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Posted on Sun, Jan. 02, 2005

AFFORDABLE HOUSING

Wanted: more low-cost rentals

For lower-income workers, the cost of renting an apartment remains steep. Housing advocates vow to resume a push requiring builders to set aside a percentage of new units for those with low incomes.

BY ANDREA ROBINSON AND IDY FERNANDEZ

[email protected]

Renee Mazique thought the move to South Florida from South Carolina would make her family complete. Her boyfriend had landed a job with a plumbing company, and she and their five children were set to go.

Their dreams soon collided with the reality of Miami's hot rental market. The boyfriend's $10 an hour salary couldn't cover the typical rent of more than $1,000 a month for a four-bedroom apartment. The family wound up in South Dade at transitional housing offered through Camillus House.

''It's hard trying to find an apartment. They're too high,'' Mazique said.

Affordable housing remains elusive for low- and even moderate-wage earners across the country, including South Florida, as monthly rents continue to outpace salaries.

According to a recently released national report, Florida is the 13th least affordable state for rental housing.

Locally, housing advocates vow to resume a six-year push to require builders of new developments to set aside a percentage of units for low-income workers.

If successful, that push could create more mixed-income communities and add needed homes for lower-income families, said John Ise, former director of the South Florida Community Development Coalition.

''We don't need to create exclusively low-income communities, but a good mix,'' Ise said. ``Wealthier communities need to open up and start accepting affordable housing.''

A report released Dec. 20 by the Washington, D.C.-based National Low Income Housing Coalition notes that a Florida worker must earn $15.37 an hour to afford a modest two-bedroom apartment. Even when the state minimum wage jumps to $6.15 an hour this year, that threshold will be about 2

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Sticker shock fuels South Florida's shift to condos

By Robin Benedick

STAFF WRITER

Posted January 2 2005

The future of South Florida's housing market includes more shared walls and fewer back yards, real estate analysts say.

Condominiums and townhouses are soaring in popularity as more potential buyers find themselves priced out of owning a single-family house.

"We've seen an incredible pace of existing condo and co-op sales over the last six months, but we're also seeing some exceptional price appreciation," said David Lereah, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors.

In South Florida, prices of condos increased by as much as 24 percent from January 2003 to June 2004, compared with an 18 percent climb for single-family houses, which typically cost more. That appreciation gap is expected to widen when year-end figures are released, according to Bruno Picasso, director of marketing research at Integra Realty Resources in Miami, as the rise in condo prices continues to outpace the rest of the market.

"Multifamily housing definitely will be the wave of the future because we're going to have to go more vertical as we continue to run out of land," predicts Jack McCabe, a Deerfield Beach real estate consultant. "But the biggest thing to me is this growing lack of affordable housing and how this is going to negatively impact this area in coming years."

North Miami-Dade resident Vernet Blanc, a nurse at Jackson Memorial Hospital, is searching for a condo for under $165,000 but he "can't find anything in my price [range]."

Realtor Melody Cole said Blanc, a native of Haiti, raised the amount he would spend by $35,000 after a few months of looking. But, she said, he's discouraged by prices that climb by $10,000 to $20,000 every month or so.

The condo and townhouse market wasn't always this hot.

In the 1980s and early 1990s, developers overbuilt the region's multifamily market and couldn't give away units. Most sellers lost money because of dwindling demand.

"I remember in 1991 a friend of mine couldn't sell his condo, and now I take a condo or listing and within a few hours of putting the property up, it's sold," said Barrington Russell, a real estate broker and Lauderdale Lakes city commissioner.

The reason: There are more buyers than properties for sale, keeping South Florida a seller's market.

Today, condo prices typically start in the upper $100,000s and reach into the millions for luxury units. Less expensive units often attract multiple offers and sell the day they are listed. The one exception is the so-called adults-only condo market, which hasn't experienced big price gains because it limits the buyer pool to those 55 and older.

Fueling the condo boom are first-time buyers, single professionals, young families, retirees, downsizing Baby Boomers and a thriving second-home market. Population growth and the specter of build-out in Broward also play a role.

By 2030, the Sunshine State will be home to almost 25 million people, state demographers predict. Almost a third of them, or 7.4 million people, will live in South Florida.

Though Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties still have available land, developers are building multifamily units in eastern areas where few projects have been built recently.

Jolie Allen and her boyfriend looked at 30 single-family houses during eight months of house-hunting in 2003. They ended up buying a new three-bedroom townhouse in Hypoluxo for about $280,000, which she figured was at least $100,000 less than what they would have spent on a house.

"We're very happy with the choice we made, but the whole experience was just shocking," said Allen, 35, who recently became a real estate sales associate for the Bass Group at Keller Williams Realty in Boca Raton.

In the year since she bought her townhouse, a smaller one in her building sold for $320,000.

"I don't know how people can afford housing around here anymore," Allen said. "It's only going to get worse."

Such double-digit appreciation, real estate analysts say, is being driven in part by investors who buy new units before they are built and resell them immediately at high profits.

Jack Winston, a senior consultant at Goodkin Consulting in Miami, said such investors make up about 70 percent of the new condo buyers in Miami. In Broward and Palm Beach counties, they make up between 20 percent and 40 percent of buyers.

Some analysts predict a slowdown of appreciation in about two years when a glut of new units hits the market and investors have to unload them. Too many for sale will reduce prices across the board, they say.

While much of the recent wave of multifamily construction has been in downtown luxury high-rises, the suburbs are getting a piece of the action as well.

West Palm Beach-based Ceebraid-Signal Corp. is converting the St. James Club apartment complex on Clint Moore Road in west Boca Raton into a condo and townhouse complex called Bacara. Prices will start in the $270,000s.

Farther north, Compson Associates plans to build 1,550 condos at the former Motorola site in Boynton Beach.

