An anonymous donor has pledged $175,000 to help the city of Miami remove a large mound of unearthed, toxic soil sitting in the middle of a contaminated Coconut Grove park.

Letters from the city announcing the donation were delivered this week to residents living near Merrie Christmas Park, located on South Le Jeune Road and Barbarossa Avenue on the border between South Coconut Grove and Coral Gables. The park has been closed for more than a year due to unsafe levels of heavy metals like barium and arsenic in the soil.

The city is pursuing a county-approved $1.5 million plan to remediate the sloping, bowl-shaped lawn by covering contaminated soil with two feet of clean fill. But aspects of the project proved controversial with neighbors, who have been especially opposed to a proposal to redistribute tainted soil from higher elevations of the park to lower elevations in order to re-grade the park.

A group calling itself Friends of Merrie Christmas Park demanded the city remove the unearthed tainted soil altogether. For weeks, Commissioner Marc Sarnoff and Deputy City Manager Alice Bravo told residents the city could not afford the dumping fees at Merrie Christmas and the five other contaminated city parks, arguing that what is done for one should be done for all.

But this month, during a contentious public gathering at City Hall, Sarnoff and Coral Gables Commissioner Vince Lago told residents they’d help raise private donations to foot the bill if neighbors raised $50,000 themselves. Sarnoff, though, dropped that request. And on Wednesday, the city sent out a letter from Capital Improvements Director Mark Spanioli announcing that the money had been raised, and the mound would be removed.

“We should probably have something in writing the next few days,” said a grateful Lago, who like Sarnoff declined to name the donor.

Sarnoff said the $175,000 donation would be made directly to the city of Miami, in the form of a grant. He said the remediation project could be completed by Christmas.

The news pleased some frustrated residents, who nevertheless remain skeptical about whether the city is pursuing an appropriate plan for the park, which sits in a residential neighborhood. Michelle Niemeyer, an attorney and former commission candidate representing three neighborhood families, said there are reasonable alternatives to the city’s plan that could still be considered.

“My client’s goal is to have a cleanup that’s adequate to protect the safety of their families and their property values, and the steps that the city is taking are a great move in the right direction,” said Niemeyer. “We’re hopeful we’ll be able to fully resolve the situation without a lawsuit.”

 

Source: Miami Herald

As a city sitting virtually at sea level, Miami has been called ground zero for the problems posed by climate change, a place where rising sea levels threaten its future existence.

The latest forecast of sea level rise from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, for example, predicts that by later this century, global sea levels will be two feet higher than they are today, quite possibly higher. Under that scenario, the nuisance flooding in Miami that periodically comes with high tides will be a daily affair, the storm surge impact of hurricanes will be amplified, and lower-lying areas of the city will be uninhabitable. That’s actually not the worst of it: Under higher sea levels, the Biscayne Aquifer—where southeast Florida draws its drinking water—will increasingly suffer from saltwater intrusion, a problem for which there is no foreseen solution other than the investment of billions of dollars in water treatment facilities.

As bleak as this future would seem to be, few with real skin in the game in Miami—residents, real estate investors, and companies—are backing away from long-term investment. Exhibit A: Miami has been undergoing a nearly unprecedented surge in real estate construction, with planning discussions centering less on who will leave first and more on how high new projects can be built. Among the projects under way, for example, is an 80-plus-story behemoth in Brickell Center, the city’s urban core. If Miami is on the verge of being a modern-day Atlantis, those who would have the most to lose are apparently not buying it.

Why this apparent deafness to the dire warnings? Well, here’s a paradox. If one talks to developers and city commissioners in the area, it’s hard to find evidence of overt denial of current and future risk; Miami was a city, after all, almost completely destroyed by a hurricane in 1926, and most concede that a recurrence is a matter of when, not whether. Likewise, few deny that the city’s unique geography makes it vulnerable to the effects of rising sea levels. It’s a long-term problem that the planning commissions of Miami and Miami Beach acknowledge exists and threatens to get worse.

