Plans to remove marine industry protections from river land-use plan could get washed up
By Risa Polansky
Plans to remove marine industry protections from the Miami River could get washed up, with local agencies shoring up support for the future of commerce on the waterway.
Miami commissioners voted in May to remove the word "port" from the river element of the city's comprehensive land-use plan, a move they say will encourage more mixed uses along the river, including marine business.
River players contend it threatens the existence of the marine industry by encouraging residential development.
Miami-Dade County's planning chief agrees.
In a letter to the Florida Department of Community Affairs — in the midst of reviewing the city's proposed comprehensive plan changes — Planning and Zoning Director Marc C. LaFerrier said proposed changes to the city's plan, "including the deletion of all references to the river as a "port,' de-emphasizes the marine industry in favor of a more residential/commercial-oriented riverfront."
His comments follow a similar letter to the state department from the South Florida Regional Planning Council.
Removing the word "port" from the city's plan goes against the Strategic Regional Policy Plan for South Florida, the letter said.
The regional plan includes policies such as "Protect marine-related industries through innovative comprehensive planning and zoning regulations."
The South Florida group plays an advisory role in the state review process, while Miami-Dade County evaluates the city's comprehensive plan to ensure it's consistent with its own.
Florida Department of Community Affairs officials took note of the growing opposition this week.
Secretary Thomas Pelham informed a group of visiting Miami officials of "mounds of objectors" to the proposed plan amendments.
The state agency, which is responsible for reviewing land-planning policies of local governments, pressed the city to include strategies for maintaining a balance on the river. It is to issue its report on the proposed changes Friday.
In his comments, Mr. LaFerrier noted that the county's plan includes the objective to "maintain and promote marine activity on the Miami River and protect these activities from encroachment or displacement by incompatible land uses."
Because the city already allows residential and mixed-uses on certain areas along the river, Mr. LeFerrier said it's unclear why Miami would propose changes "unless it is the city's intent to convert industrial lands (no residential allowed) needed to maintain or enhance the maritime industry to residential land."
That's what opponents allege — that the city is opening the door to more condos by eliminating explicit industry protection.
The move to alter the plan comes after three consecutive appellate court decisions overturning commission-approved land-use changes that would have allowed large-scale residential projects be developed along the river.
Follow the comprehensive plan or change it, the judges told the city.
Officials say the intent of the proposed changes is to encourage all types of development on the river.
But, Mr. LaFerrier wrote, deleting the term "port" from the comprehensive plan "alters the city's commitment to maintaining and enhancing the maritime activities along the river."
He mentioned also that the city in making its changes did not provide data or analysis to document the potential economic impact of de-emphasizing port protections.
"The city has not analyzed how much waterfront is necessary to maintain and/or enhance the maritime industry along the river," which he called an "economically valued industry."