"There is such demand for this in the marketplace right now," said Barry Rothman, a sales associate with Lang Realty in Boca Raton.

In Sunrise, Minto Communities Inc. is building a mixed-use development, Artesia, with 1,470 condos and townhouses just north of the Office Depot Center and Sawgrass Mills. Prices will range from $290,000 to the mid-$500,000's.

Next to Baptist Hospital in Kendall, developer Armando Codina is building Mission Bell Park with 318 condos ranging in price from the low $200,000s to higher than $400,000.

In July, a few hundred people camped out overnight in Hollywood for a chance to buy condos in the 285-unit Radius, a proposed tower on the northwest corner of Young Circle, with prices ranging from $170,000 to $600,000.

Despite all the projects, supply is tight and demand is high for lower-priced condos and townhouses, real estate analysts say.

The Related Group of Florida has 12,000 new multifamily units in various stages of development in South Florida ranging in price from the high $100,000s to several million, said Related Vice President Barbara Salk.

In downtown West Palm Beach, Related has four projects underway. When the company first announced its future projects in a small advertisement, it got 1,000 phone calls from potential buyers.

"We saw a lot of pent-up demand in Palm Beach because nothing new had been built," she said.

Angie Garton would have liked something new for her first home, but she ended up buying a 25-year-old, two-bedroom condo in Deerfield Beach for about $100,000 in October 2003. She said a unit in the complex recently sold for $140,000.

"This is certainly not what I pictured myself in," said Garton, 36, a landscape designer. "I saw myself in a three bedroom, two-story house with brand new appliances where everything is really clean and new. But when I saw how much everything costs out there, I knew I wasn't going to have that new house."

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Posted on Fri, Dec. 31, 2004

SEVENTH AVENUE

Corridor is I-95's neglected stepchild

Superhighway overshadows stagnant avenue

BY NICHOLAS SPANGLER

[email protected]

This is the fourth installment of a series on Miami-Dade County's Seventh Avenue corridor.

Seventh Avenue begins in East Little Havana and ends 10.7 miles north at the Golden Glades Interchange.

In its grander incarnation -- U.S. Route 441 -- it shoots up to Royal Palm Beach, doglegs west to the coast of Lake Okeechobee and forges on 900 miles to Lake City, Tenn.

You would not imagine this, heading north out of Liberty City. The avenue does not stretch out as far as the eye can see, or roll gently. It offers no vistas, only a few empty lots.

It is a dirty, unromantic conduit for travel between downtown Miami and Broward County. Thirty-six thousand vehicles use it every day. You take it because you're trying to get downtown to work or because you're headed north to the suburbs, home. You wouldn't take it at all, but Interstate 95 is jammed again.

The storefronts of Liberty City fall away after 79th Street, replaced by used car dealerships, stand-alone car repair shops, shops for mufflers, brakes and oil changes.

Scattered among the automobile shops -- almost 40 between 79th and 119th streets -- are a few haggard beauty parlors and fast-food joints.

But it's the superhighway that dominates the landscape: huge, beige, rumbling. It runs parallel to the avenue, just one block east, until the two diverge at the Golden Glades cloverleaf. Its noise never stops. The buildings on the avenue aren't tall enough to block it out.

The superhighway came in the 1960s. It famously destroyed Overtown. Its influence is less obvious up north, but it sucked traffic off the avenue and changed the character of the neighborhoods it skirted.

''It took a lot of business off the avenue,'' says Paul George, a historian at Miami Dade College. ``Bigger businesses just left -- it made no sense to invest in the area if your customers were bypassing the whole area.''

SPECIAL NEIGHBORHOOD

Step a few feet off the avenue and the street itself and all its sounds vanish as a neighborhood unfolds, just below the northerly bend of Little River.

People who live there call it West Little River. A shade south they call it Arcola, after the small lake at 83rd Street. Or they call it Pinewood, after the Norfolk pines farmers planted as wind blocks a century ago, when the land bore beans and tomatoes and pineapples.

It is a place with low-slung houses and shrubs and men who spend weekend mornings puttering around lawns. '' '66, we moved in,'' says one of the putterers, Samuel Rahmings. He's 60, retired, doesn't plan on moving anywhere, does not care to boast about what is far and away the lushest lawn on 84th Street.

He was an Army veteran who had just begun a career as a letter carrier when he and his wife moved in. They had been raised in Liberty City but they wanted their children to have their own bedrooms and a yard to play in. They took a $13,900 mortgage and chipped away $108 a month.

The neighborhood was working-class Anglo when the Rahmings moved in, almost entirely black three years later.

There's an ambivalent history here and it goes back to the late 1950s when Overtown, the densely populated, historically black neighborhood just north of downtown, was gutted to make way for I-95.

LIBERTY CITY

Liberty City became a second home for those displaced. But housing there was -- and remains -- often cramped and shoddy. City leaders designated the Seventh Avenue corridor for northern expansion of Miami's rapidly growing black population.

West Little River, just blocks north, was one of the first neighborhoods for blacks who could afford to leave Liberty City. A middle class of professionals, civil servants and returning veterans moved in. Whites moved out.

''All I wanted was a nice house,'' Rahmings says. He doesn't spend much time on the avenue -- ''a mess,'' he calls it, with all the traffic. The stores don't have anything he wants to buy, anyway: He doesn't frequent beauty parlors, doesn't need a car or a load of plexiglass. His wife does most of her shopping in Aventura.

The New Jerusalem Primitive Baptist Church sits a few blocks north, across from the pornography shop on the east side of the avenue, just off the superhighway. The Rev. Kenneth Duke has an unexpected perspective on this:

''I want that property,'' he says. ``Think of the visibility.''

Hundreds of thousands of commuters, not to mention the church's 2,000 congregationers, get an unimpeded view of the ''MegapleXXX'' sign as they pass.

