Buena Vista Neighbors Fight Design District Parking Garage Up for Vote Thursday

Neighbors in Buena Vista Heights are asking the city commission to vote against a proposed five-story parking garage in their residential neighborhood.
Neighbors in Buena Vista Heights are asking the city commission to vote against a proposed five-story parking garage in their residential neighborhood.

For two years, neighbors in Buena Vista Heights have signed petitions and waited. Gone to meetings and waited. Forwarded emails and waited. Consulted attorneys and waited.

In 2015, residents learned a developer wanted to rezone a parcel in their residential, working-class neighborhood to build a five-story parking garage for Design District visitors. Since that time, they've watched — and, yes, waited — as the garage has gone through the slow process of city approval. Roughly 400 people have signed petitions circulating online and on paper asking commissioners to vote down the garage.

This Thursday, they'll likely get a final answer. Miami commissioners are expected to vote tomorrow afternoon either to rezone the parcel or to reject the developer's application, as neighbors are asking. The planning and zoning department initially recommended approval, but the appeals board moved for a denial in September. Residents say the garage would open the door for other projects to encroach into their neighborhood, which is one of the last affordable communities in Miami.

"One of the big challenges we've had in this whole two-year gentrification battle is the perception that it's a done deal," says Susan Braun of the Buena Vista Neighborhood Association. "We've had seven hearings [with the planning board], and now we're on the third date with the commission."

Buena Vista Neighbors Fight Design District Parking Garage Up for Vote Thursday
map courtesy of the Community Justice Project

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In order to build the garage at its proposed size, the city would need to rezone a parcel of land between NW 42nd Street and NW 44th Street, just west of North Miami Avenue. Developer Craig Robins has said he believes the garage would have "a lot of compelling benefits for the neighborhood," including private security officers to patrol the area. A representative for the developer also told attendees at a community meeting last year that the garage would increase their property values.

"You can get three times as much money," the man was filmed saying.

But neighbors aren't buying it, Braun says. Many of them are longtime residents whose families have been in the area for generations. They consider it one of the last affordable slices of paradise in the city and one of the few neighborhoods in Miami where people of all races, ages, and walks of life feel welcome and united.

"I'm one of the 'new' neighbors, and I've been here for 17 years," Braun says. "My neighbors have been here 20, 30, 40 years. Everyone always talks about diversity and multiculturalism, but we don't talk about it all, because that's just who we are. People who move to this neighborhood love that diversity as much as I do."

Buena Vista Neighbors Fight Design District Parking Garage Up for Vote Thursday
image via Google Maps

Recently, lawyers with the Community Justice Project have stepped in to help the homeowners. Attorney Meena Jagannath says the city's zoning code supports the idea that the garage isn't suited for the area.

"Having a five-story building that would be directly adjacent to one-story houses is not consistent with the way the neighborhood is set up," she says.

Commissioners will take up the issue Thursday at a 2 p.m. meeting after public comment on the proposal. Braun says those who were able to take the afternoon off will be there to challenge the project.

"Part of the argument is a legal battle. The other part is political, the voices of the people and what we really want," she says. "The people have always been against this garage."

If approved, Jagannath says, the garage would set a dangerous precedent and could lead to a complete transformation of the area.

"You start with one building and say, 'OK, well it's only jutting out this much into a neighborhood.' You argue for a parking lot as a community benefit, but it's really for the benefit of whom? It benefits people going to the Design District, not the people living in the residential district," she says. "In some ways, I think this is a perfect example of how incrementally gentrification happens."


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