWALK, CONSTRUCT RESTAURANTS AND, PARTIALLY FUND A PUBLIC PARKING GARAGE, FOR A 50 YEAR TERM WITH TWO 15 YEAR RENEWAL OPTIONS."

{Translation}:
"Hey, can we tear down Scotty's Landing and the Chart House, move all of the boats in the boat yard behind it somewhere else, and put up a Shula's Steakhouse, a churrasco place, a kick-ass parking garage,  and a really cool big-glass mini-mall?
We promise it'll make money ..for somebody.
And if it doesn't work by the year 2093, we'll totally let you have it back. OK?   Vote 'Yes' now"   Thanks.


              
               (The FB page is "Save Scotty's Landing")

Saturday, September 28, 2013

IGNORING THE EXPERTS AGAIN

        Everyone who cares about Coconut Grove should be visiting Dinner Key regularly.  Big changes are taking place that will last a lifetime.
    Five years ago we got blueprints for a waterfront plan ("The Sasaki Plan"). Experts showed us the best way to transform our shore line.   The City of Miami did nothing for years but is now doing its best to create buildings that ignore the plan. 
   
The Sasaki Plan told us to keep the popular Scotty's Landing restaurant.     The city is planning to tear it down and replace it with a Shula's Steakhouse. 
      Thankfully, City of Miami voters get to decide this in the November 5 election.
   
We are not so fortunate with the Dinner Key dockmaster's office.   
The plan told us to keep the facility as it is.   The City is now building a four-story monster to replace it in the middle of what was to be green space and a marina parking lot.  Go see it rising yourself. Computer simulation of the dockmaster McMansion now being built.

     The edifice for the guy watching over a bunch of boats takes up as much room as a city block.
      When you see it you will look at City Hall (just north) and ask, "Have they lost their minds?   
Did they spend too much time digging in Blanche Park's toxic dirt*?"


    We don't need this or the multiple retail shops the City plans to bring to our bayfront. 
       Shula's rendering...it could be our own Bongo's on the Bay.

     Everyone needs to become more aware of the City's misguided efforts.  When they are, voters will reject the City's Grove Bay proposal on the November 5 ballot. 

    Aren't you tired of getting scammed by the City?
    Don't let them pour more concrete on our precious, public waterfront.  Say "No!" on November 5.

                      ______________

*Earlier this month we learned that Blanche Park, across from the residence of Grove city commissioner, Marc Sarnoff,  was once a dumping ground for toxic materials.   This week we learned that 
Merrie Christmas Park and the 175-acre Melreese Golf Course suffered the same fate.  Similar to the Sasaki Plan, the City has ignored the advice of waste disposal experts for years.
                       ___________________________


THIS MORNING 
     I just got back from the free tree give-a-way in Virrick Park.   I got in line behind a shirtless young man.  A moment later I heard him say to me, "I know you."  I looked up, it was him again, and I replied, "Yeah.  You're the guy who stole my bike".   As he smiled and I thought, "At least he's not stealing trees".
(If your read the bike story last year, you know I got lucky and got my bike -and my wife's bike- back)

FREE YOGA TUESDAYS 
       Starting this Tuesday, free yoga classes will be offered in Peacock Park from 6 to 7 p.m.   The
six-month project is sponsored by the Grove's Dharma Yoga Studio and the B.I.D. 

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

LANDING SCOTTY

         In the next six weeks we'll be hearing a lot more about "Scotty's Landing".   It's the Grove's beloved, bayside restaurant that the City of Miami plans to demolish.  They want to replace it with a Shula's Steakhouse.
     City of Miami voters will make the final decision in the upcoming November 5 election.
    
   When discussing the subject I am often asked, "Is there really a Scotty?".   "Yes", I answer, "He is usually there, the guy cleaning the yard".

      That's what Scott Wessel was doing when I met him a few years ago. 
     I was walking by on a Sunday morning.  I said hello to a fellow picking up the  restaurant's trash that was missed the night before.  We got into a conversation and he revealed that the ran the place and the Grove Key Marina behind it.
     Since then, I have seen him a number of times and nearly every time, he's cleaning his restaurant on a Sunday morning.   Scott Wessel likes hard work and a low profile.
      Nevertheless,  he told me a few things about himself last weekend.   As he happily cleaned his "Canesmobile" (the Hurricanes had won big the night before), he told me he came here from Milwaukee.  He began running the Charthouse bar in 1986.    
       Next door was Captain Dick's Tackle Shack.   The place was poorly run and Scott knew it.
After Dick died in the late 80's Scott got an opportunity to take over the disorganized, somewhat seedy tavern. 
   He and his wife, Kate, shook the shack up and made it much better.  Locals noticed and business boomed.
    A few years later, Scott took over the Grove Key Marina lease as well.
    The long-term lease for the entire 7-acre property (it includes Scotty's, the Charthouse, and the marina) ended last year.  Its future is uncertain.
     It is obvious that Scotty loves his namesake.  Thousands of people love him and his bayside cafe.    
  He'd like to get his lease re-newed, and completely renovate his restaurant.  That way, he can continue to make his customers happy and also, clean tables and pick up trash on Sunday mornings.