In a few years, if the pastor has his way, those commuters will see a sign for his church there. A thrift store will take the place of the pornography shop. The pastor also wants land now occupied by Finlay's Shipping, for senior citizen housing. He wants the half-vacant shopping center now anchored by Sav-A-Lot, for a banquet hall, pharmacy, laundry and revamped supermarket. He wants, finally, the parking lot in front of his church for a midmarket seafood restaurant.

`THE RENAISSANCE'

''This church is going to be part of the renaissance,'' says the pastor. ``We are going to bring in the resources this community needs and turn the money over right here.''

This is a man who attracted 1,750 new congregants in six years. He has powerful faith and a comprehensive business plan.

The pastor has company. An $80 million plan for six new car dealerships on the west side of the avenue between 79th and 95th streets is under way, thanks to a Community Redevelopment Agency created last year.

''We are going to bring this place back to its old glory, or better,'' says Rick Glasgow, assistant director of the county's Office of Community and Economic Development.

Glasgow says the dealerships could bring 400 new jobs. He talks about a police substation to be built and all the ''downstream businesses'' that will grow on the east side of the avenue, across from the dealerships: ``groceries, dry cleaners, shoe repair shops, whatever the residents feel is necessary.''

Back out on the avenue Steve Pearl has doubts. ''People have left,'' he says. ``People who were here for years are gone and they're not coming back.''

Pearl has sold mufflers out of Mad Hatter Mufflers since 1981. Business dropped after a long stretch of roadwork in 1998. The state suspended emissions checks in 2000, eliminating what had been a dependable sideline for him. ''An auto mall isn't going to work up here,'' he says. ``We aren't Coral Springs.''

Pearl's shop is at Seventh and 100th Street. The street extends east for a few hundred yards before it dead-ends at I-95.

A FEW HOUSES

There are a few houses here. They are the last ones left, east of the avenue, abutting the superhighway.

There is a homemaker, Ann Quinones, who is 48 and has lived in the neighborhood all her life. She remembers standing on a picnic table in her front yard to watch President Lyndon Johnson's motorcade drive down the just-built superhighway. She remembers the avenue, when it had ``cleaners and fashion places, neighborhood stuff.''

She and her husband are thinking of moving to Pompano, to be closer to his job. She's not sure if she'll miss the old neighborhood.

''There are days it seems all there is is road construction and traffic,'' she says.

Up the avenue, near the 119th Street intersection, Family Bakery does brisk business selling nothing but Haitian bread.

INSPIRED PRODUCT

Given its proximity to Little Haiti, Miami Shores and North Miami -- home to the bulk of the county's Haitian population -- this seems an inspired product line.

It's a tiny place, with space inside for no more than two customers at once, so the line out the door is long: 15 people on a weekend morning. And 15 people on a weekday morning. Nearly as many most afternoons.

A Haitian couple owns the bakery. Their daughter, Nadeige Sterlin, a junior at Florida State University, works the counter on holidays.

''It never slows down,'' she says. ``And people are crazy. Sometimes we haven't baked enough bread; they say we're keeping it for other people. Like we're hiding it somewhere back here.''

Seventh Avenue isn't any prettier here. Traffic never stops rolling off the Gratigny Parkway and the I-95 exit. There's noise and grit, just like everywhere else. But it's rare, on these 10.7 miles or any others these days, to smell fresh bread like that. It smelled of yeast and butter, so good you might actually stop, if you were walking past, to enjoy the smell a little longer.

Other Articles in this series:

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MIAMI

Magazine names city as the best in the world

Buoyed by an improved international image -- and flush with private investment -- the Miami of today is on the rebound.

But best city in the world? Actually, yes, says one London-based, oh-so-trendy publication.

Wallpaper magazine, which bills itself as Time Inc.'s ''international design interiors lifestyle,'' has released its first annual Design Awards in its latest issue.

Miami took the ''Best City'' crown, besting runners-up Buenos Aires; London; Shanghai, China; and Valencia, Spain.

A five-page article inside explained why Miami won, citing such reasons as its now-bustling Design District, its bursting arts scene and the creative architectural designs being dreamed up by some high-rise developers.

Although the article does make mention of some Miami Beach attractions and developments, Robert Johnston, Wallpaper's U.S. editor and author of the Miami piece, said it is the radical changes going on in Miami's urban core that largely clinched the honor.

''For many years Miami was really -- certainly from a European perspective -- a beach resort,'' Johnston said. ``Miami is growing up, and is now becoming a world city.''

Wallpaper, available in more than 70 countries but most widely distributed in the United States and United Kingdom, has a monthly circulation of 107,800.

-- MICHAEL VASQUEZ

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Wallpaper Magazine

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Breathe easy: S. Florida air is getting cleaner

By David Fleshler

Staff Writer

Posted January 3 2005

South Florida went through 2004 with the cleanest air in modern memory, largely because of favorable weather and the continued retirement of older automobiles.

Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties reported the lowest average levels of ground-level ozone, or smog, in at least 20 years, according to data compiled by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

State and federal officials caution against reading too much into the results for a single year, which can vary widely with the weather. And the four hurricanes that hit the state disrupted air-monitoring routines. But they said there's no doubt that the three counties, which exceeded federal air pollution limits in the 1970s and '80s, now have much cleaner air.

"Emissions from cars have been reduced greatly, and that is reflected in a lot of our air-quality data," said Tom Rogers, environmental administrator for the department.

"Of course, you've got a large populated area with lots of cars, a lot of other smaller industries. It's not going to be pristine, but it should continue to improve."

The average ozone reading for the three counties in 2004 hovered just above .06 parts per million, well within the new federal standard of .085 parts per million and down from the consistently higher readings of the past two decades. Officials attribute some of the recent improvement to a decline in the number of hot, dry days that tend to produce ozone. If next year brings more sun and less rain, the region could still see smoggy days.

