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Written by Susan Stabley on November 20, 2003
By Susan Stabley
Business and property owners in Little Haiti are pressing the City of Miami to make planning and zoning changes to allow more revitalization in the impoverished area’s industrial core.
Representatives of the Lemon City Taxpayers Association – who own land or businesses on about 35 acres in the area and employ more than 550 workers – met with staffers from the city’s planning and zoning department Tuesday.
Peter Ehrlich, president of the association, said his group wants to "pull up Little Haiti by bringing in new money," creating ties to artists and furniture makers in the nearby Design District and the proposed Midtown Miami project and encouraging more investment and improvements by example.
Mr. Ehrlich said his group, many of whom have invested in Little Haiti for more than 40 years, wants the city to allow more residential and retail development as well as taller buildings and increased density.
"We want something vital," Mr. Ehrlich said Monday. "We don’t want to be left behind. We want to be partner with everybody."
Many business owners in the association were targeted for displacement in plans to create a park. An area of 60 acres had been identified for land acquisition, threatening more than 100 companies.
A study estimated the land would cost the city $53 million to $75 million. In August, city officials scaled down the scope of the project to focus on replacing the derelict Keystone Trailer Court, 6307 NE Second Ave., with soccer fields and other amenities. The city also plans to refurbish Caribbean Marketplace at Northeast Second Avenue and 59th Terrace and expand the cultural center with a theater and dance halls. The city has $25 million for park plans as part of a November 2001 $255 million bond to enhance neighborhoods and improve safety.
As local businesses get involved in the planning of the area, some have offered support in developing the park, which may include a vocational school.
At last Thursday’s City Commission meeting, two members of the Lemon City Taxpayers Association – Sylvia Wong of Fullei Fresh and artist Michael Oguns – spoke in favor of the city’s recent progress with a park and the proposal for a vocational school.
Their comments prompted praise from park advocate City Commissioner Arthur Teele Jr., who months ago was at odds with the area’s business owners.
"The private sector is beating down our doors to get involved," Mr. Teele said.
"It’s such an amazing change from a year-and-a-half ago," Mr. Ehrlich said. "It’s like a love fest."
Property owners want to create a catalyst for Little Haiti’s revitalization, said Mr. Ehrlich, at no cost to the city.
"We will not ask for any handouts, grants or loans," he said.
In other action affecting Little Haiti park, Miami City Commissioners put off a decision to acquire property at 254 NE 59th Terrace, which would be tied to the Caribbean Marketplace project. City Commission Chairman Johnny Winton said the purchase price, $645,000, is more than 50% higher than its appraised value, $420,000.
Commissioners agreed to hold off buying the land because information on the property was incomplete.
Commissioner Teele said it would become more difficult to acquire land for the park project.
"On these larger parcels of land, we need to be willing to do eminent domain," he said.
Commissioners agreed earlier during the meeting to set aside at least $25,000 for special counsel to address land acquisition.