Where locals disagree with outsiders, however, is about how best to deal with the problem. Rather than sounding alarms and cutting back on development, there’s an implicit sense that the best approach may be, ironically, to do the opposite. And while a strong case can be made that this behavior has no rational basis, it may represent Miami’s best long-term hope for dealing with the threats posed by climate change, one that other cities might be advised to mimic: The best strategy, in fact, may be to foster a collective belief that there’s no threat—or at least not one serious enough to lose sleep over.

Before an explanation why, let’s first address the two standard explanations for the building boom, explanations that are indeed part of the puzzle. The first is that real estate developers, by their nature, are gamblers with short planning horizons. In the late 2000s, the real estate and equities crash quickly wiped out many builders. One might assume that would have made them skittish. To the contrary, the quick recovery that followed taught most that big risks are worth taking, and are survivable. While developers today may concede that sea levels are rising, it’s a risk that lies well beyond their investment horizons, and in any case is dwarfed by the more immediate risk of a returning recession.

The second explanation is that many of the buyers for all the new condo units are cash investors from Latin America, and the risks of Miami real estate—overdevelopment, speculation, environmental unsustainability—remain small relative to similar investments back home. No one is saying that real estate isn’t risky in Miami, or that sea level rise is fiction. What they are saying is that all investment carries risk, and development there is a bet they’re prepared to take.

But there’s another rational reason why even risk-averse residents in South Florida might, paradoxically, hope that buyers and sellers remain collectively naïve, or at least act as if they are, about the risks of sea level rise. South Florida relies almost exclusively on real estate taxes to fund public infrastructure. If the threat (or reality) of sea level rise suppresses property valuations, there will be less public money to address the risk. As an illustration, the head of public works for Miami Beach recently argued that the city would be wise to accelerate its investments in storm water drainage improvements ($100 million now and $400 million planned) simply because the city has the tax base to afford it—something it could not necessarily count on in the future.

Because buyers and sellers in Miami Beach have yet to connect the dots between nuisance flood events and the future consequences of sea level rise, property buyers continue to be drawn to the area, and development projects continue unabated—both of which are essential for a continued healthy tax base. If and when buyers and sellers do connect the dots, everything changes: Doing so could spark a rapid downward wealth spiral that, once initiated, would be difficult to reverse. Lowering property valuations would reduce the city’s tax revenue which, in turn, would leave it with less money to shore up the city against sea level rise. The city would then be forced to choose between two losing remedies: increase taxes on those who choose to stay, or decline to make the needed improvements. Both, of course, would only exacerbate the problem. Miami’s best move at that point would be to go hat in hand to the state and federal government for a bailout, but that seems unlikely. Quite aside from the “I-told-you-so” reactions that such pleas might evoke, almost all coastal communities would be facing similar problems and asking for commensurate help. Miami Beach as we know it now could cease to exist long before the Atlantic reclaims Collins Avenue.

Given this, South Florida’s best shot at coping with the long-term environmental threat may be a strategy that no doubt seems perverse to environmentalists: aggressively foster a collective belief that sea level rise is not something we urgently need to worry about. South Florida is potentially facing a huge adaptation bill down the road, and paying for it will require a healthy tax base. Keeping that tax base flush depends on a cooperative equilibrium where buyers and sellers maintain an optimistic view that it’s tomorrow’s problem, one that will be easily tackled when the time comes. This keeps the coffers filled and provides the resources needed to pay for the engineering adaptations required to keep the game going.

In this light, Miami’s construction cranes aren’t monuments to climate change denial.  Quite to the contrary—they’re the instruments that may, indirectly, allow the city to survive global warming. Controlled ignorance, in some cases, can be a good thing.

 

Source: Bloomberg Businessweek

ParkGrove2The latest renderings are out for Park Grove, a luxury condo project in Coconut Grove designed by starchitect Rem Koolhaas.

