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Front Page » Top Stories » Miami Changing Landuse Plan After Court Defeats On River Uses

Miami Changing Landuse Plan After Court Defeats On River Uses

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Written by on November 15, 2007

By Risa Polansky
The process of revising Miami’s comprehensive plan comes shortly after three consecutive court decisions admonishing the city for ignoring the document in approving land use changes to allow for large-scale residential developments along portions of the Miami River largely designated for marine industry use.

The plan as it stands calls for residential and commercial development along the lower portion of the river, with the upper portion designated for the industry and the middle for a mix.

While the revision process is state-mandated and therefore not a direct reaction to the court decisions, "I definitely think it’s causally related," said Fran Bohnsack, executive director of the Miami River Marine Group, one of the plaintiffs in the suits against the city that protest the residential approvals.

In one of its written decisions overturning a land use designation change that would have allowed two 12-story residential condominiums rise at 2215 NW 14th St., a panel of judges in Third District Court of Appeal wrote that such "small-scale" amendments to the city’s comprehensive plan "when viewed together as a whole, are changing the character of the Miami River waterfront without proper long-range planning or input from appropriate agencies, departments and citizen groups."

The court found that "such piecemeal, haphazard changes are not only ill-advised, they are contrary to the goals and objectives of those who worked together, debated and determined how the Miami River waterfront should be developed."

If the city’s vision for the Miami River has changed, the decision says, "then that change should be clearly reflected in its comprehensive plan."

After a third ruling reinforcing these views was issued late last month, Maria J. Chiaro, the city attorney’s land-use division chief, said "right now, what it means is that the application of the elements of the comprehensive plan will be very rigidly applied."

She said, however, that the decisions "do not in any way impact the ability of the government to clarify or change its river element of the comprehensive plan."

In response to one of the court decisions, Commissioner Tomás Regalado said, "I don’t think we should change the comprehensive plan. I think that what this shows is that the river’s future is to have a working river, a river for entities to do business."

The broad Evaluation and Appraisal Report the state requires be drafted every seven years to suggest comprehensive plan revisions makes general reference to change along the river.

While the comprehensive plan now says, "The city shall use its land development regulations to encourage the establishment and maintenance of water-dependent and water-related uses along the banks of the Miami River, and to discourage encroachment by incompatible uses," the report suggests the policy "should be amended to encourage water related/water dependent uses along the upper river, based on the Miami River plans, rather than along the entire river" because "there is still much ongoing debate as to the form the Miami River waterfront will take."

Ms. Bohnsack said the marine industry proponents who fought the residential developments were aware that "even if we prevailed judicially, the city still has options for changing the process."

Because the report suggesting changes to the comprehensive plan is broad, she acknowledged that "of course there could be good things" to come for the marine industry during the revision process, but "I don’t think it’s going that way."