Planning, Zoning and Appeals Board Meeting at Oct 4 – 6:30 pm

An amendment to the Neighborhood Conservation District Code pertaining to the diminishment (splitting) of lots is on the agenda (PZAB 5) for tomorrow’s (Oct. 4) Planning, Zoning and Appeals Board Meeting at 6:30 pm, City Hall. This will be one of several opportunites to discuss the changes to the Code before it is finalized. Please attend and join the process.

Link to agenda:

http://miamifl.iqm2.com/Citizens/Detail_Meeting.aspx?ID=1806

Meeting Postponed

Grove Watch Group / Grove 2030’s community meeting scheduled for Sept 19 at Plymouth Congregational Church has been POSTPONED due to Hurricane Irma. We will reschedule this meeting for a date to be announced soon. In the meantime, our best thoughts are with you as we come together as a community to recover from Irma’s effects in the Grove.

NCD Language and PZAB Meeting

Dispelling myths, conspiracy theories, and examining updated language planned for the NCD revisions regarding lot splitting

August 1, 2017

Dear Neighbors,

Monday night the PZAB deferred the review of the new language for the NCD’s regarding Lot splitting until Oct 4. This topic – what should we do about fixing Lot Splitting and other areas of the code that are negatively impact the character of the Grove – is a hot one to say the least. Many of the residents (Grove Watch included) are hyper-aware of the problems we face, but what many are not aware of is the background and the real issues behind this first step in protecting our neighborhood. The purpose of this email is to educate who is interested in helping solve this problem as well as to dispel some myths and misinformation that have been floating around in the recent days. Unfortunately, this misinformation has done an incredible disservice to many members of our community.

1.  CURRENT LAW ON THE BOOKS REGARDING LOT SPLITTING

3.6.g.1 Lots and building sites:
Wherever an existing single-family residence or lawful accessory building(s) or structure(s) is located on one or more platted lots or portions thereof, such lots shall thereafter constitute only one building site and no permit shall be issued for the construction of more than one single-family residence except by Warrant. Such structures shall include but not be limited to swimming pools, tennis courts, walls, and fences or other at grade or above ground improvements. No building sites in existence prior to September 24, 2005 shall be diminished in size except by Warrant, subject to the criteria specified in Article 4, Table 12 Design Review Criteria.

The paragraph above is copied directly from the current Miami 21, Appendix A section 3.6.g.  This is the language (along with similar language for the NCD 2) that Planning and Zoning is attempting to remedy with the new language (see attached) that was submitted last night for review at the PZAB meeting.  Underlined above are the pertinent phrases that deal with lot splitting and highlighted in RED are the phrases that explain how Lot Splitting is currently PERMITTED in the NCD-3.

2. MISLEADING EMAIL REGARDING THE NEW LANGUAGE FOR THE NCD

On Monday 7/31 at 6:30 at City Hall 3500 Pan American Drive 33133 there will be a meeting to propose changes of NCD codes to eliminate the prohibition of lot splitting in the Grove. This is item #3 on the agenda.  Of course, this meeting was scheduled for when so many Grove residents are out of town during the summer.  If you are in town, please come. We must speak up now or lose the Grove forever.

This is an excerpt from a misleading and alarming email that was sent out by a neighborhood association stating that the new proposed language would “eliminate the prohibition on Lot Splitting”.  This one sentence has done an incredible disservice to the public not only because it is false (as you can see above Lot Splitting is permitted as long as you go through the Warrant Process) but also because it has taken advantage of many residents’ fears and frustrations and used it to convolute the issue. “lose the Grove forever”

The email goes on to argue for complete prohibition of Lot Splitting in the Grove claiming that Coral Gables does the same.  Yet Coral Gables also has language that allows lot splitting as well. See pg 49 in their code. http://coralgables.com/Modules/ShowDocument.aspx?documentID=7951

Whether we agree with it or not Lot Splitting is currently allowed in the NCD and many people have a legitimate right to disagree with the call to eliminate this ability completely.  Property Rights vs. Zoning Laws are a very delicate issue and striking the correct and healthy balance that allows residents some ability to use their land as they want (i.e. sell of a lot in order to provide for retirement) while protecting the character of a neighborhood that benefits the community at large is a very difficult thing to do.