But it's clear from other indicators that the region's air quality ranks high compared with other parts of the country. Last year the Environmental Protection Agency announced tighter standards for ground-level ozone and microscopic soot, both of which have been linked to premature deaths from respiratory and cardiovascular disease. While hundreds of counties throughout the United States were in violation of the new pollution limits, all Florida counties complied with them.

FUNDS AT RISK

South Florida's improved air quality means that the state is likely to seek federal permission to discontinue certain anti-pollution measures, such as the special nozzles required on gasoline pumps to prevent the escape of vapors from automobile fuel tanks. Now that automakers have been installing onboard systems for several years to do the same job, environmental officials say the gas station nozzles have become obsolete.

More significant could be the loss of federal funds used to reduce traffic congestion. The three counties receive about $45 million a year, distributed among them on the basis of population, to spend on bike lanes, ride-share programs, traffic-light coordination, buses that run on natural gas and other programs aimed at reducing pollution from cars, according to the Florida Department of Transportation.

When the tighter EPA smog standard goes into effect this year, many more areas of the United States will go into violation, making them eligible for the transportation money. Because South Florida meets the standard already, it might not get much or any funding, according to transportation officials in the three counties.

"There is a question about whether we might get that money," said Randy Whitfield, executive director of the Palm Beach County Metropolitan Planning Organization, the county board that sets transportation spending priorities.

Roger Del Rio, acting director of the Broward County Metropolitan Planning Organization, said he was optimistic that the region could still get some of the money, although probably less than in the past. With the region's growing population, he said, it simply makes sense to keep working on traffic congestion to prevent a return to the smoggy days of the past.

"We should be on perpetual maintenance," he said.

SMOGGY PAST

With flat geography, ocean breezes and a lack of heavy industry, South Florida never experienced the severe air pollution of Los Angeles or Houston. But in the 1970s and 80s, the region did exceed federal standards for ground-level ozone.

Ozone forms when nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds react in sunlight. These pollutants come from automobiles, power plants, dry cleaners, incinerators, paints and auto body shops.

While ozone in the stratosphere protects people from ultraviolet sunlight, ozone at ground level can worsen respiratory problems such as asthma and emphysema, particularly among children and the elderly. It can cause eye irritation, sore throats and chest pains. It has been linked to premature deaths.

After the federal government found the three-county region exceeded ozone limits, the state and county governments started pollution-control measures, such as requiring the use of paints with less solvent, mandating car inspections and spending tens of millions of dollars in federal aid to reduce traffic congestion and promote mass transit.

Meanwhile, the 1970 Clean Air Act required deep cuts in tailpipe emissions. The auto industry lobbied furiously to prevent it from taking effect. Lee Iacocca, then executive vice president of Ford Motor Co., warned the limits "could prevent continued production of automobiles" and "do irreparable damage to the American economy."

But when the government refused to relax the standards, automakers equipped new cars with catalytic converters and reduced tailpipe emissions by about 95 percent, according to the EPA. Further restrictions went into effect last year, so that vehicles rolling off the assembly line in 2004 emit 77 percent to 95 percent less nitrogen oxide pollution, a key cause of smog, than vehicles manufactured in prior years.

"Cars have gotten tremendously cleaner," said John Walke, clean-air director for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

CONCERNS REMAIN

South Florida still has serious pollution problems. The region's cars and power plants spew vast amounts of carbon dioxide, the most widespread of the gases thought to cause global warming. Its canals, lakes and wetlands suffer from mercury contamination, partly from coal-fired power plants in North and Central Florida.

But what's cleaner, because of the decline in ground-level ozone, is the air people breathe.

Environmentalists don't deny that ozone pollution has gone down in Florida and some other parts of the country, and they give credit to the Bush administration for taking some steps to tighten air pollution laws. But they say ozone levels even within federal limits can be harmful. And they say the recent air quality improvements could erode under other administration policies that have allowed automakers to get by without improving gas mileage and loosened emissions rules for industrial polluters.

"They've actually continued the very successful program of the Clinton administration, phasing in rules on heavy trucks and adding new rules on off-road vehicles," said Walke, of the Natural Resources Defense Council. "I only wish they'd done the same job on power plants and oil refineries."

And environmentalists warn that continued population growth could swamp the air-quality gains won in Florida over the past 20 years.

"As people move to Florida, there will be more cars and more power plants," said Holly Binns, clean energy advocate for Florida Public Interest Research Group, an environmental and consumer group based in Tallahassee. "More people equals more pollution."

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these are all so great!!....keep up the good work tivo!:):)

I'm so greatful to live in one of the most booming condo markets in the country, and that the quality of our buildings have dramatically increased. The Art scene in Miami is busting at the seam....Sofla has so much pent-up potential, and it's great to see the energy diffuse throughout the area (with our core recieving the most dramatic transformation)!

I'm glad we're headed in the right direction, and at such a fast pace.

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Thanks, street! :)

I think that any city that has gone through what this city has gone through, and bounces back stronger than before, can do anything... Hurricanes, riots, drug trafficking, surges in violent crime, tourist murders, thousands of refugees coming onto our shores: one word that can describe us is resilient. And somehow, people always want to come visit us. There's definitely a mystique. I think that speaks volumes. B)

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Posted on Mon, Jan. 03, 2005

MIAMI BEACH

One of four coral homes left in Miami Beach may be torn down

BY CASEY WOODS

[email protected]

For more than 80 years, the one-story coral rock house on the 900 block of Collins Avenue has resisted the predators that vanquished homes like it: the salty air that chews at mortar, the countless tropical storms and, especially, the voracious development that makes its humble scale seem quaintly obsolete. Now the countdown clock is ticking for the Miami Beach home, one of four coral rock houses left in the city, and one of its oldest structures.

