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Front Page » Top Stories » New Miami Law Could Make It Harder For Camillus House To Move

New Miami Law Could Make It Harder For Camillus House To Move

Written by on March 18, 2004

By Susan Stabley
Miami has erected a new barrier to Camillus House’s efforts to build a homeless shelter near the Civic Center by requiring four votes from the five-member City Commission to make a zoning change.

Usually, zoning changes require a simple majority.

"Obviously, that’s not great news to us because it has changed the ground rules," said Camillus House spokesman Sam Gil.

Operators of the non-profit agency that serves the homeless recently took possession of 5 acres near Northwest 17th Street and Seventh Avenue through a sublease to build a 200,000-square-foot shelter. That’s a step in a decade-long effort to replace the 29,000-square-foot site Camillus House has used for 43 years at Northeast Eighth Street and First Avenue.

Camillus House needs a zoning exception to build on the new site, Mr. Gil said. That now becomes more difficult to obtain.

The new ordinance – which required only a simple majority to pass – covers any city action concerning a rescue mission. A version of the ordinance calling for unanimous approval of rescue-mission action with at least four commissioners present passed in January. For the second reading, a month later, the ordinance was changed to say approval would simply require four yes votes.

Commissioners Johnny Winton, Tomas Regalado and Arthur Teele Jr. voted in favor of the new ordinance, and Angel Gonzalez and Joe Sanchez opposed.

The city for years has sought to move Camillus House from downtown but has repeatedly rejected other sites when neighbors complained. Downtown interests say presence of the shelter has depressed the area.

A move would open Camillus’ site near Miami Arena to commercial redevelopment. Parking magnate Hank Sopher is in talks with the city to buy the arena, but Mr. Gil said there has been no talk with Mr. Sopher about the property. Proceeds from a sale of land could help pay for a new shelter.

Miami would consider allowing Camillus House to build a homeless shelter in the Civic Center area only if the project were tied to a police training center that could rise nearby on land the city could get for free, City Manager Joe Arriola says.

The Miami Police Department has $10 million to build a training center from the 2001 Homeland Defense-Neighborhood Improvement bond. A training center could be used to teach local law-enforcement officers as well as those from Central and South America and the Caribbean – an idea proposed by Chief John Timoney and promoted by Mayor Manny Diaz.

The Florida Department of Transportation is ready to give the land to the city for public use and is awaiting a resolution from the city authorizing acceptance of three lots, transportation department spokeswoman Aymee Ruiz said Tuesday. Camillus House’s parcel separates the lots that could be developed for a training center and the city has indicated that it wants to consolidate the parcels, she said.

Mr. Arriola said Thursday that a new training center must be next-door to Camillus House.

He also said he wants other changes made to the plan for a new homeless shelter, which would replace a 43-year facility downtown – including changing the number of beds from 550 and the schedule for construction phases.

Camillus House’s current facility downtown has just more than 100 beds. Camillus spokesman Sam Gil said as many as 7,500 people in Miami-Dade County are without shelter nightly.

Camillus House attorney Santiago Echemendia of Tew Cardenas declined to discuss negotiations.

Current proposals for a new Camillus House facility call for it to include about 200,000 square feet of space. Construction would take 18-24 months.

The land for the proposed shelter was donated by the Department of Transportation to the state’s Internal Improvement Trust Fund, which oversees control of public lands. The parcel and the nearby 4 acres under consideration for a police-training site were once used as a railroad cargo station acquired by the transportation department, which later deemed the land surplus.

The location, bordered to the east by Interstate 95, is close to Jackson Memorial Hospital and Veterans Medical Center as well as two corrections facilities. It’s also at the edge of the Civic Center area, marked by Mayor Manny Diaz and University of Miami President Donna Shalala for revitalization.

When asked about Camillus House after the March 9 announcement of the Miami Partnership to revitalize the area, Mayor Diaz said a move to the site cannot be made without the city’s blessing. He did not rule out the site for Camillus House but said negotiations have been put "on the back burner."

Adding to the difficulties was the resignation of Camillus House executive director Dale Simpson on Friday. Mr. Gil said the shelter’s management has begun a search for a new leader.

"In the meantime, we’re not waiting," Mr. Gil said. He said Camillus House hopes to meet with the city soon and wants to work with the administration and City Commission to keep the project moving.

"We would like to see what can be done," Mr. Gil said, "to move this from a back-burner issue to the front lines again."