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The Passing of a Neighborhood PDF Print E-mail
Written by Erik Bojnansky, BT Senior Writer   
April 2015

At Magic City Trailer Park, all that’s left to do is to save the trees

BMagicCity_1y the time you read this story, an 86-year-old community, nestled among stately old oaks and a variety of other trees, will have already ceased to be.

Magic City Trailer Park, a 6.5-acre mobile-home community at 6001 NE 2nd Ave. in Little Haiti, officially shut down on March 31. For decades, the park’s 40 or so trailers served as homes for working-class families. Now only the families of the park’s maintenance workers remain as Magic City is cleared.

Bob Zangrillo, an investor in Internet startups and South Florida real estate, purchased Magic City for $15 million in August 2014. The land is zoned to allow Zangrillo to build structures up to 75 feet high for virtually any residential or commercial use he desires: condos, single-family homes, offices, retail, even entertainment.

But Zangrillo hasn’t decided what he intends to do with the land, says his partner, Tony Cho, president of Metro1 Properties. In the interim, the Magic City property will be rented for special events. What those events may be -- concerts, farmers markets, festivals -- is also to be determined, but not just by Zangrillo. Instead, Zangrillo will ask the neighborhood’s residents and stakeholders for input.

MagicCity_2

“The idea is to activate and engage the community,” Cho says.

It’s a community that Zangrillo and Cho are gobbling up. Cho told Ocean Drive magazine in December 2014 that he had formed the Magic City Fund, an opportunity and investment fund, with Zangrillo. Cho also said he and Zangrillo had assembled 15 acres and 200,000 square feet of commercial buildings in Little Haiti and neighboring Wynwood -- areas where properties have been snapped up by several other investors in recent years.

Magic City Trailer Park is a significant purchase in and of itself. Zangrillo bought it from the descendants of Dr. John DuPuis, a pioneer of a settlement called Lemon City, which formed around 1876. (Miami, which was incorporated 20 years later farther south, didn’t absorb Lemon City until 1925.) Besides trailers and trees, the property includes the crumbling, 113-year-old DuPuis Medical Office and Drug Store, which has been empty for decades.

The trailer park itself started in 1929 as a tourist court, which eventually evolved into a permanent trailer community. As of last year, residents paid only $400 a month for rent.

MagicCity_3

That came to an end on January 8, when Zangrillo’s company sent out notices declaring that “the time has come to close Magic City Trailer Park.”

“The change is necessitated by the economic pressures of taxes, insurance, and regulatory fees,” the letter declared. “The City of Miami’s goal is to remove all trailer parks. The neighborhood is expanding and we must adapt to the changing times. This has been a long process that you all have seen coming.”

A sliding scale moving plan was offered to residents who were current on their rent payments. Those who left by January 31 would receive $1000 plus the use of a moving van and “two workmen for local moves.” Households that moved by February 13 received $500 plus use of the moving van. Those who left by March 31 received $250.

A Florida agency offers relocation costs of up to $2750 for trailer park homeowners who lose their trailers owing to new development. Unfortunately, Magic City’s previous owners bought all the trailers in April 2014, making the residents there mere renters. Under state law, renters without a lease can be evicted in just 15 days, says Evian White, an attorney with Legal Services of Greater Miami. When a few Magic City residents came to her office seeking assistance, there was little she could do.

MagicCity_4

“They came to our office a year too late,” White sighs. “It’s really a sad situation.” (Legal Services of Greater Miami is also advising residents of Little Farm Trailer Park, a 13-acre mobile community in El Portal purchased by Fullview International last month for an undisclosed price. A settlement agreement between El Portal and the park’s owners requires Little Farm’s closure within a year. For more on that trailer park’s saga see “Farewell, Little Farm,” March 2015.)

Cho, however, says that the humane transition of Magic City residents has been a priority, a fact appreciated by Michael Mayer, property manager and one of the park’s previous owners. “We will continue to support each tenant to the fullest of our ability,” Mayer notes in an e-mailed statement to the BT.

Though the humans will be gone, the trees at the site will remain, Cho says. Jeff Shimonski, a certified arborist and a horticulturist for the past 35 years, visited Magic City for the first time on a recent Thursday afternoon. Shimonski, a Biscayne Times columnist, found plenty of healthy live oaks and other native trees protected by the City of Miami’s strict tree ordinance; he also identified a variety of palm and avocado trees, as well as numerous “Category 1” invasive species, such as strangler figs, whose removal the state mandates. Many of these Banyan figs are growing out of protected live oaks.

MagicCity_5“You just cut everything off the [oak] tree,” Shimonski advises. “You cut the roots, too. You have to keep cutting until it [the strangler fig] loses energy. It’s a bit of an effort. But a good tree guy with a crew could clear this in a day.”

Shimonski is more worried about the fate of the native oaks. Because their roots can extend hundreds of feet from the trunk, they tend to die when construction occurs around them. “People buy properties based on these trees,” he says. “Then the construction guys come in, and they usually butcher a lot of the trees. They take a long time to die. Five years. In the meantime, the owner has to deal with a dying tree.”

While examining the health of an oak, Shimonski spots something in the branches. “Did you see that?” he asks. “That’s a goshawk. That’s a native bird. They’re uncommon.”

Also uncommon, Shimonski observes, are places like Magic City, where trees thrive in the midst of an urban environment. “This is old Florida,” he says. “I’ve been living in Miami for probably 54 years, and this is something that’s rapidly disappearing from South Florida.”

 

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