         If the city wins the November election Scotty's will fall and the steakhouse will replace it. 
   A year from now you may be able stroll by the soaring glass of a new multi-level monster.  Maybe you'll even see Don Shula cleaning up. 
But I doubt it.

 

Friday, September 20, 2013

THEY TOOK OUR BREATH AWAY

         In my last entry I wrote about a photograph of palm trees swaying by the bay.   To me they symbolize what we've lost in Coconut Grove.

   As you see above, I found them again last week.

  We were invited to a pool party at an Italian villa on Main Highway, "El Jardin". 

Built in 1917, it is now the Carrolton School of the Sacred Heart.

   As we sat in the grass I glanced to my left. 

In the distance was something exhilarating, like finding something you had spent years searching for.

                            Two hundred yards east I could see  coconut trees by the bay once more. We dashed off to greet them.
 
 As they framed the sparkling bay, fishermen optimistically cast their lines.


To the north, downtown Miami poked past the horizon.

  For a moment all was good.  I got to see what had drawn us to the Grove long ago.




   
                   

                         __________






  LAST NIGHT'S VILLAGE COUNCIL MEETING

   Yesterday a friend called to tell me the Grove's village council was discussing the Grove Bay proposal at the sailing club.
    Francesca and I drove over to hear the debate.  There wasn't any.  For fifty minutes we heard city officials drone on about how great the Grove's own "Bayside" will be.
   Finally, the audience was allowed to ask "short questions".  My mind bursting at the seams, I stood and told the three suits, "What you are proposing is awful. Your development will hurt local businesses, demolish Scotty's, and the reasons we love Coconut Grove"...
   I went on for five emotional minutes with
council members yelling, "You are out of order!" .    I was.  So what? 
    The developer's speil was suffocating. Every now and you gotta come up for air.

(I later learned the Grove Village Council, the group that purports to represent what's best for our village, approved the Grove Bay plan two months ago.)

  



Sunday, September 15, 2013

THEN AND NOW

    Imagine what Coconut Grove could be.  


 It could have a beautiful bayfront, a community center, and businesses more for locals than tourists. 
That's what the fight for Scotty's is about.  
    


 
In the late 70's I took this photo at Peacock Park.  Ten years ago we used it to spark interest in re-vamping the place.  
Looking at it reminds me of the
unique village I fell in love with forty years ago.


   Grove photographer John Carlin-Massey took a similar shot in the mid-70's,
 
 
      The picnic shelters were torn down 35 years ago
    


The park still has bayside coconut trees.
This is how they look now,
 














We can do better. The task goes far beyond improving views.

  If we use our imaginations and do the work, maybe we can preserve and restore the things we love.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

IS THIS WHAT YOU WANT SCOTTY'S TO BE?




                          ONE OF THE PROPOSALS TO REPLACE  SCOTTY'S 


    City Hall doesn't get it. The City of Miami's attempt to destroy Scotty's Landing feels like a stab in the back.  Grovites are bleeding with anger.  

      I'm a teacher and I ran into my school's principal last Monday.  She was still glowing over the U's football victory, "The game was great and afterwards, we came to the Grove for dinner at Scotty's!".  
      
    When I told her the City of Miami was planning to replace it with a Shula's Steakhouse her smile sank and she asked, "Are you serious?  Why would anyone do that?".

    I hear that a lot.
I told the Kendall resident how our leaders had decided to put another Bayside on the Scotty's site.  It's a bad idea that few people support.  The City doesn't understand this.
      
  After the election they will.  On November 5th voters will be asked,



"SHALL THE CITY BE AUTHORIZED TO LEASE APPROXIMATELY 7 ACRES OF WATERFRONT AND SUBMERGED LANDS IN COCONUT GROVE TO GROVE BAY INVESTMENT GROUP, LLC, PROVIDING FOR 1) A MINIMUM OF $1.4 MILLION IN GUARANTEED ANNUAL RENT AND 2) APPROXIMATELY $17.9 MILLION OF PRIVATELY FUNDED IMPROVEMENTS TO REDEVELOP AN EXISTING MARINA AND PUBLIC BAYWALK, CONSTRUCT RESTAURANTS AND, PARTIALLY FUND A PUBLIC PARKING GARAGE, FOR A 50 YEAR TERM WITH TWO 15 YEAR RENEWAL OPTIONS."