Miami Beach's building department declared the house unsafe in August. Despite a battle by preservationists, it could be gone within a month.

The house inspires the passions of preservationists, stone masons and history buffs who know it intimately.

''This would be a tremendous loss for the city,'' Historic Preservation Board chairman Mitch Novick said. This is an iconic building, one of a kind.''

The house, at 900 Collins Ave., was built in 1918 by Avery Smith, who historians say ran the first ferry service between the peninsula that would become Miami Beach and the mainland.

The house, built of irregular blocks of porous stone, is a compact, flat-roofed rectangle perched on the corner of what is today one of South Beach's busiest streets. Over the years, it has been a doctor's office, beauty salon and apartment complex. After its last incarnation as a restaurant, it has sat empty for three years.

City building officials said that an August inspection revealed that the house's concrete lining and support walls were crumbling. Engineers hired by the building's owners said it should be torn down. Part of the roof later collapsed.

In November, the Miami-Dade County Unsafe Structures Board granted the city a 30-day reprieve from a demolition order so they could find a way to save it.

Miami Beach hired an independent engineer, Herbert Gopman, who reported that the house could possibly be repaired. Extensive testing would be necessary to [determine] that, he said.

At a Dec. 15 meeting, the Unsafe Structures Board gave the city a final 30 days to allow Gopman to prepare a comprehensive repair plan.

But Gopman notified the city building department two weeks ago that he couldn't provide what they were asking for in the time allotted.

''I don't think anyone can do what they're asking in 30 days,'' Gopman said. ``That's almost impossible.''

A Jan. 19 demolition deadline looms while the city decides its next move.

If the building is torn down, city officials, including members of the City Commission, have indicated they would want to require that it at least be partially reconstructed.

Some preservationists are insisting that the house's owners, Ivor Rose and Michael Stern, be ordered to rebuild the house exactly as it is, with no additions on the property allowed. ''To some degree, we would be willing to reconstruct,'' Stern said. ``But I believe that when I buy a piece of property, ultimately nobody except the building code should direct me as to what I can do with it.''

Rose and Stern deny claims by Novick that they want to tear the building down to build a larger structure.

''The building is in deplorable condition, and we didn't make it that way; we bought it that way,'' Stern said. ``The city knows it's in horrible condition, and I think they basically made the decision that they were going to try to spend our money to repair it.''

The house now stands surrounded by a chain-link fence, ordered by the city building department to protect passersby in case of collapse.

Those who say they are familiar with the building doubt it is so fragile.

''That building withstood several hurricanes, and it never suffered any damage,'' said Dr. William Roth, whose family owned the building from 1932 until the early 1980s. ``I have trouble believing that it's so unstable.''

Roth's father, Edward, practiced medicine in the coral rock house for more than 30 years, tending to Miami Beach's booming population and helping to found Mount Sinai Medical Center along the way.

''I was the maintenance man for that house, and when I was in high school, my father would have me fix things in it,'' Roth said. ``That's why I feel the strength of that building, because you could not knock that building down even if you took a sledgehammer to the walls.''

Experts in coral rock, more scientifically known as oolite, also doubt the doomsday predictions about the house.

''A stone wall is a lot stronger than people think, and you can't look in a book to understand the intrinsic strength of it,'' said Josh Billig, a stone mason who has worked extensively in oolite.

Billig did a visual inspection of the house's exterior after he read the engineering reports demanding its demolition.

''From the outside, the walls look like they're in good shape,'' he said. ``I just didn't see many of the conditions described in those reports.''

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Posted on Tue, Jan. 04, 2005

WILDLIFE

400-pound alligator removed from creek in urban Miami

If you saw an alligator flying over the palm trees near Cedars Medical Center on Monday, fret not; your eyes weren't lying.

BY ELAINE DE VALLE

[email protected]

It sounded like an urban legend: A giant gator stalking the parking lots around Miami's civic center.

''For quite a while we've been getting calls about a giant alligator by Jackson Memorial Hospital and we would get there and he would be gone,'' said Todd Hardwick, South Florida's animal trapper extraordinaire. ``He was the legend of Wagner Creek.''

Legend became fact Monday when Hardwick -- with the help of a Miami Fire department ladder truck -- trapped the 400-pound bull, nicknamed Big Boy, three days after the last report was called in by Miami police.

''The biggest alligator ever captured downtown,'' he said.

''It was a very spectacular capture just due to the unbelievably bad spot he was in,'' Hardwick said.

The creek has no shore on either side. It is flanked by two seawalls, about six or seven feet tall that have about four feet of chain-link fence atop them. It was a straight drop from the dry side into the creek, which is about eight feet deep, Hardwick said.

He called for a firetruck -- as well as police to hold back about 200 people who had gathered to watch.

The ladder truck lowered Hardwick into the creek so he could strap ropes around Big Boy.

It then lifted the gator out over some palm trees and cars in the parking lot and into the street where Hardwick could better secure its mouth and get him out of there.

It was great experience for the firefighters, said Miami Fire Rescue spokesman Ignatius Carroll. ''It was our technical rescue team, which specializes in elevated rescue. They've rescued plenty of people from confined spaces, but now we can go ahead and add that we rescued a reptile -- a very big reptile,'' he said.

Usually, a gator this size would be destroyed to ensure that it not return to the populated area from which he was removed.

But they can also be kept in captivity and Hardwick was trying Monday afternoon to find an alligator farm to take in new tenant.

''He's a big, beautiful, proud animal and I respect that,'' Hardwick said.

''I believe he came up the Miami River years ago and he's been living in the drainpipes in the hospital areas, eating fish, possums, raccoons, stray dogs and cats and rats,'' he said.

