The Biscayne Times

Jul 22nd
Build It and Bulldoze It? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Erik Bojnansky, BT Senior Writer   
October 2018

Shorecrest street plan could raze the NE 79th Street business district

T79Street_1he Florida Department of Transportation has presented plans that would widen NE 79th Street by nearly 50 feet to accommodate six lanes for vehicles and bring some traffic relief for the Miami neighborhood of Shorecrest.

But to do it, the state would have buy private land, perhaps through eminent domain if landowners refuse to sell along NE 79th Street between Biscayne Boulevard and Biscayne Bay to expand the right-of-way. That necessity is particularly acute on the north side of NE 79th Street in Shorecrest, where a burgeoning commercial district filled with stores, offices, and restaurants is located.

The plan, called the Build Alternative 3, is one of three proposals submitted by FDOT for renovations of 79th and 82nd streets in the City of Miami. It’s the most expensive of the three plans, and would cost an estimated $69 million in construction costs alone. It would also force businesses on the north side of NE 79th Street east of Biscayne to shrink or close.

Mark Ingraham, an attorney and 79th Street property owner, says such a plan would kill a commercial district that’s in the midst of a renaissance.

“For the sake of the neighborhood and the sake of property values, and the sake of having a walkable street with businesses that will serve the surrounding neighborhood, making 79th Street a six-lane super-highway will be a big mistake,” he says. “It’ll have a negative impact on the residential neighborhood surrounding the area.”

Nevertheless, the Build Alternative 3 was the plan preferred by Shorecrest residents when the three alternatives were first unveiled at an August 28 neighborhood forum.

“At our last meeting, I asked residents to raise their hands,” says Daisy Torres, president of the Shorecrest Homeowners Association, “and the majority asked for this option, even though in other meetings I’ve attended, commercial interests were opposed to it.”

Torres isn’t sure that many of her neighbors grasp the cost or actual impact it’ll have on businesses along 79th Street. “I actually explained that to them because I was surprised,” she says. “I said, ‘Are you sure? Because this is going to have a big impact.’ Either they didn’t understand or they didn’t care.”

Still, Torres concedes that Build Alternative 3 would address many of the traffic headaches that Shorecrest residents experience. “To me, this is pie in the sky,” she says. “This is a great solution long term -- if we could please everyone. But it’s not a real solution.”

79Street_2Since the 1970s, 79th Street between I-95 and Biscayne Bay has had three vehicular lanes heading east toward the beaches and one lane heading west. Over on 82nd Street, which slices through Shorecrest, there are two lanes heading west. It’s a configuration that has frustrated Shorecrest dwellers for decades. Those complaints intensified following the completion of an $8.1 million renovation project that further narrowed 79th Street’s single westbound lane, encouraging more cars traveling from the beaches to use 82nd Street. As a result, Shorecresters tell the BT, 82nd Street and other streets in Shorecrest are gridlocked by commuters during peak hours. During lull traffic times, cars and motorcycles travel along 82nd Street at high speed. (See “Into the Narrows,” October 2016.)

Build Alternative 3 would transform NE 82nd Street into a slower road with one lane heading east and one lane heading west, plus add new island medians along Bayshore Drive. Alternative 3 would also widen 79th Street to 118 feet east of I-95, allowing three lanes of traffic heading east and three lanes heading west, as well as parallel parking and island medians at certain spots. The east- and westbound lanes closest to the sidewalks would be dedicated for bicycles and buses, and separated from the other lanes by a six-inch barrier.

But to make that widening possible, the city needs to acquire private land to create more right-of-way. West of I-95, the land taken would occur on the south side of 79th Street, according to a FDOT map of Build Alternative 3. East of I-95, the seizures would be on the north side.

Gabriel Perez, a Stantec consultant involved in the project, says Build Alternative 3 would likely require 48 feet of right-of-way to be seized east of Biscayne Boulevard on the north side, “although there are some widths that can be played with.”

In some spots that would only mean a loss of parking. However, some buildings on the north side -- including Royal Bavarian Schnitzel Haus, Gastropub 79, Tip Freeman’s Paintings & Art Gallery, and Mina’s Mediterraneo -- are situated right up against the sidewalk.

In contrast, Build Alternative 1 would only cost $36.5 million and require more modest taking of privately owned curbs in various spots. Under that plan, 82nd Street would also become a two-way road, but without medians, and 79th Street would have two lanes heading east and two lanes heading west without dedicated bus lanes.

The cheapest concept, Build Alternative 2, would cost just $20.6 million and primarily widens sidewalks and adds bike lanes, says Auraliz Benitez, an FDOT project coordinator. Under that plan, the current number of traffic lanes on 79th Street and 82nd Street are maintained, and there are no right-of-way impacts to private property owners.

79Street_3Depictions of all three plans were displayed on easels at an informal community gathering at the Legion Park Community Center on September 12, attended by dozens of people.

Standing at the ready to explain each plan and listen to input were FDOT engineers and consultants. All three plans were compiled after input from residents and business owners near 79th Street, Benitez says, and a formal meeting on the three plans won’t be held until the spring of 2019.

Yasmine Kotb, owner of Mina’s Mediterraneo restaurant, says Build Alternative 1 is by far the best plan for residents and businesses. “This is what is going to take it to the next level,” she says.

As for Build Alternative 3, Kotb thinks it’s too expensive and destructive. “There’s no way they can do 3 without taking away all the buildings on the street,” she says. “I don’t think it’s a real alternative because I don’t think it’s possible. There’s no way they can expand the street that much.”

Actually, from time to time FDOT does buy up private land with homes and businesses through eminent domain to widen streets and highways, says Javier Bustamante, an FDOT assistant right-of-way manager. He mentions the expansion of the SR 826 in which 22 houses between Coral Way and Bird Road were seized under eminent domain and demolished back in 2006. According to a Miami Herald article from that year, the state paid $5 million for the 22 houses.

More recently, in 2012, dozens of businesses in Hollywood were bought or seized via eminent domain to obtain the 40 feet needed to widen Route 441 as part of a $273 million project, according to the Herald.

In most cases, FDOT only buys what it needs and allows the property owner to keep the rest of the property. “I’ve seen buildings cut and rebuilt, and different buildings being created,” Bustamante says.

But Kobt argues that Build Alternative 3 would not only devastate the 79th Street business district, where she owns four properties, including Mina’s, but would also harm Shorecrest property values.

“We’re trying to create a business district,” she says. “Should you bulldoze all the businesses and maybe call it I-79?”

If the state has the “trillions of dollars to buy all our properties,” she says, she’s willing to hear offers.

“Would I like to retire from the restaurant business? Absolutely!” she declares. “Have you ever worked in the restaurant business? It’s brutal.”


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