   We must answer with a resounding "No!".

   Giving the Grove Bay developer an 80-year lease to build something as awful as Bayside is an terrible idea.
    The ballot language is so vague.  Look at it again.  Grove Bay is free to fill 7-acres of waterfront with stores, restaurants, and a parking garage.
    Doesn't the Grove have plenty of these already? 
   Shouldn't the Grove's waterfront be more like a park and less like a mall? 
   Can't we leave Bayside downtown?

  Submit your answer in the November 5th election.



WHAT WE MIGHT SEE 
    
   Last spring the City of Miami asked developers to submit  proposals to improve the Scotty's Landing site.  Only two did,  "Grove Bay" and "Veleta".   The renderings from both groups are similar. 

 
This rendering shows the Shula's Steak & Seafood restaurant proposed for the Coconut Grove waterfront. 
  
 I published Grove Bay's two weeks ago (one of their renderings is above).
 The others are what Veleta had in mind.  

Notice how Scotty's is tranformed into a huge brown shell.  Turtle power!

    Just before the two proposals were to be considered, Veleta withdrew theirs.  There just wasn't enough money in it for them. Now there is no choice, there is just one proposal, "Grove Bay". 
 
    As it turns out the renderings don't mean much anyway.  Look at the referendum language, there are no restrictions on retail space or where the Grove Bay developer will build his stores and restaurants.   
   There's a lot of talk about the development's parking garage.  We've been told it will be everything from 3 to 8 storys tall.     Left, Veleta's garage concept     The footprint being everything from from baby to Bigfoot.

   The proposed garage design keeps changing and again, the developer and the parking authority will choose whatever suits them.

    It's time to stop taking what City Hall is giving us.  Vote "no".  Don't let their greed succeed.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

MIAMI MUSEUM OF POLITICAL CORRUPTION

       Miami has huge problems. Consider the eternal budget deficits and distrust of our leaders  (three mayors led away in handcuffs just last month).  

   Why don't we add a bit of wit to the mess?  Let's make the Grove's city hall The Miami Museum of Political Corruption.


       It would tell tourists about our history while making money for this cash-starved town.  The MMPC would also show the world that we have a sense of humor.

       The idea isn't original. I read in the August 26th New Yorker, that they're working to create one in Albany, New York's capitol. 
   Their Hall of Shame will be filled with the likes of Boss Tweed, Anthony Weiner, and Eliot Spitzer.  The gift shop will sell  figurines in suits with signs that say, "I bought this legislator in Albany, New York".
     Our museum gift shop could sell similar action figures along with  Sergio Pereira hot suits, prison suits, hand cuffs, and Joe Corollo tea.  T-shirts could suggest, "Down with the Mayor, Up with a King Mango!"
         Miami is perfect place to extend the Albany idea.  The obvious location is our existing city hall.  Originally a seaplane base, it outgrew itself thirty years ago.  
    You probably know that 98% of  Miami's municipal employees are housed in the city's tower on the river downtown.  Only the mayor and the city commissioners have their offices here.  It is because the Grove locale has easier parking and better views.   No corporation (or any other city) would house its leaders five miles from everyone else.
     
    Move these guys downtown. It is time to make better use of Coconut Grove's art deco gem.  Let's transform it into a major Flori-duh attraction, let's turn it into The Miami Museum of Political Corruption.
               ___________________
        
     If you are new to my Blog, Welcome!
I usually write something 'bout once a week.
Lately though, the City of Miami has gone into overdrive in its efforts to destroy the things we love about Coconut Grove.  Hence,  I'll be writing more until the important November election.
      Tom Falco is doing a great job of getting the word out in The CG Grapevine (www.thecoconutgrovegrapevine.com). He writes something everyday. Check it out if you haven't.  
    The next entry was submitted by Grove journalist, Dave Villano...

Monday, September 9, 2013

DAVE WEIGHS IN ON SCOTTY'S

     The demolition at Dinner Key has begun. Voters are being asked to approve a new development on the 7-acre Scotty's Landing site in the November 5th election. 
    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. 










