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Miami: Little Havana/SW Miami

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This thread covers the 8th Street corridor of southwest Miami.

Communities covered:

Little Havana

Westchester

Flagami

Tamiami

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http://www.miami.com/mld/miamiherald/10686432.htm

As trees fall, tensions rise

The city of Miami said it will improve Cuban Memorial Boulevard by cutting down trees and replacing them with more appropriate ones. But some residents are enraged.

BY MICHAEL VASQUEZ

[email protected]

For nearly two decades, Mara Cohen's mornings have started off in a home on Little Havana's shady Southwest 13th Avenue, greeted by the singing of nearby mockingbirds.

Other times of day normally provide additional wildlife-in-the-city sights and sounds. Squirrels scampering. Owls cooing.

But things have changed now that Miami leaders have begun an ambitious $2.6 million overhaul of the thoroughfare, more commonly known as Cuban Memorial Boulevard. Majestic trees are becoming stumps.

In order to turn the street into a ''pedestrian-friendly'' walkway bridging Calle Ocho to Coral Way, the city says it must remove or relocate nearly 200 trees and shrubs.

Trees began coming down over the holidays, with tensions between residents and the city steadily increasing since then.

The city promises to plant two trees or shrubs for each one that is uprooted, but Cohen and other residents remain furious and distraught.

Among their criticisms: The new trees will be smaller and incapable of replacing lost tree canopy, or bringing back the animals who are starting to flee after losing their homes.

''The owls were crying,'' Cohen said, her own eyes at times tearing up. ``We heard them. Crying all night long.''

Miami City Commissioner Joe Sanchez -- whose district includes Cuban Memorial Boulevard and who is a staunch advocate for the current project -- says he understands that tall, old trees have sentimental value.

However, Sanchez says many of those beloved trees that are being cut down are either exotic species not meant for the area, sick trees or trees with roots that are interfering with electrical utilities or drainage improvements.

Sanchez says the boulevard's canopy will be restored to what it was before construction began -- it just might take a few years.

''Anytime you do a major project like this, there's opposition,'' said Sanchez, who said a few opponents are politically motivated. Some people, Sanchez said, are trying to label him a ``tree killer.''

The city couldn't immediately provide a breakdown of the tree species being cut or replanted. Hugh Ryan, president of the Miami Shenandoah Neighborhood Association -- which has some members who live on the street -- said that in his conversations with city leaders he was told the tree species being taken out included black olive and a few oak trees -- though the oaks would be replanted at a city park. The new tree species planted would include crepe myrtle, silver buttonwood and mahogany, Ryan said.

NOT SO SHADY

Miami-Dade County -- its tropical paradise reputation notwithstanding -- actually ranks as one of the least shady places in the nation. Neighborhoods -- or individual blocks, for that matter -- that boast dense tree canopy have on many occasions gotten into fierce battles to save the greenery that boosts both air quality and property values.

Little Havana, like many older Miami neighborhoods, has experienced some rough years but is in the midst of a rebirth, and now has a growing supply of residents sensitive to tree canopies and other aesthetic concerns.

Construction along Cuban Memorial Boulevard -- home to monuments saluting Bay of Pigs casualties, Cuban political prisoners and journalists, among others -- is scheduled to be completed by the middle of this year, paid for with bond money approved by voters for parks and other capital improvements.

Sanchez, despite the protests, said he has no plans to try to halt the project or scale down its scope.

The city held two public meetings during the design process, and Sanchez said that was the appropriate time for residents to raise their concerns. When residents complained at the meetings that benches installed as part of the overhaul would attract the homeless, some benches were removed from the plan, Sanchez said.

WARNING GIVEN?

Things become a little fuzzy, however, on the question of whether residents were specifically warned that trees would be on the chopping block. Sanchez said he told those in attendance that trees would have to be removed, but didn't give a specific number of trees because that hadn't been figured out yet.

Ryan complained that members weren't consulted as the city was putting together its street makeover.

''We weren't really called for any input,'' Ryan said. ``The easiest way to get the word out through any community is the associations, and we've been active for years.''

Sanchez countered that his office ''passed out 1,000 fliers'' in advance of the community meetings. The meetings featured a Powerpoint computer presentation that Sanchez says impressed those in attendence.

