Magic Primeval

Don't tell archaeologist Bob Carr that the mysterious Miami Circle is just a bunch of holes in the ground. He knows better than that.

Of course it didn't turn out that way, and ironically it was a city employee who inadvertently helped Carr discover the first chink in Brickell Pointe's armor. It happened innocently enough, during a conversation with city historic preservation director Sarah Eaton. The way Carr tells it, in mid-January 1999 he was talking to Eaton about building permits, still hoping he would be able to persuade Baumann to alter his design and build around the circle. Eaton, Carr says, used some words that caught his attention. She said the site was in a city "archaeological conservation area," and that Brickell Pointe had received a "certificate of appropriateness" from her office.

This struck Carr as odd. For years he had been advising the city on archaeological matters, making recommendations to Eaton about what she should include in development orders, and he had never heard of an "archaeological conservation area" in Miami. That kind of language suggested that the city had broad zones of protection for archaeology, and as far as Carr knew, Miami's preservation law only provided for the protection of specific, difficult-to-designate sites. Then something occurred to him. In 1991 Miami had amended its preservation ordinance after the county had threatened to sue over the city's failure to protect historic structures. Was it possible that, unbeknownst to him, the city also had changed the part of the law that shielded archaeological sites?

Carr called Assistant County Attorney Tom Logue, who had led Miami-Dade's 1991 campaign to force the city to strengthen its preservation law, and asked whether Logue had ever heard of the city having archaeological conservation areas. Logue said he hadn't, but he offered to check the pertinent part of the statute to see if any were mentioned. What he discovered stunned both men. The archaeological provisions of the law hadn't just been changed in 1991; they'd been strengthened to the point where the city's ordinance actually was stronger than the county's. The revised statute did set up archaeological conservation areas, and it also laid out specific conditions -- including developer-funded scientific excavation and preservation of all or part of a site as green space -- that the city's Historic and Environmental Preservation Board could impose on anyone wanting to dig in them. Under certain circumstances it even mandated that public hearings be held on proposals to disturb the ground in the conservation areas. And finally it required that all such proposals be reviewed by the county archaeologist, who would make a recommendation on archaeological measures to be taken before a "certificate of appropriateness" for the work was issued.

As Carr and Logue interpreted it, this last amendment to the ordinance gave the county archaeologist powers and responsibilities that went well beyond merely advising the city historic preservation officer on archaeological matters. It seemed as though the law said that every application for permission to disturb the ground in the city's archaeologically sensitive areas was to cross his desk first, and he was supposed to be giving guidance to a city board with the power to tell developers what they could do with their land. But Carr knew this was not how things had worked in the years since the passage of the new law; Eaton had simply carried on with their earlier arrangement, never sending him any applications to review or requesting that he meet with her board. It certainly was not how things had worked with the Brickell Point site, where Carr had not been notified that demolition was about to begin and had to discover the damage done to the site himself. According to Carr in their later discussions, Eaton said she had provided a "verbal" certificate of appropriateness for the development, which also seemed strange and somewhat questionable; the notion of a verbal certificate was a new one for him.

To Carr it looked like an open-and-shut case. The city hadn't followed its own ordinance when it granted the permit for the demolition of the Brickell Apartments, and it wasn't following its own ordinance in preparing to grant Baumann's construction permits. Unfortunately there didn't seem to be any way to turn this information to the circle's advantage. Mounting a challenge to seven years of archaeological misconduct by the city would take time, and time was about to run out. As the final week of January began, Carr learned Baumann's permits were only days away from being issued. After that, Carr knew, the only way the circle could survive would be if it could somehow be cut out and reassembled at another location, a risky option that would destroy the artifact's archaeological context. Carr hoped he could convince Baumann to give his team a month to wrap things up and prepare for the circle's possible removal, but he already had been informed that the developer wanted the archaeologists out by February 1.

Then Carr received a phone call from Gary Held, an attorney working on the circle case for the Dade Heritage Trust. The DHT was considering legal action to keep Baumann from marring the circle, Held said, and he was researching the relevant law. Did Carr know anything about the archaeological provisions of Miami's historic preservation ordinance? Carr told Held what he knew, and Held used that information to file for an emergency injunction that would prevent the developer from doing anything that might damage the circle, basing his claim on the premise that Baumann's permits were incomplete.

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