Saturday, September 7, 2013

THE SCOTTY'S-PEACOCK PARALLEL

       Don't let Scotty's Landing become another Peacock Park fiasco. 
  This past summer the City of Miami gave away a big
chunk of Peacock.  On November 5th they will ask us to vote to give away the Scotty's Landing site for the next 80 years.  
   There are many similarities between these two parcels of public land.
       Last spring the Grove's city commissioner, Marc Sarnoff, made a deal to let the private school next to Peacock Park take over the SW corner of the waterfront park.  We didn't get to vote on that one.
    The plan was to build fenced mini-soccer fields on the tennis court and to leave the existing basketball court alone.  Sarnoff also had them build a huge, 80-foot rubber pit next to The Glass House.
 
      
Now the work is done.  I went there on Labor Day to see the damage.


We now have 12-foot fences around the soccer courts and the basketball court.


On Labor Day the soccer field was locked.


The gate on the basketball court was open.  The b-ball fence is un-needed, ugly,  intimidating and went beyond the plan Sarnoff presented to the public.
  

     I wanted to see why the City put a pit, filled with chopped-up tires, next to the Glass House. I spent ten minutes contemplating the damn thing. 
    As you can see, the swanky Sonesta Hotel is right across the street.  Were their guests asking, "Where's the closest casino, club, and shredded rubber pit?".  

I could not figure out,

1) If anyone would want to use it and, 2) If you did, what would you use it for?   

       Finally a man and his young son approached.  They stood at the edge and stared. Finally, they walked through it as they left the park.

    I could not tell if they liked it or not. I decided to walk in it as well, to find out how fun this pit of debris could be.
   
   It is interesting to walk in, very much like walking in a field of, mmm, shredded tires. 
 I tried walking bare foot. It was not painful but not comfortable either.  Certainly not fun.   
     Aren't parks supposed to be fun?  Aren't they suppose to have some semblance to nature?  
   In my continued search for a good time I put my head down and tried a somersault.  It hurt my head, a cranial massage from someone who does not like you.

    The pit is like a huge, hellish, tumbling mat.


 Finally, I tried to bury myself in the black stuff, like they do with sand at the beach.   I felt stupid and got some in my eye.

    Apparently kids like throwing it.  It was all over the grass they planted next to Marc's black box. 
    If we are fortunate -over time- the grass will grow over the rubber pit.

     It struck me that both
Scotty's and Peacock are rare, 7-acre parcels of waterfront public land. 
 If Sarnoff has his way he will give away the Scotty's Landing site for the next 80 years.  It might as well be forever because Marc's Folly will continue until after you and I (and most of our kids) are gone.  

     The November referendum is so vague, the developer Sarnoff made his deal with will get to do almost anything they wants with the land.   He'll begin by demolishing Scotty's, our much-loved casual restaurant on Biscayne Bay. 

      Who knows?  Maybe it will be replaced by a rubber pit.    




 
  Vote "NO" on November 5th.  Forward this to your friends who may not be aware of the giveaway.
   
We must stop the City from taking away the things we love in the name of development.   We must stop it now.
                 ___________ 

If you have not signed the petition to protest the City's plan to demolish Scotty's, please do it now.  It is a small part of creating a united voice.
The link is, 
 http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/stop-grove-harbor?source=c.em.mt&r_by=6532601

Thursday, September 5, 2013

THE ARTIST UNDER THE OVERPASS

    I drive past South Miami five days a week.  Lately, I have seen a homeless man making sculptures under the concrete spans of Metrorail.  



   Today I stopped and introduced myself as a fellow artist. 
              
Found objects on auto bumper

   
    The man's name is "Sam". He quickly told me he had no place to go and, "I ain't a bother to nobody".  

   He has enjoyed his two weeks living next to South Dixie Highway adding, "It feels safe".

      He gave me permission to photograph him and his work.  This is Sam's collection,


 Box of found objects
                  Teepee
 Sam's rolling rig
 The hat he just made

 As I wound up my visit a train rumbled overhead filled with commuters hurrying home. Sam shut his eyes and relaxed. He was already there.

 (They day after I wrote this Sam and his art collection were gone)
              ___________________





EYE ON CRIME 

    It's strange how crime can come in waves.
Breaking into Grove houses is very popular lately.  A neighbor got hit last week.   
250 people showed up at City Hall tonight to voice their concerns.

    The Chief of Police said we'll be getting more cops on patrol soon.  They are also be putting four "tag counters", next to major roads.  They will record every license plate passing by.  He didn't say anything about recording thieves on foot or bicycles.
    In mean time, The chief asked us to, "Keep an eye on each other".