 The towers’ shapes were inspired by Biscayne Bay’s islands, according to Curbed.

ParkGrove3The development is a joint venture between Terra Group and The Related Group and plans call for two 20-story, 72-unit condo towers and a third 20-story building with 140 units.

 

Source: Real Deal

Miami-Dade has long been a place of varied styles, each city within the County bringing its own special flare to the mélange.

The different neighborhoods have experienced their own evolutions since Miami’s inception in 1896. Coconut Grove has had its own unique evolution.

ULI SE Florida/Caribbean will be hosting an event focusing on the latest transformation of one of Miami’s most storied neighborhoods with its residents, architects, investors, developers, and historians.

On Tuesday, November 4, 2014, from 5:30 PM – 8:30 PM, panelists will discuss how it will continue to remain ahead of the curve. A new standard has been applied to the quality of housing and retail uses in The Grove.

The event will take place at Park Grove, located at 2701 South Bayshore Drive.

Confirmed speakers include:

  • Bernardo Fort-Brescia, Principal, Arquitectonica
  • Ezra Katz, Chairman/CEO, Aztec Group, Inc.
  • Justin Kennedy, Co-CEO, Grass River Property
  • David Martin, President, Terra Group
  • Commissioner Marc Sarnoff, City of Miami
  • Moderator: Dr. Paul George, Ph.D., Professor, Miami Dade College

Additional panelists to be announced.

CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFORMATION AND TO REGISTER

It began with lead and arsenic in the soil at a small Coconut Grove dog park. Then elevated levels of barium and copper beneath a sloping lawn near residential Coral Gables. Followed by antimony and iron around the playing courts of Douglas Park.

One by one, the city of Miami shut down a series of parks starting last September after tests showed elevated levels of toxins in the soil. The closures alarmed residents and embarrassed city officials, who’d known for years about contamination concerns linked to an old West Grove incinerator.

All 112 of Miami’s parks were tested, and portions or all of seven closed for clean-up. One year later, the city is prepared to spend an estimated $11 million — more than triple initial projections — to remediate and reopen the tainted parks. Their plan is simple, though to some disconcerting: leave the contaminated soil in place and bury it two feet below the surface. “This two-foot option is not only an option we’re applying at all our parks, it’s the option that the county applies itself at their parks that get remediated,” said Deputy City Manager Alice Bravo. “This is the standard in South Florida.”

Under the plan, two feet of clean fill will be placed over contaminated soil. If the fill is less than two feet thick, a liner is also spread between the soil and the clean fill, explained Wilbur Mayorga, chief of the county’s Division of Environmental Monitoring and Restoration. New grass, artificial turf or recycled rubber mulch or mats top the fill, although those options are purely aesthetic, he said. Plans can vary from park to park, depending on the terrain and type of structures in place. “The approach is not new,” Mayorga said, explaining that both federal and state environmental rules allow clean-up methods that “rely on a cap or a barrier to eliminate any exposure to contaminated soil.”

Some parks, like Blanche Park, a small neighborhood park popular with tots and dogs, and Curtis Park, a much larger sprawling sports complex north of the Miami River, will have wells to monitor groundwater and ensure contamination doesn’t spread. At Merrie Christmas Park on South LeJeune Road in Coconut Grove, the city plans to move between a foot and two feet of contaminated soil from one area to another to level the park according to new design plans, Mayorga said.

Working with county regulators, the city has to continue to conduct inspections of the parks after reopening them. Covenants will also be attached to the land to warn future generations of the contamination, Mayorga said. “But at the end of the day, all contaminated soil in the park will have the required and approved engineering controls on top,” he said.

To date, the city has reopened only Blanche Park and has had its plans approved by the county for Merrie Christmas Park, half of which is still closed. Plans for Curtis, Douglas, Billie Rolle, Southside and Bayfront parks still need the county’s approval. But the city has surveyed the extent of the contamination at most parks, perhaps marking the end of a long period of uncertainty about the city’s problems.