Further the author of the email questions the timing of the meeting as having nefarious purposes (to do it while many were out on summer vacation).  In fact the timing we feel was a result of the neighborhood frustration level and the demand by residents to get something passed as quickly as possible to fix the code.  This amendment was requested by the PZAB “as soon as possible” at their last public meeting. It was publicly posted on the city’s website along with an accompanying agenda packet. In addition, it is common practice in the city to introduce ordinance changes over the summer so this was simply the normal procedure for an item like this.

3.  THE CRUX OF THE ISSUE

The crux of the issue is that the current NCD language is unclear and does not do enough to protect the character of the Grove.  It allows a split IF you go through the warrant process and are approved.  However, the criteria stated in the code which the city must use to determine whether the lot split is permissible is VERY vague and unclear and thus the city doesn’t have enough tools to reject many of these applications.

Neighbors and city officials have long recognized fixing these weaknesses and others in the NCD as the necessary first steps in stemming the tide of uncharacteristic development in the Grove.  Representatives of the Grove Watch Group along with other members of the community (Village Council, Grove 2030, former City Attorney) have been working hand in hand with representatives from the District 2 office as well as with the Planning and Zoning departments of the City of Miami for months to not only completely overhaul the NCD (a longer and more arduous process), but also in the shorter term, to fix parts of the law that could have an immediate impact on conserving our neighborhood character.

The already inundated City Planning and Zoning Department has put a lot of effort into listening to the residents and working to craft new language. In fact, much of the language stems from arguments made by residents at the past few warrant application appeals/denials that have ended up on either PZAB or City Commission agendas. The language that was to be presented and reviewed last night was the result of these meetings and months of work by the PZ department.

It is our feeling and the feeling of others who have been involved in developing this that the new language is a HUGE IMPROVEMENT and should be moved forward for discussion at PZAB and further to the Commission for tweaking and eventual law.

Attached is a copy of the new language from the Planning Department proposed for review at PZAB as well as a letter released yesterday by the District 2 Commissioners Office detailing how the new language works to repair the unclear and loophole ridden language of the current NCD.  It is a great explanation and WE URGE ALL OF YOU TO READ BOTH ITEMS COMPLETELY.

4. EDUCATION IS THE KEY

It is important to educate ourselves on the things we read about that affect how we will make decisions. Unfortunately, some people have figured out that social media makes it much easier to manipulate people’s fears and doubts especially when dealing with a very complex issue of which many people may not have a complete grasp.

There will now be two months to educate ourselves on the language proposed to fix Lot Splitting in the Grove. It is incumbent on all of us to research, get the facts straight, question what we read (including this letter that you are reading now – don’t take our word for it).  Find people who have knowledge on the subject, read articles, read the code, read the new language of the code, ask questions.

The PZAB meeting will be held on Oct 4.  The purpose of the PZAB hearing is NOT to vote it into law but simply to review the language, hear questions/concerns from the residents, for the board to ask questions to the staff about the language and then to either recommend or not that it go to the City Commission for a FIRST and SECOND reading where there will be more discussion on the language and the merits of the new ordinance.

5.  MORE TO COME

The fight to improve our code will not stop here.  There are other parts of the law that will require improvements as well, starting with reducing the allowable FAR (Floor Area Ratio) in the NCD.  It currently is the same as all of the city of Miami (80%) and many of us feel is far too high and is one of the single most detrimental things that affect our community, allowing very large houses on smaller lots that crowd out old established canopy.

Please educate yourselves on this topic as well.  In the future when the language to fix this in the code comes to PZAB, we will be sure to submit our own email to you all in order to help educate our neighbors as well, something we failed to do prior to the Lot Splitting language being read.  In addition, there will be a community meeting held by Grove 2030, along with their sponsor the Village Council in September that will go over the language recommendations for Lot Splitting as well as other changes the NCD that residents are seeking to implement.  We urge you all to attend and we will provide information as to the time and location when we have more information.