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Posted on Sun, Jan. 02, 2005

MIAMI BEACH

New curbs fuel complaints

Some residents who use Alton Road have complained that new traffic-slowing installations are more of a hazard than a safety measure.

BY CAROLINA ZAMORA

[email protected]

Traffic-calming devices recently installed along Alton Road have brought more havoc than calm, say some residents.

The ''bulbouts,'' installed by the Florida Department of Transportation, essentially extend curbs a few feet into intersections but are not intended to interfere with driving lanes because the extension is only used in parking lanes.

''The bulbouts give the idea that the roadway is narrowing,'' said Tish Burgher, a spokeswoman for the state transportation department. ``It is not, in fact, narrowing, but it appears like it is so the driver slows down.''

Bulbouts have been installed on the southbound side of Alton Road between 20th and 63rd streets and will be placed on the northbound side by the end of January, as part of an improvement project that started in June.

But some residents have complained the bulbouts are hard to see at night and that their cars have sustained hundreds of dollars' worth of damage after hitting the devices.

''This is absolutely insane,'' said Alton Road resident Richard Rosichan, who said he bumped into a bulbout one night while making a U-turn at the intersection of Alton Road and Michigan Avenue.

He said damage to his tires and rims amounted to $257.

''I've never seen anything so stupidly designed in my life,'' Rosichan said. ``They're concrete monsters.''

Rosichan says he is upset the city didn't hold meetings or distribute fliers to warn residents.

However, the transportation department did hold a public information meeting a week before work on the improvement project began, and the bulbouts were discussed. Burgher said the bulbouts were incorporated in the Alton Road improvement project after the city requested a study on traffic speed.

The study offered several recommendations, Burgher said, and the DOT decided that bulbouts were the best option.

''The bulbouts have been incorporated into the plans for a long time,'' she said.

Burgher said transportation department is aware of the complaints and has responded by adding reflectors and painting the bulbouts bright yellow.

She also said that once the asphalt and road-striping work is finished, motorists may be better able to distinguish the curb.

The Herald attempted to reach several city officials who are involved with the issue, but calls were not returned.

Herald staff writer Nicole White contributed to this story.

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I went to Alton Road to check out the situation, but honestly don't see what the big deal is. Making a U-turn on that narrow street is dangerous anyways.

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A young girl plays in the sand in South Beach as a freighter ship sits offshore with two new gantry cranes that are headed to the Port of Miami-Dade. These super-post Panamax cranes are among the largest in the world and each can lift up to 65 tons of containers. The cranes are part of the port's expansion and may arrive there today depending on weather conditions.

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Downtown Miami master plan getting first upgrade in years

By Yeleny Suarez

Miami Today

Miami's Downtown Development Authority is updating the city's downtown master plan for the first time since 1986 and plans to wrap up sweeping changes this year.

The final document is to be linked to the city's zoning code, said Dana Nottingham, executive director of the downtown authority. That would give the master plan teeth in shaping changes to downtown, which is rapidly being restructured by high-rise developers in a boom unlike any in the city's core since the 1920s.

"The first major step in accomplishing this objective will be updating the Central Business District Master Plan," Mr. Nottingham said.

Each of the plan's four phases is to be handed to a separate consultant. Three firms are competing for each phase, with choices to be made this month. Their fees are being negotiated.

Mr. Nottingham would not discuss the total cost of the planning process.

The aim is to create an economic development master plan that would focus on economic and competitive strategy, land use and transportation master planning and a revitalization strategy, he said.

After consultants hold a kickoff workshop late this month or in early February, he said, downtown interests will review each phase of the planning.

The first phase, research and analysis, will come February through April, followed by program analysis, which will be reviewed in June and July. Phase three, program development, will face reviews in October and November. A final report and presentations are due in December.

In addition to reviews, public workshops will be conducted at the end of phases two and four.

Mr. Nottingham said a consultant and advisory committee will be organized to focus on economic development and market research, land use, transportation and environment, housing and community development.

Infrastructure, public facilities and services, public safety and emergency services, human services and education, art, culture and entertainment, marketing and community outreach are other key areas.

Some consultants in transportation, urban design and economic and market research will work independently and in collaboration to establish objectives, cross-utilize information and perform tasks required to update the master plan, Mr. Nottingham said.

According to Mr. Nottingham, those involved in the process will seek the participation of city and county governments and key agencies.

Downtown development authorities were established nationwide in the 1960s, when the federal government urged state governments to enact legislation that would help reverse the deterioration of inner cities.

In 1966, Florida legislation and a Miami city ordinance formed the Downtown Development Authority. Its four districts are:

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Construction of Kendall project delayed by lawsuit

By Sherri C. Ranta

Miami Today

Construction of the planned 160-acre Kendall Town Center, to include Baptist Health South Florida hospital and a 24-screen Muvico movie theater, is on hold because of legal challenges.

Developer Jeff Berkowitz filed an appeal and a lawsuit citing flawed traffic studies and government procedures to reverse the Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners' June decision to approve the project that would front Kendall Drive between Southwest 158th and 162nd avenues.

The action will prevent General Growth Properties from moving forward with construction, said company executive Edward A. Ely, but the company will continue preliminary engineering work necessary to widen Kendall Drive from Southwest 150th to 162nd avenues. The county also has required the company to make improvements to several other streets in the area.

General Properties bought Rouse Co., the original developer of Kendall Town Center, and most of its properties in November.

The suit questions the county's standards for plan changes and inconsistencies with the comprehensive plan. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Feb. 24 on a request to dismiss most claims in the lawsuit, said Craig Coller, assistant county attorney.

The appeal and lawsuit contain similar challenges, he said, with regard to traffic concurrency requirements, changes to the comprehensive plan and variances granted. He said it isn't known when a court will rule on the actions.

