Public notice and public comment seemed to be the common topics at the Tuesday, December 8th, City Commission meeting.
The meeting began with a public comment period that exceeded the one hour allowed by the Commission. The number of public comments have risen dramatically since the City began using the Zoom platform for resident access. This meeting was no exception.
As reported in the Miami New Times, Mayor Raul Valdes-Fauli who attended virtually as he recovers from COVID-19, seemed uninterested in public comments and could be seen having phone conversations as residents voiced their concerns on issues affecting the City.
As the public comment period neared the one hour mark, the mayor made an attempt to close the public comment period. Vice Mayor Vince Lago, quickly interjected, asking the clerk how many residents remained on the queue to speak. The Commission overruled the mayor’s request and residents were allowed to finish voicing their opinions on the issue not without several anxious interruptions by Valdes-Fauli asking how many were left to speak.
Numerous parents from George Washington Carver Elementary and Middle School once again addressed the Commission during the public comment period.
As previously reported, parents are seeking assistance from the city in preventing the construction of a gas station across the street from the school. Parents once again mentioned their concerns regarding the lack of notification from the city during the process, as well as their concerns with the health impacts, security and traffic the project could bring to Carver Elementary.
Some residents contacted Gables Insider following the meeting to voice their concern with the public comment on an issue relating to school notification. They had registered to speak on the issue, but were not allowed to when the item came up for discussion.
Gables Insider reached out to City Clerk, Billy Urquia, who sent the following quote from the charter, explaining resident rights to public comment, “An opportunity for open public comment shall be provided at every City Commission meeting. During this portion of the meeting, an individual may address the city commission on an item that is on the agenda or on a matter which is not on the agenda, but within the scope of the city commission’s jurisdiction. If the individual wishes to address the city commission on an item that is on the agenda, the individual shall not be given an opportunity to speak again once the item is called…”
Miracle Mile and Craft Section Zoning
What has become one of the most controversial issues of the last two years, the proposed zoning changes to Miracle Mile and the Craft Section have officially been placed on hold.
Vice Mayor Lago made a request for staff to schedule a meeting in January for residents to be properly informed about the changes and to provide them with the opportunity to ask any questions and for staff to address any concerns. The meeting will not require commission participation and will be exclusively for residents to be heard and get information.
Depending on the timing of this meeting, the potential final vote on the changes could be as early as February.
The City has been focusing on improving the content it is sending out to residents. Over the last few months, the City’s new Director of Communications and Public Affairs, Martha Pantin, has made it a priority to send out a weekly enews newsletter to residents and ensure important information. This same information that was once pigeon holed in the city’s website is now getting to residents.
On Tuesday, the commission took a large stride to add important content to the enews. Commissioner Jorge L. Fors, Jr. proposed that public meetings not only be listed on an online calendar, but that they be included in the City’s enews, to ensure residents are aware of all important meetings.
The measure was passed unanimously by the commission.
In addition, a resolution passed from the School Community Relations Committee meant to address past issues with communication between the city and stakeholders at schools within the city, was adopted.
Moving forward, all required notifications regarding projects within 1,000 feet of Miami-Dade County Public Schools will be sent to the Superintendent, school board member, school community relations committee as well as the school’s principal.
During the discussion, Commissioner Michael Mena made a suggestion that the city possibly send these communications over email. This would allow for instant notification, proof of sending and assurance the notification is being sent to the appropriate contact. The commission decided to go the traditional snail mail route.
Playhouses and Tree houses
In what was a spirited debate, the commission took up the issue of tree houses and playhouses in residential neighborhoods and whether they constituted zoning violations.
The issue arose after a resident filed a complaint against his neighbors for building a playhouse/tree house for their children in their yard.
The Commission discussed the premise of the question with the input from city staff, who assured the commission that a tree house did not constitute a structure when it comes to the zoning code.
In the end, the Commission voted 4-1 in favor of allowing tree houses and playhouses to remain.
The lone dissenting vote was Commission Patricia Keon, who took a stand against tree houses for children wanting to impose setbacks and height limitations. Ironically, this comes just one meeting after taking a stand for supporting developer-led development on Miracle Mile allowing for increased height and remote parking.