We live and we learn and will continue to fight to improve our neighborhoods and the code that regulates it.

Letter from Commissioner Russell’s Office Re: PZAB Meeting on 7/31

The following email was sent to residents from Commissioner Russell’s office regarding the proposed new NCD language:

Good Afternoon,

I’d like to thank you for reaching out to Commissioner Ken Russell about the item coming
before the Planning and Zoning Appeals Board tonight.

We have heard from many residents concerned about lot-splitting and share that concern
equally. The Planning Department has indicated that the intent of this legislation is to clarify
and strengthen the Neighborhood Conservation District (NCD). The NCD is intended to
protect neighborhoods and unfortunately, we’ve all seen a number of examples where it has
failed to do so. Our office would like to clear up a couple of misconceptions about the
proposed changes to the NCD 3 and how they will affect the lot-splitting issue.

The amendments under consideration at PZAB will accomplish the following:

– Clarify that the warrant requirement for lot splitting applies to both platted and unplatted
lots. A warrant would still be required to split any lot and that is spelled out specifically in
the language: “No Lots shall be diminished in size except by warrant.”

– The amendment will also eliminate the confusion over what constitutes a “building site.”
The warrant requirement for lot-splitting will apply to all “Lots” in the NCD-3, defined as any
individual lot, tract or parcel of land, intended as a single building site or unit, having an
assigned number or numbers, letter or letters, or other name through which it may be
identified for development purposes. A Lot may also be any combination of lots, tracts,
parcels or other areas of land established by acceptable legal joinder, delineated by a
closed boundary and assigned a number, letter or other name through which it may be
identified, intended as a single unit for development purposes.

– Specify that any proposed lot splitting must comply with Design Review Criteria in Article
4, Table 12 of Miami 21. Any proposed single family residence must be reviewed for
compliance with Design Review Criteria on issues such as the proposed building’s design
and its fit within the context of the neighborhood in scale, architectural features, impact on
the pedestrian environment and landscaping.

– Outlines requirements and factors to be considered during Planning review of warrant
applications for lot splitting, including; minimum lot area (10,000 square feet for
diminishment of lots under one acre; 20,000 square feet for diminishment of lots over one
acre); average lot size of surrounding properties within 500 feet; diminishment of lots cannot
result in lots smaller than the average lot size; the original plat from the City of Miami
Municipal Atlas; all submittals required for compliance with Chapter 17, including a
disposition plan, boundary survey, protection plan, arborist report, and photos of the site.

Hopefully, these changes will strengthen the City’s ability to protect the character of the
NCD 3. However, the Commissioner will be watching closely and if the product that comes
to Commission does not accomplish that, he will not approve it. The Commissioner
welcomes any additional suggestions you may have about how to improve the language.

Best regards,

James P. Jackson Jr.
Office Manager/ Special Aide
Office of Commissioner Ken Russell
City Hall, District 2
3500 Pan American Drive
Miami, Florida 33133
Telephone: (305) 250-5333
jamesjackson@miamigov.com

Next Steps

Greetings Coconut Grove Residents!

Thank you for attending the launch of the Grove Watch Group at Plymouth Church in February.  Since then our collective of volunteer Coconut Grove residents has been working toward our next steps. Please join us in the fall for our Next Steps community meeting.  We’ll send details about the date, time and location after the summer.

In the meantime, we invite you to visit www.grovewatchgroup.com to familiarize yourself with our mission and easy to use online Toolkit. We were recently informed that the toolkit was a successful guide in helping several residents through the code enforcement process on their streets.  Becoming informed and being pro-active works!

We are looking for volunteers!