And some Cuban Memorial Boulevard residents who have never seen the computer images still support the changes. Leoner Jimenez, for one, says it just makes sense to replace older, sick trees with healthier ones. Jimenez wonders if the boulevard will become a little too nice, shooting property values through the roof.

''The only thing that would bother me,'' Jimenez said, ``is if they raise my taxes.'

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It's kinda sad to lose that shade. And I feel bad for those owls. You know, it's weird that Miami was ranked poorly on the shady scale. Certain parts of town can be very shady at night, but that's a different kind of "shady" lol.

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I wonder if the Kapok tree is one of the ones that's going.

from: http://www.co.miami-dade.fl.us/transit/hispanic.asp

Cuban Memorial Boulevard

This two-block stretch in the heart of Little Havana is lined with monuments commemorating heroes who fought for Cuban independence from dictator Fidel Castro. Here an eternal flame burns in memory of the 94 Cuban exiles who gave their lives in the foiled Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba. A statue of Jose Marti, leader of Cuba

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Maybe I missed it, but what's wrong with the trees? Are they sick or dying. I understand the residents fear, it gets pretty hot in Florida, so shade trees are also welcome to me. I guess everything will work out alright, as long as they don't end up planting palms.

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I'm going to try to check out the area tonight, but it's likely they are Banyan trees, or another similar type ficus. They take up a lot of space with their sprawling root systems.

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So I ran over on my lunch break tonight, well more of a dinner break...

The road is really more of a parkway, with a wide median running down the middle of the road where the trees are. Most of the them are banyan type trees with wide bases and overhanging roots. A lot of the trees do look pretty sickly. There's a powerlines running along so they get topped off frequently I'm sure. Not that many trees are gone yet, so I'm not sure what the complaints are about. It looks like they want to run a sidewalk through to connect Coral Way and Calle Ocho. It would be very nice in my opinion.

I'm thinking i'll try to do a picture tour some time next week. The monuments are pretty powerful, and there's some nice architecture in the neighborhood.

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Posted on Wed, Jan. 26, 2005

MIAMI

After complaints, city backs off on cutting down trees along street

A city plan to remove or relocate nearly 200 trees and shrubs in Little Havana is back on the drawing board after numerous protests.

BY MICHAEL VASQUEZ

[email protected]

Facing mounting criticism from Little Havana residents, Miami City Commission Chairman Joe Sanchez on Tuesday agreed to temporarily halt and reconsider a controversial plan to remove or relocate nearly 200 trees and shrubs from Cuban Memorial Boulevard.

Over the holidays, city workers started cutting down trees as part of a $2.6 million overhaul of the street, more formally known as Southwest 13th Avenue.

The project aims to turn the median into a park-like pedestrian walkway bridging Calle Ocho and Coral Way.

Although the city promised to install two plants for every one removed, some residents were skeptical the thoroughfare's previously lush canopy would be fully restored.

Some 13th Avenue residents also complained they had not been properly warned that so many trees would need to be sacrificed as part of the street revamping.

Sanchez -- whose district includes Little Havana and who strongly supports the project -- said he took steps to notify residents, but was nevertheless calling a tree removal time-out on Tuesday to see if a compromise plan could be achieved.

''I'm respecting the concerns of the residents, and we are looking into what we can do to possibly protect part of the canopy,'' Sanchez said.

FIRST CONCESSION

The Herald reported the tree cutting -- and the rising tensions associated with it -- in an article published Jan. 20. Sanchez's announcement Tuesday marks the first significant concession made by city leaders since the neighborhood outcry began.

STILL OUTRAGED

But one resident who has led the save-the-trees charge wasn't ready to pop champagne corks just yet. Yvonne Bayona said she is so outraged by the city's actions she thinks Sanchez is unfit for public office.

''I'm not stopping,'' Bayona said. ``I want him to resign as commissioner.''

City workers have already removed roughly half the trees and shrubs called for in the original plan, and even if a compromise is reached between residents and the city, Sanchez predicted more trees will eventually come down.

''We can't continue with the architectural design we have now without the removal of some trees,'' Sanchez said.

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Posted on Thu, Feb. 17, 2005

Click here to find out more!

LITTLE HAVANA

Low-cost homes project started

Miami and its partners broke ground in Little Havana on the Latin Q project, which will give 60 lower-income families a chance to own homes.

BY LAURA MORALES

[email protected]

Hector Tamarint, 61, looked at the normally empty lot next to his rented Little Havana home Friday morning and saw people in suits holding shovels.