Mr. Berkowitz, president of commercial developer Berkowitz Development Co., and West Kendall resident Valentine Fisher initiated the legal actions.

"Our primary issue is traffic-related," Mr. Berkowitz said. "Rouse did two things - they used 5-year-old traffic studies and only studied morning and evening traffic, when the theater and entertainment center would not be doing any business."

He said the county approved a bus stop with 24 parking spaces rather than require Rouse to fully comply with traffic regulations.

"A Muvico theater will compete with my business," he said, "but this is not about competition. It's about everybody playing by the same set of rules. Let them study it properly."

Mr. Berkowitz is a key developer in Kendall Village Center, a retail-commercial center on Kendall Drive at Florida's Turnpike, where he is developing a 16-screen Regal Cinema. Kendall Village Center is about 4 miles from the Kendall Town Center project.

Mr. Fisher is a resident of Southwest 96th Street, Mr. Berkowitz said, who objects to the hospital being built near his home. Originally, the hospital was to front Kendall Avenue and a smaller movie theater was planned, Mr. Berkowitz said.

Kendall Town Center is expected to include a 120-room Hampton Inn hotel, a 125-unit apartment building for seniors and several retail, restaurant and office components.

Recent studies have suggested that a planned rapid-transit line to western Kendall probably will not be built due to a shortage of funds from the county's half-cent sales tax, said Miles Moss of the Citizens' Independent Transportation Trust, the group that oversees spending of the tax, and a member of an area homeowners association. That means new development would only worsen traffic congestion in the area, he said.

"The sentiment of the community is that everyone wants to see a hospital," he said, "but there is also the sentiment that traffic is just becoming horrendous."

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The cranes are part of the port's expansion and may arrive there today depending on weather conditions.

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This is so cool... I thought I remembered seeing this a few weeks ago.

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Posted on Thu, Jan. 06, 2005

COUNTY COMMISSION

Broward likely to approve slots in March vote

BY ERIKA BOLSTAD

[email protected]

Broward County and the parimutuel industry have reached a draft agreement that could bring the county as much as $10 million a year if voters agree in March to expand gambling and allow slot machines.

The three Broward cities with a dog track, horse tracks and a jai-alai fronton also are in negotiations that could bring them a percentage of the proceeds from as many as 10,000 slot machines.

Florida voters in November amended the state Constitution to allow Broward and Miami-Dade residents to vote on whether to allow slot machines at parimutuel facilities within their borders.

Now, pro-gambling lobbyists are trying to persuade commissioners in both counties to hold referendums as soon as March. So far, only Broward has made any serious headway in the negotiations, and county commissioners will decide on Tuesday whether to schedule the vote.

The money the county is seeking is supposed to cover the cost of additional police protection, added traffic and the other social costs of expanding gambling at the Pompano Park track, Dania Jai-Alai Fronton, Gulfstream Park and Hollywood Greyhound Track.

''It seems to me it's perfectly reasonable that a business should cover the cost of the impact on our community,'' said Broward County Administrator Roger Desjarlais. ``It's no different than a developer paying impact fees.''

The county's estimates are based on the premise that each slot machine nets about $200 a day, after payouts and expenses. Initially, about 4,000 machines would be in play; as many as 10,000 could be operational in four years.

Broward County wants 1.5 percent of the revenue from each machine, calculated after winnings are paid out; parimutuel lobbyists have countered with a 1 percent offer.

The county also is trying to negotiate a deal that brings Pompano Beach, Dania Beach and Hallandale Beach 2 percent of the revenue from each of the machines within their borders.

''There have been some language hangups, but I think they're close,'' said lobbyist Ron Book, who represents the parimutuels industry. ``But they'll get there.''

The County Commission's auditor, Evan Lukic, said Wednesday he's been reviewing the contract to ensure the county wrangles as much as possible out of the deal.

''Our biggest thing is protecting the community, what protection the county has, and how the deal is structured,'' Lukic said.

But come Tuesday, the referendum will probably be approved. Only Mayor Kristin Jacobs, who lived in Las Vegas and has moral objections to gambling, voted against the referendum when it first came up late last year.

''Everyone keeps being dazzled by these numbers, but they're not being based on anything real,'' Jacobs said.

Still, the Broward County Commission -- which includes three lawyers and is known for haggling over the smallest details of contracts during meetings -- is likely to join Jacobs in tough negotiations.

''Obviously we're trying to get the best deal for the county,'' said Vice Mayor Ben Graber.

Jacobs said that since it's clear her eight colleagues on the County Commission want the issue on the ballot, she will work next week to negotiate the best deal she can for the county. But once her colleagues approve it, she'll begin working to defeat the referendum.

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Posted on Thu, Jan. 06, 2005

REAL ESTATE

Overseas investors find South Florida to be a hot property

Economic strength and an international business climate put South Florida among the top areas for overseas investors seeking profitable real estate deals.

BY MATTHEW HAGGMAN

[email protected]

South Florida ranks among the top five most attractive places in the United States for foreign real estate investors to put their money.

So says an annual survey spotlighting the real estate markets being targeted by large international institutions -- insurance companies, banks and pension funds investing millions in such properties as office buildings, industrial parks and residential projects.

One recent high-profile example: the purchase of a pricey residential enclave, Fisher Island, by London-based Euro Fund Properties.

''South Florida and Miami are now on the international radar screen for the first time, positively,'' said area real estate analyst Michael Cannon. ``We have been on the international and national radar screen negatively, so I think this is good.''

Despite the rows of international banks on Brickell Avenue and the Latin American buyers snapping up thousands of condo units, South Florida has never made the list before.

Heavyweight cities such as New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco have traditionally dominated the attention of large investors looking for profitable, yet safe, investments.

`MIAMI HAS EMERGED'

But those investors are looking to diversify into other regions, and South Florida, with its strong economy, is a natural beneficiary.