If you would like more information about how to become a volunteer Watchdog in your neighborhood please email watchdogs@grovewatchgroup.com. We are recruiting residents to help us literally walk our own streets and watch for signs of development.  The Grove Watch Group is NOT anti-development as long as the developer follows the code.  Nor are we anti-government as long as the City of Miami enforces the code. We are working with city officials, developers, realtors, and community leaders throughout the Grove to find a mutually beneficial way to preserve the nature and character of ALL of OUR Grove while allowing for growth and progress.

Below are other updates and highlights of what we have been up to over the past few months:

Community Success Stories:

  • 2890 Virginia- Planning, Zoning and Appeals Board Denies Land Use Change
  • 3901 Loquat- Planning and Zoning Denies Lot-Split
  • Gifford and Day- HEP Board Imposes 11 Conditions

Activity:

  • Toolkit formally launched and is successfully being used on a regular basis-new tools coming soon!
  • Many questions asked and answered through info@grovewatchgroup.com
  • Support of residents at PAZB and HEP Board meetings
  • Facebook page has grown to over 200 followers
  • Dialogue with neighbors on Facebook
  • Participation in NCD Code re-write
  • Participation and leadership in Coconut Grove Playhouse issues
  • Attendance at issue-focused meetings with PZ, Street and Plat Committee, County, Commissioner Russell
  • Ongoing meetings with Planning and Zoning officials regarding establishing a Coconut Grove Community Review Process
  • Involvement and contacts with Village West concerns
  • Continuous communication with the Planning and Zoning Department regarding NCD Code violations
  • Assisting residents involved in the appeals process

We look forward to seeing you at our Next Steps community meeting in fall 2017

Letter to Commissioner Russell RE: 2890 Virginia St

Thank you to all the neighbors who attended the April 19th Planning, Zoning and Appeals Board meeting and the 296 (and counting!) neighbors who signed the petition against the land use designation change from residential to commercial for 2890 Virginia St. (see our blog post here). Your voices were heard! The developer’s request for a change in the land use designation was denied by the Planning, Zoning and Appeals Board.  This recommendation will  now go to the City Commissioners for their decision. We encourage everyone to send the following letter to Commissioner Russell, to let him know that the majority of neighbors oppose this change in land use from residential to commercial:

RE:  2890 Virginia Street

Commissioner Ken Russell
City of Miami
3500 Pan American Drive
Miami, FL 33133-0708

Dear Commissioner Russell:

•    I urge you to strongly oppose the application to change the land use designation of the property located at 2890 Virginia Street.  The existing land use, “Medium Density Multifamily Residential” and “Duplex Residential,” must be retained.

•    The zoning designation of 2890 Virginia should to be changed to Medium Density Multifamily Residential in order to be compatible with the existing land use designation.

•    The vision for this area, supported by the NCD3 Code, is to retain multifamily residential housing, which will serve the best interests of all residents and preserve the residential nature of Coconut Grove.  This will (a) sustain attainable workforce housing in Coconut Grove (b) match the abutting residential properties (c) avoid potential traffic and safety issues and (d) prevent the risk of up-zoning neighboring properties.

Sincerely,

NAME:  _________________________________________

SIGNATURE:  ____________________________________

ADDRESS: ______________________________________

______________________________________________

______________________________________________

Additional Comments:

______________________________________________

______________________________________________

______________________________________________

For your convenience, we have made this letter into a pdf that you can print, sign and mail as well:

Download Letter

If you would like to send the letter via email, Commissioner Russell’s address is krussell@miamigov.com.

You can also still sign the petition.

Thank you for being such great Grove neighbors! Together we are helping protect the Grove we love.

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Endangered Trees on Raynolds

Unfortunately, there are two very large Oaks that the developer who bought the house at 4160 Raynolds Avenue plans on taking down.

This is one of the trees as seen from the neighbor’s yard. This tree is beautiful and in good condition. There is no reason to remove it other than it’s in their way.
A view from the next door neighbor’s house.