He approached them and found out that he was standing on what could be a future home for himself, his sister Felipa, 70, and their mother Norberta, 95.

Tamarint had walked into the groundbreaking ceremony for Latin Q, an affordable-housing complex that will be built at 420 SW 12th Ave. in the Little Havana Revitalization District.

Its developers hope to put the ''American dream'' of home ownership within the reach of families like the Tamarints with low to moderate incomes.

''This area is where many of us here got started. It's an area we carry in our hearts, and it's very important for us to create revitalization here,'' city Mayor Manny Diaz said to the assembled group.

When built, the 10-story building will include two floors of parking and commercial space and eight floors with 72 condominium units -- 60 of them starting at about $139,000. The remaining dozen, which are not government subsidized, will range in cost between $179,000 and $257,000.

The $14 million project is funded by $1 million in grants from Miami-Dade County's Home Investment Partnership and a $1.8 million Community Development Block Grant from the city.

City Commissioner Joe Sanchez founded the Little Havana Homeownership Advisory Board in 2003 to help revitalize District 3, the area with the lowest home ownership rate in the city.

''As Miami grows, we have to do all we can to assist people in becoming homeowners. It's the key to every great community,'' he told the audience.

Salomon Yuken, president of Prestige Enterprise group, which is developing Latin Q, hopes to bring families back into the inner city.

''People are tired of having to spend hours on the road every day and spending a fortune on gas. We want to attract families back to city neighborhoods that have everything they need,'' he said.

Tamarint plans to keep up with Latin Q's progress and will apply for one of the units.

''We came here from Cuba 30 years ago, and we love this neighborhood. We want to own our home and stay in Little Havana,'' he said, smiling at his family.

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Posted on Fri, Feb. 18, 2005

LITTLE HAVANA

City can't sell everyone on tree plan

A town hall meeting in Little Havana stoked passions over tree-cutting on Cuban Memorial Boulevard, with residents shouting at each other until the very end.

BY MICHAEL VASQUEZ

[email protected]

Miami city leaders Thursday night came to the community armed with a fresh new sales pitch, but some Little Havana residents still weren't buying.

The city in recent weeks spent $15,000 to $18,000 paying an outside company to produce a bilingual video portraying the $2.7 million overhaul of Cuban Memorial Boulevard as a good thing, even though it requires some of the shady trees on the thoroughfare to be cut down.

At least 200 people packed the cafeteria of Coral Way Elementary School to watch the video and participate in a town-hall style forum. In the end, the tensions and emotional disputes that have dogged the street project for the past few months remained.

Miami began construction on Cuban Memorial Boulevard (Southwest 13th Avenue) late last year. The city's original plans called for the removal or relocation of roughly 200 trees and shrubs as part of the street revamping, which aimed to create a pedestrian-friendly park-like path from Calle Ocho to Coral Way.

But once residents noticed beloved, majestic trees becoming stumps, tempers flared. City assurances that the trees being removed were either sick, inappropriate for the area or interfering with electrical utilities or drainage improvements did little to quell the controversy. Nor did Miami's promise to plant two trees for every one removed.

''I've met people who have spat at me, who have insulted me and who have called me horrible names,'' said Miami Commissioner Joe Sanchez, who represents Little Havana and has been a staunch supporter of the changes.

In response to the outcry, the city has identified 32 trees originally slated to come down that will remain. Miami has also altered the trees it will plant in order to improve overall tree canopy.

Residents are fiercely divided. Gustavo Santana told Sanchez ''I'm really happy with this project,'' while others called it the downfall of the neighborhood.

Sixteen trees from the street's median are still waiting to come down. The city could not immediately provide the number that are to be cut from the swale areas, but acknowledged some there will be removed, too.

''It will never be the same,'' lamented protester Gloria Alfonso.

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A small step toward addressing the major housing crunch and getting some urban development that the average person can afford. Villas Dr. Godoy just broke ground yesterday in Little Havana. Five stories: four stories of residential, 32 units, with ground-floor retail, priced under $200k, unheard of in this market. Developer is Model Housing Cooperative.

City of Miami press release

Sun-Sentinel

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That's great for that area. You know, most impressions of Little Havana have been that of ghetto-ness. Is it nice? The Calle Ocho thing looks cool.

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