Don’t swap largest city park for the grass between buildings
Miami showcases its policy that it can lose no total parkland. Yet a lease of the city’s largest park for a private mega-project would lose 53 acres. That’s shameful.
Don’t blame Miami Freedom Park’s developers – they’ll do what it takes to displace Melreese Golf Course. Still, the city commission has three paths to keep residents from being cheated.
First, commissioners could (and should) refuse to turn over the only golf course in city limits at any price, thus protecting the valuable public green space.
Even if the commissioners yield to lease the course for as much as they can get, however, they can insist that developers find more than 20 disconnected acres to replace the 73 contiguous acres in their development – because 20 acres in bits and pieces is what an attorney for the developers told commissioners it’s going to be.
In fact, if commissioners insist on giving up vital parkland that was never in play until developers wanted it, the city should decide what it wants to get in return rather than developers telling the city what it’s going to get in this ass-backwards deal.
Look at what’s at stake:
Melreese is Miami’s Central Park, its largest green space. It’s right beside Miami International Airport, providing open area below takeoffs and landings at the county’s main economic engine.
The airport director worries that if Melreese were built over, the Federal Aviation Administration would limit runway use at the entry point for much of our air cargo and more than 95% of all visitors to this tourist-oriented county.
Unfortunately, Miami gave the airport to the county decades ago, so city commissioners have no formal requirement to look out for the airport’s health. They certainly haven’t in the Melreese deal.
The deal is, in fact, a spinoff of soccer team owners’ hunt for a stadium site (though they now have two others, one in Broward County and another in Overtown).
The owners, led by celebrity ex-star David Beckham, united with the well-connected Mas brothers, who have used a stadium as bait in a billion-dollar plan to develop a shopping-hotel-office complex larger than downtown’s Brickell City Centre, which was built on private lands quietly acquired over decades at market rates.
The Mas brothers didn’t do that long groundwork: they simple asked for public land that was never offered, dealing at well below market rate without competitive bids. City leaders went along.
Now it’s time for commissioners to either OK whatever deal hits the table or vote it down. It will take four of five votes for approval after they vet the deal in May.
The developers’ attorney told commissioners this month some of what they plan.
Developers magnanimously are offering to let the city keep 58 of its 131 acres as a “contribution.”
Developers are also talking about finding 20 acres to replace the 73 they’ll lease – probably counting the stadium and space around their buildings as the other 53 acres needed to meet park replacement requirements, as if a building’s front lawn were a park.
Then of 20 replacement acres, they want to count land the city or other governments already own that could be dressed up and called parks. Then they’ll find bits and pieces of land elsewhere that with the rest could total 20 acres. In the latter, they have support from commissioners, all of whom want sprinkles of park in their district as they carve up the bones of Melreese.
New Commissioner Alex Diaz de la Portilla, who represents the Melreese area, and Joe Carollo talk about getting a really good deal – presumably meaning a high lease level. And if city decides to break up its largest park, the lease figure will indeed be important.
But lease talk is putting the cart before the horse: if the city isn’t getting more parkland than it started with or has to supply its own land elsewhere as part of a replacement, why in heaven’s name would the city part with its only golf course?
Commissioners seem to be assuming they have to make a deal and plan to haggle for more money instead of grappling with the questions of why diminish parks and why carve up the biggest one we have.
Would New York City let developers take over Central Park and then count the space between all the buildings in Manhattan as a replacement?
That’s the point of questions Commissioner Manolo Reyes raised in hearing the plans for Melreese. He asked for a replacement park at least as large as Melreese, but other commissioners shot him down. He also asked, in vain, not to let developers count areas smaller than 40,000 square feet as replacement parkland.
“Either we accept it or we erase [requirements of no parkland loss] and stop being liars and hypocrites that we are telling the public out there that we are protecting our parks,” Mr. Reyes said.
He’s driving right down the fairway: either keep Melreese as a city amenity, which is the best shot, or at least follow city policy to the letter and have would-be developers provide equal or greater contiguous parkland elsewhere.
It doesn’t matter that commissioners raise lease rates a bit to say they’ve protected the public interest if in the process they’ve degraded parkland forever. That would indeed be shameful.