These two trees are so large, I couldn’t get them all into the picture. They form what is essentially a part of the landscape that makes these two lots so beautiful. They are directly on the property line and the developer, Gastion Inc. and developer, UAG Construction (who on their website claim ‘Sustainable Design’) want to take them down, presumably to maximize the square footage that he can sell. We don’t even know if the future homeowner would have wanted to destroy the barrier between the two homes and remove such an integral part of the landscape. That choice would be taken away from them in favor of the scant extra square footage.

We have been in contact with the Environmental Resources Department and the Building Department. The permit to remove the trees has not yet been approved, nor have the building plans.

Below is a letter sent from a neighbor to the Environmental Resources Office, The Zoning Administrator, Devin Cejas, and Commissioner Russell’s office after requesting to view the plans for the development:

I frankly was very upset to see what is planned for 4160 Raynolds Ave.

Run off to 4130 and other properties – We observed approval by DERM on plans but did not see any civil engineering plans that would take into account the slope of the property from Raynolds towards Poinciana. We may have overlooked them. Raynolds Avenue – the street is about four feet higher in elevation than what used to the backyard of the 4160 Raynolds Ave property. If you look at what was demolished you entered the home at ground level on Raynolds Ave and if you exited the back of the home you were on a deck that was about 2 feet off of the ground and the land continues to slope downward to the property behind on Frantz. My concern is the run off from a newly built home within a limited feet from the property next door and at a higher level will be a problem for the properties next door. My neighbor has a problem with runoff from newer builds that front on Poinciana.

I observed that a septic system is proposed near the back where there exists a specimen ficus tree with figs on the trunk of the tree and a live oak tree on the Adams property. Does anyone take into consideration what is present currently in this area??

I also noted many windows are planned on the east side of the 4160 Raynolds 2 story home new build property that will view directly into the neighbor’s yard and home, particularly when all foliage and trees are planned to be removed within 8 plus feet of the property line, including the Live Oak trees 16 and 20. The property next door and the home that was demolished at 4160 were separated by what was probably 20 feet. Now there may be 10 feet separation between the buildings and the length of the next door pool area will have a two story building with lots of windows. Why was there no requirement for the new build to be within the same footprint of the demolished property?

It seems there is no consideration given to the current residents’ homes in the area, the ambiance in the area and what has existed since 1940 in allowing this 2 story building to come to be placed with a grand view of the backyard of those who live in the 4100 block of Raynolds Avenue.

I am very disappointed to see that the live oak trees we are so concerned about have been proposed to be removed for a long time now and there is no notice in the community.

Commissioner Russell, we need your assistance to preserve our community and our canopy in the grove.

Here you can see the protection around the other trees (which is great), but they have very purposefully left off the protection of all of the trees lining the property line, including the two specimen Oaks.

So there you have it. Please helps us keep an eye out. Once a decision is made on the trees, it must be posted publicly at which point we will have a very short window to appeal.

Removing those trees would be like going to a mountainous area and deciding that the mountain is in your way, so you just remove it, ruining the view and quality of life for all of your neighbors. It is not neighborly in the least.

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Keep Coconut Grove residential neighborhood from becoming “Medium Density Commercial”

Our neighbors have appealed a decision to allow the change of a residential property with 65 residences from residential to commercial, which will increase traffic and reduce the number of affordable residences in Coconut Grove, a trend that will further alter the character of the Grove. Please sign the petition and attend the hearing on April 19th.

Sign the Petition

Here is the text from the petition:

We the undersigned respectfully request that the City of Miami Planning Zoning and Appeals Board DENY the FILE ID 1640 application to change the land use designation of the residential property located at 2890 Virginia St, Coconut Grove, Florida from “Medium Density Multi-Family” and “Duplex Residential” to “Medium Density Restricted Commercial.”

We believe this change, which will allow hotels and other commercial uses on the property, will lead to the loss of affordable, reasonably priced housing in Coconut Grove and disrupt the nature of the adjacent residential community.

Specifically,
• 65 affordable residential units would be affected thus displacing the current residents
• This property would become a commercial zone surrounded by residential zones. The nature of commercial zoning would have a permanent, negative affect on the abutting residential properties and neighborhoods.
• The residential properties adjacent to 2890 Virginia Street would be in danger of “the domino effect” of future up-zoning to commercial, thus further disrupting the current residential nature of the community.
• There would be additional traffic and noise from commercial establishments, negatively affecting the surrounding residential community and narrow local streets.

