Fact-Check: No One Is Destroying North Shore Open Space Park

City of Miami Beach
Miami Beach will soon chop down an estimated 815 trees in North Shore Open Space Park. On its face, this news is very bad: The park is the only public beachfront green space on the whole barrier island. Hundreds of residents have signed petitions urging the city to stop the plan.

But those petitions leave out a crucial fact: Miami Beach plans to replace those 815 trees with at least 1,032 new ones. Which means that after a small construction hiccup, North Shore Open Space Park won't be paved over, built over, or flattened. It's simply getting renovated and reshaped a bit.

Those facts have not stopped more than 1,300 people from signing a petition demanding the city stop the renovation plans, though.

"As many of you know, we went to the commission's meeting in the Miami Beach city hall on January 27," the petition's author, Juan Pablo Ortega, wrote last Friday. "In this meeting, it was disclosed that they are planning to cut not 300, but almost 700 trees. In addition, they want to "trim" the natural canopy to gain more 'ocean view.' We already know what that means." (Ortega did not respond to New Times' written request for comment.)

Because of citizens' complaints, portions of the project have stalled, and some design-review proposals have been delayed until at least March.

It's understandable why the petitioners are upset: Many regular parkgoers arrived to find that large swaths of sea grapes had been trimmed due to an unrelated city pruning action. And others heard through city presentations that "more than 700 trees" were set to be chopped down inside the park. The upgrades are certain to change the character of the park. Renderings show the area a bit more open and well-lit, and better suited to handle large crowds of weekend visitors.

Adding more confusion to the situation is the renovation's tie to a hotel being built nearby. Famed architect Renzo Piano is building a project called Eighty Seven Park next to the park, but in December, some residents began raising concerns that the city was planning to hand over part of the natural space to Piano.

The city, however, insists this simply isn't true. A city-owned parking lot near the park had indeed been ceded to Eighty Seven Park, but North Shore Park itself remains untouched.

Now those same residents say they're worried the city plans to disrupt several so-called conservation areas inside the park. But according to city documents, those "conservation areas" aren't actually conserving all that much: Beach officials say those areas were created by city police simply to keep "crime" out of the area. Apparently Beach PD just roped off a bunch of the park and claimed it's a "conservation zone" as a way to force homeless people out of the bushes. (That info can be found on page 23 of this presentation.)

Likewise, the city stresses it'll add many more trees than it'll rip out during the renovation. According to city documents, there are 3,823 trees in the park. Post-renovation, the city estimates, the park will contain 4,040 — a 217-tree increase. Of the 815 trees slated for removal, 312 sea grapes will be replaced with 325 new ones, and 384 trees inside the so-called conservation areas will be replaced with 443 new trees. In all, the city says, the park will gain 0.8 acres of extra "conservation" space.

The city is planning upgrades to the park's restrooms, picnic areas, and playground too. The park's beachfront will also be reinforced to better handle sea-level rise.

The city explains itself in a brief presentation around the 113-minute mark in this clip:
The team handling the redesign, West 8, was also behind the recent renovations of New York City's Governor's Island — one of the only consistently enjoyable parks in all of the five boroughs.

Certainly, the character of North Shore Open Space Park is about to change. The area is slated to become a bit more paved, contemporary, and open, and less of a dense thicket of trees in the middle of North Beach. It's understandable why those changes might upset some residents. But it's important they understand exactly what is happening before signing petitions against the work.

The park isn't getting demolished. It's basically just getting a haircut.

Update: Juan Pablo Ortega, who wrote the petition, says he and a group of city residents are upset that the city would even consider chopping down the natural canopy at the park.

"We do know they are planning to replant the trees," he said. "They say they were going to do that with new, young trees. But a majority of the commun doesn't agree with that, since they will lose the natural canopy. It's the only one in the city of Miami Beach."

Ortega says that, while his group's original worry about the park being sold off to developers turned out to be false, he's still concerned that the redesign will permanently alter the park's character. He said he's also seen "multiple birds," including pelicans, nesting in the area, and worries about their habitats moving forward.

"We just want to keep the character of the park as a natural haven it is today," he said. "I don’t think that’s what West 8’s plan does."
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Jerry Iannelli is a former staff writer for Miami New Times from 2015 to March 2020. He graduated with honors from Temple University. He then earned a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.

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