Concerns about toxins and contamination first arose in 2011, when the city discovered contaminated soil at a firefighter training facility located at an old, defunct Jefferson Street incinerator dubbed Old Smokey by residents in the West Grove. County regulators ordered the city to find out exactly what was polluting the soil and address it, but it took two years to issue a report, which showed elevated levels of arsenic and other heavy metals like barium and lead. Even then, the contamination only became public knowledge after a University of Miami graduate student stumbled upon it.

Under intensified scrutiny from the university, residents and county regulators, Miami officials began sampling soils in a one-mile radius. When contaminants were discovered at nearby Blanche Park and then Merrie Christmas Park, the county ordered the city to test all its parks, setting off the discovery of five other contaminated sites.

The city’s slow response has fostered cynicism from residents near the parks and activists, who continue to distrust Miami’s handling of the matter. A group of residents around Merrie Christmas Park is protesting plans to redistribute some of the toxic soil beneath the park’s surface, and say they only learned about the details from the city’s contractor.

Anthony Alfieri, a UM law professor whose Environmental Justice Project unearthed contamination concerns, said the city continues to keep residents in the dark about its plans and actions. The city, by designating its contaminated parks as “Brownfields” this July in order to receive reimbursement from the federal government for clean-up efforts, increased its obligation to seek public input. But Alfieri said it doesn’t appear the city has done any outreach. “The city and the county are clearly committed to a policy of non-accountability,” Alfieri said. “And they ensure that by failing to reach out to the community and inform the community.”

Ken Russell, a woodcarver who lives next to Merrie Christmas Park, has loudly criticized the city’s plan and says he worries about the health of his three children, ages 12, 2 and 5 months. He says he understands that capping toxic soil is safe but is frustrated that the city’s plans will move contaminated material from the western edge of the park to some depressed areas that are currently closed off to the public but apparently untainted.

Another issue for Russell is the county has marked his home as being located within a quarter-mile of a contamination site, which he and other neighbors worry lowers their property values. He said if the city is digging up soil, it ought to simply remove it. “The city did this dumping. Even though it was 50 years ago, it’s their doing and it’s their responsibility to clean it up,” he said. “We want a clean-up, not a cover-up.”

Bravo stressed that the city’s plans are safe and sound, and she said the cost of removing toxic soils is simply too steep. Bravo said estimates put the price of removing soil at Merrie Christmas Park at $3million, though the city isn’t sure about the depth of the tainted soil.

By designating six closed parks as Brownfields — Blanche Park, the first to close, was reopened months ago — the city can apply for reimbursement of expenses up to $500,000 for each park. The city is also hoping that dredge from the port tunnel dig can be used as fill if it’s left over from a bond-funded project at Virginia Key. But even then, the final price tag for clean-up could be in the millions, and Bravo said the city doesn’t have the money to remove the tainted soil. “When this material is removed it has to be taken to a certain dump site approved by the county,” said Bravo. “The disposal is very expensive.”

Russell has in recent weeks gone back and forth with Commissioner Marc Sarnoff over the city’s plans. Sarnoff, who lives across the street from Blanche Park, defended the city’s handling of the closed parks. He said he has talked at least a dozen times with homeowners groups about what the city is doing to address clean-up issues, and said the city held two public hearings with scientists in attendance to answer questions when concerns were first raised.

Sarnoff said he understands fretting about real estate values — his home is also marked as being next to a contaminated site — but believes they’re overblown. He and Bravo say the city has done its best to publicize the issue, but are trying to schedule another meeting to explain what’s happening with its closed parks. “I guess you can always do more,” said Sarnoff. “But is the city doing the job it should be doing? In my estimation it’s doing a credible job.”

The Parks

Blanche Park, 3045 Shipping Ave.: The neighborhood playground and dog park remained open after contaminated soil was found in September 2013 because it was almost entirely covered with astro turf. Workers paved a parking area and installed monitoring wells to test groundwater, although no drinking wells are in the neighborhood. Total Cost: $700,000.

