Master plan for Miami parks OK'd as a guideline
By Risa Polansky
The City of Miami's proposed Parks and Public Spaces Master Plan cleared a hurdle last week, receiving unanimous approval from the Planning Advisory Board — but only "in principle."
The resolution approving the plan included the caveat because the document is a suggestion for how to improve Miami's open spaces in the future, not a strict course of action, said Ernest Burkeen, director of the city's parks and recreation department.
"It's a guide for us, it provides a blueprint," he said. "The master plan will continue to evolve."
A resolution approving the plan — also "in principle" — is to come before the City Commission today (5/24).
The blueprint, designed by consultant Goody Clancy, calls for a connected system of parks and public spaces; a no-net-loss policy for city parklands; a continuous waterfront route along Biscayne Bay and the Miami River; a ParkWalks program designating certain paths as routes to parks and upgrading them with trees, lighting and signage; a "blueway" system with access to parks via water taxis; establishment of a Miami Parks Foundation to tap private donors for funding; a city landscape architect on staff to facilitate design; a "central park" linking by the Miami River Fern Isle Park, Sewell Park and Curtis Park; and a new Dinner Key signature park on the site of the Coconut Grove Convention Center among other suggestions.
It includes a recommended timeline and rough costs of some elements of the plan, such as $500,000 as seed money for the foundation intended for this year, and rather than a set amount of funding lists "staff time, developer contributions and public project contributions" to complete a bay walk as a "short- to medium-term" goal.
A key reason the document can't be adopted as a set plan of action, Mr. Burkeen said, is because "as in any municipality, we're dependent on general fund dollars. As long as it is a municipality, parks and recreation must compete for dollars."
This way, the plan "sets recommendations so the leadership at the time can decide what they can and cannot do."
The city's general operating fund of more than $508 million allots more than $20 million to parks in the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.
Three years ago, the parks budget was $11 million, Mr. Burkeen said.
Funding issues aside, advisory board member Nina West balked at the "in-principle" wording, insisting "a master plan should have measurable goals and objectives."
Impact fees collected from developers "are not part of the general revenue funds, and they cannot be used for anything other than parks," she said, so they should help give the city a leg up in implementing the plan.
Last year, the city collected more than $1.5 million in parks impact fees, which can be used only for construction of parks, leaving general funds to maintain them, Mr. Burkeen said.
Other board members were comfortable with the "in-principle" phrasing so long as elements of the plan are implemented on a timely basis.
"A plan always has room for improvement and change — it's a living document," Betty Gutierrez said. "What we want to see is not just to put something on the shelf."
Before approving the plan, the board added the condition that parks staff must report biannually to the Parks Advisory Board on implementation of the plan, how much has been collected in impact fees and how it has been spent.
However, the City Commission this month sunset the parks board due to lack of quorum at many recent meetings and lack of action. Commissioners plan to draft an ordinance reestablishing the board with different parameters, most likely including a smaller number of board members.
The original board called for 19.
A functional board is crucial now, said Commissioner Marc Sarnoff, as the city moves forward not only with the proposed parks plan but also with Miami 21, its proposed new zoning code and blueprint for growth.
The parks plan is intended to be implemented as Miami 21 is — in sections, beginning with the east quadrant, which includes downtown and Brickell.