We sign the petition because we care about the quality of life for ALL in this residential Coconut Grove community.

Sign the Petition

I Want to Start a Petition

Involving the community by way of a petition is a great way to support your cause when bringing an issue of concern to the city or responding to an advertised agenda item or publicly posted notice. Our commissioners pay close attention to the number of signatures collected.  The Planning and Zoning Board records all information submitted to them and it is added to the record.

  1. Petitions have the most credibility and will gain the most attention when they are started by a recognized community organization (like an HOA) or a surrounding or abutting neighbor that could be directly impacted by a decision issued by the city. Surrounding, abutting neighbors and community organizations have firmer grounds not only to petition but also to appeal a decision issued by the city.
  1. Petitions can be created and signed online (change.org), circulated in person or both. Online petitions can be easily transmitted and signed via social media.  Hard copy petitions can be signed in person by neighbors and community members via door-to-door request.
  1. Determine who the recipient/s of the petition will be (ie: City Commissioners, Planning and Zoning Board, HEP Board, etc.).
  1. Address the goal/s of your petition with supporting details. Make sure your petition is comprehensive and includes all aspects related to your concern. For example, the issue may be a demolition waiver that will impact a canopy tree. Take a holistic approach and widen the scope of the petition to include all surrounding trees that may possibly be impacted, not just the single tree.  Think “big picture” without losing focus.
  1. Be sure the wording is clear, concise and accurate. Keep the wording factual, not emotional. If it is misleading, its impact will be dismissed.
  1. If the petition is in regards to a City Commission agenda item, warrant, waiver or other item, refer to the case, document, file, folio or other identifying number.
  1. Cite the specific Miami 21 or NCD Code being addressed.
  1. Include the address of the property at issue.
  1. If photos of the site, plans, survey, reports or other supporting documents are available, post (online petitions) or have available to clarify your position.
  1. All signers must be residents of Miami.
  1. Let signers know that the only information that will be submitted to the city will be the signer’s name and city, not street address, email or other personal information. In the case of an online petition, names will not appear online unless a comment is added by the signer.
  2. Paper copies of the petition and signatures must be submitted to the city when the issue is heard.  Be sure to liaise with the proper city official so that you will have the required number of petitions to submit.  You will need at least one per person for those to whom you are presenting and several additional copies.

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Trees Scheduled to Be Removed on Day & Gifford

Sign The Petition!

One of our neighbors notified us that a townhouse is being proposed on Day & Gifford. The developer wants to remove a 38 foot tall native tree and the proposed plans would put mature oaks at risk.

The proposed plans are to cut down two (2) trees in good condition, one being a tall Florida Native species, a large Ficus Aurea (strangler fig) which is growing on the property line engulfing a chain fence.

The live Oak trees are proposed to remain but with this design they can have extensive root damage cause by not enough set backs, closeness to the excavation for the plumbing, outside walls, fences, driveways and the pool(even thou is not being showed in this plans).

Also, their canopy is at great risk if allowed a two-story over the maximum allowed height. The plans show roof top terraces with solid parapet and railings plus an extended stair well enclosure of about 338 sq ft along with a dividing wall that could be extended as much as 10′. The tree at front #1, and specially the tree in the middle/back area # 10 is at a greater risk of loosing much of its canopy well over 25% to allow the extended second floor, extended encroaching balconies, ornamental parapets, etc.

It appears construction and the structures are to close to the three(3) trees. All three Oaks will suffer much stress, severe root and canopy damage if constructed as proposed. One even at risk of requiring to be removed. This project as designed can endanger the Oak trees.

Sincerely,

C. Cecilia Kurland

Please join us at the Commission hearing on March 7th to support the appeal against this development as planned. Also, please sign our online petition. We’d love to see you!

Kat

Sign The Petition!