''Miami, in particular, has emerged as a 24-hour city with an internationally friendly business climate,'' said Randy Mondt, who runs U.S. real estate giant Principal Real Estate Investors. ``But the opportunities go beyond Miami-Dade County and also include Broward and Palm Beach counties.''

Mondt said South Florida properties returned 14.5 percent during the past year, compared to a national return of 12.4 percent, citing figures from the National Council of Real Estate Fiduciaries.

A BIG CHANGE

When developer Alessandro Ferretti moved to Miami Beach from hometown Verona, Italy, 10 years ago, the region's reputation -- tainted government corruption scandals and cocaine cowboys, among other things -- discouraged large investors.

That has changed, he says.

''South Florida is recognized as an international destination in a more solid way than before,'' Ferretti said. ``Now it is not a place where people just come and go. We have lost the aura of a Miami Vice kind of place.''

The survey, released Wednesday, was conducted by the Association of Foreign Investors in Real Estate in Washington. It surveys its 160 members from 17 countries. The association has conducted the survey for 13 years.

Washington, D.C., ranked first in the survey. It was followed by New York City, Los Angeles and San Francisco. South Florida and Chicago tie for fifth.

Meanwhile, the region received another dose of good news by way of a Moody's Investors Service report concluding that Miami-Dade's real estate market is among the 10 strongest in the country. In a report assessing cities' real estate prospects for the coming year -- which includes everything from multifamily housing to the office and hotel market -- Moody's placed Miami-Dade fourth on the list. The top-rated market was Los Angeles.

''There are several real estate areas in Miami doing above average and none are doing awful,'' said Sally Gordon, vice president of Moody's Investor Services.

Stamford, Conn., rated worst on the list, just below Jacksonville.

Favorite U.S. markets of foreign investors:

1. Washington, D.C.

2. New York City

3. Los Angeles

4. San Francisco

5. South Florida: Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm (tie)

5. Chicago (tie)

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Posted on Thu, Jan. 06, 2005

Interim Miami airport director to seek job permanently

By INA PAIVA CORDLE

[email protected]

Miami-Dade Interim Aviation Director Carlos Bonzon is applying for the permanent job, competing in a national search to head Miami International Airport and five other smaller facilities coping with the demands of a volatile industry.

His decision was prompted by encouragement he got from ''movers and shakers'' within the local business community, he said, and ``being here day to day -- I just love what I am doing.''

Bonzon told The Herald he will e-mail a letter of interest and his resume to the county by Friday's deadline, fulfilling a promise he gave last month that he would decide by Thursday.

When he was named interim director in November, following former Aviation Director Angela Gitten's resignation under pressure, he had said he would not likely apply for the permanent job.

But he talked to his wife, son and daughter over the holidays and they said to go for it. He declined to name other high-level business people who have encouraged him, but he said they did not include airline executives or others with business interests at MIA.

''This is to me the best place to work, such an exciting place,'' he said. ``We have many challenges ahead and I love challenges. We have excellent employees, a high level of professionalism. I just love aviation.''

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MODEL CITY

HUD wants Miami to pay back $2.6M

In the latest setback in the effort to build affordable housing in Miami's Model City, the federal government wants its money back -- for the second time.

BY ANDREA ROBINSON AND MICHAEL VASQUEZ

[email protected]

During the past few years, Miami has spent millions to boost homeownership in the city's struggling Model City neighborhood, buying dozens of properties and paying consulting companies to help guide the process.

But, as of today, the city still hasn't built a single house, and the federal government -- the primary source of money for the revival effort -- wants its money back. Again.

In a letter recently delivered to Miami leaders, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development requested the city pay back roughly $2.6 million in federal grant money that has been used in an area known as the Model City Community Revitalization District.

Miami already returned $1.8 million in Model City-slated money last year because HUD complained city-owned properties were sitting vacant for too long.

Among other things, HUD monitors are criticizing the city for how it acquired properties, questioning some professional services payments, and saying Miami failed to focus on a stated goal: to build affordable housing in one of Miami's poorest neighborhoods.

''The city has spent over $2 million for acquisition expenses, which to date have not met the city's plan to develop affordable housing units for its residents,'' the report states.

Barbara Gomez-Rodriguez, head of the city Community Development Department, which oversees the spending of HUD money, could not be reached Friday.

City leaders say they will return the money, although they hope to ask for it back in the future.

Both Miami politicians and members of the Model City Trust that oversees the program have long been frustrated by the lack of progress in building homes. To a large extent, each side has blamed the other for slowing down the process.

City Commission Chairman Joe Sanchez suggested Friday the best remaining option might be to eliminate the trust altogether. But Marva Wiley, president/CEO of the Model City Trust, sees most of HUD's criticisms as directed at the city, not the trust.

The Model City home project was conceived as part of the city's 1999 consolidated plan to construct more than 1,000 affordable homes in the neighborhood within the first two years. In 2002, a quasi-independent agency called the Model City Homeownership Trust was created to oversee the project.

The city purchased or put under contract for purchase dozens of properties. It seized and tore down slum apartment buildings, and relocated hundreds of tenants out of the area. But no homes have been built.

Sanchez said HUD's recent criticisms left him with little patience for dealing with the trust. ''In government, if something is not working, you get rid of it,'' Sanchez said.

Eliminating the trust would not necessarily destroy the redevelopment plans -- the city could carry those on itself -- but it would nonetheless be controversial, and members of the trust would likely not disappear quietly.

Wiley said her agency has been threatened with dissolution but survived.

''In May 2003 I was told the project was irretrievably broken,'' Wiley said. ``I was told to scale it back.''

The HUD letter, for its part, faults decisions made by both city administrators and the Model City Trust Board.

The money HUD is asking Miami to pay back breaks down into two main categories:

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