Merrie Christmas Park, South Le Jeune Road and Barbarossa Avenue: City workers reopened part of the park in February. Clean-up plans now underway call for digging up a foot to two feet of contaminated soil in the western half of the park where toxic metals are concentrated and using the soil to regrade part of the bowl-shaped park under new design plans. The city also plans to excavate contaminated soil around trees and install rubber mulch and lay recycled rubber mats on playground areas. Any area with contaminated soil will be covered with a liner or two feet of clean fill. Projected Cost: $1.5million.

Curtis Park, 1901 NW 24th Ave.: The city reopened part of the large sports complex, including basketball courts, in June, but has kept areas where contaminated soil is exposed fenced. A clean-up plan was due Sept.17, but has not yet been submitted. Estimated Cost: $4million.

Douglas Park, 2795 SW 37th Ave.: The third park closed after contamination was found at Blanche and Merrie Christmas, the 10-acre park near Coral Gables had high levels of toxic metals from ash in two areas. The city, which will discuss funding clean-up efforts at the park Monday, must submit clean-up plans to the county by Oct.5. The city must also test soil off site to determine the extent of contamination. Projected Cost: $3.5million.

Billy Rolle Domino Park, 3400 Grand Ave.: A neighborhood hangout with shady domino tables, the city is considering installing a liner and new soil as well as a monitoring well. A plan for the clean-up is due Sept.30. Estimated Cost: $250,000.

Southside Park, 100 SW 11th St.: A pocket park near downtown, the city still needs to finish mapping the boundaries of the contamination. A clean-up plan is due Sept.30. Estimated Cost: $1million.

Bayfront Park, 301 Biscayne Blvd.: Part of the downtown park remains fenced, but addressing contamination in the park may be complicated by its terraced design. A clean-up plan is due Oct.6. No cost estimate available.

 

Source: Miami Herald

The Courtyard Miami Downtown, a 233-room Marriott hotel that sits on a prime 1.07-acre site in the heart of the urban core, is up for grabs.

CBRE is marketing the asset, which could be redeveloped into over 1,000 condo units under the Miami 21 zoning code.

CourtyardByMarriott4“This is an extraordinary location in the heart of Miami’s business district, directly between the new landmark All Aboard Florida Miami terminal, Miami Worldcenter and Brickell City Centre projects,” said CBRE vice chairman Robert Given, who is marketing the hotel on behalf of AVR Realty. The Courtyard Miami Downtown is located at 200 SE 2nd Avenue.

Miami’s hotel market  is one of the strongest in the nation, with a June year-to-date average daily rate (ADR) of $202.87, ahead of cities such as San Francisco and Boston, CBRE’s research reports. Meanwhile, luxury condominiums in Downtown Miami are commanding pricing in excess of $1,000 per square foot.

“Extremely high barriers to entry in a dense urban center, coupled with a booming residential and lodging market, make this property a one-of-a-kind investment opportunity,” says CBRE Hotels’ senior vice president Christian Charre. “The city’s current zoning code also allows for consideration of a high-return alternative—a rare chance to carve a new condominium community out of this saturated downtown core.”

A high concentration of class A office space in Brickell and Downtown surround the 13-story Courtyard by Marriott. Premier large-scale mixed-use developments, including Swire’s Brickell City Centre and the Met Miami projects are located within a short walk.

The site is also close to some of South Florida’s most recognizable attractions, including Bayside, American Airlines Arena, Miami Tower, the Port of Miami and Mary Brickell Village. Hotel visitors or condo residents would have quick access to Brickell Avenue, Interstate 95 and Interstate 395.

Given and Charre, along with Paul Weimer and Natalie Castillo of CBRE Hotels, and Gerard Yetming of CBRE’s Institutional Properties group, are marketing the asset.

 

Source: GlobeSt.