The Biscayne Times

Apr 20th
Big Plans, High Hopes PDF Print E-mail
Written by Shane M. Graber, BT Contributor   
May 2016

Pix_ShaneGraber_5-16The redevelopment of American Legion Post #29 and environs could be a game-changer

The redevelopment of American Legion Post #29 and environs could be a game-changer

I Pix_ShaneGraber_5-16read with interest Erik Bojnansky’s article in last month’s Biscayne Times: “Upper Eastside Renters Feel the Squeeze.”

The article described how dozens of residents are being forced to leave their apartments to make way for a plan to develop seven acres between the 6400 block of Biscayne Boulevard and the bay, part of the redevelopment of American Legion Post #29.

My heart goes out to these residents. Florida laws and the laws of real estate supply and demand do little to protect our most vulnerable citizens. My hope is that the developer makes every effort to help relocate these people in a respectful and time-appropriate manner.

I am also familiar with the American Legion redevelopment plans, first as president of the Bayside Residents Association, which encompasses Legion Park and the American Legion Post, and now as president of the MiMo Biscayne Association, which encompasses the commercial properties along Biscayne Boulevard.

Proposed plans from a Brickell-based development company known as ACRE call for a new, state-of-the-art American Legion facility plus some 150 rental apartments on the American Legion parcel.

With the purchase of the apartment buildings just west of the Legion -- between the Boulevard and NE 7th Avenue -- the developers have now amassed enough land to create a true master plan for that area. As a community, this is our chance to get it right with respect to this soon-to-be-developed land. This project can be an asset for the Upper Eastside, reaping benefits for residents, businesses, and the city.

Mixed-Use Should Be a Priority While new residential is welcome, the community can benefit from new retail shops, cafés, and restaurants. The Legion super block is large enough to accommodate just such a mix of retail, residential, and office uses. This can promote walkability, reduce vehicular trips, and increase economic development.

Imagine having a neighborhood restaurant overlooking Legion Park and Biscayne Bay, similar to Smith & Wollensky in Miami Beach’s South Pointe Park, or the new Glass & Vine in Coconut Grove’s Peacock Park.

Envision covered shops and offices beneath residential units along a promenade facing Legion Park -- with good old-fashioned on-street parking -- instead of the dreadful chain-link fence that now lines the park’s southern border.

Mixed-use development would increase eyes on the street and on the park, adding safety and security.

Legion Park Will Blossom With hundreds of new residential units, Legion Park will become the backyard (or better yet, the front yard) for new residents and new users.

For too long, the properties to the south of Legion Park have turned their back on the park, and the park has unintentionally turned its back on the community, with its prominent eight foot tall wrought-iron and chain-link fences.

Any new development should embrace the park, and face residential and retail units toward the park to encourage park interaction and use.

The developers should create a park master plan, considering baywalks and pedestrian promenades, reconfigured parking, improved amenities, official incorporation of the Saturday farmers market, and other best practices to make Legion Park first class.

The Legion Park Recreational Center needs serious improvements and should be opened up facing the bay, while connecting better to the surrounding park.

A Catalyst for the Upper Eastside Greenway This project could act as a catalyst for the Upper Eastside Greenway -- a conceptual pedestrian/cycling path connecting waterfront Baywood Park at 69th Street to Legion Park and, potentially later, farther south to Morningside Park, all without venturing onto Biscayne Boulevard.

The developers would be wise to create the greenway master plan as part of their commitment to the community, and help pay for it.

Soft Boat Launch The current Legion Park boat launch is an unsupervised, fenced-off asphalt parking lot, attracting noisy boaters and jet-skiers mostly from outside the area. Neighbors complain of illegal parking, trash, and illicit activities on a daily basis. The situation is so dire that city officials have temporarily closed the boat launch.

Imagine this lot transformed into a green soft-boat launch, dedicated to sailing, kayaks, paddle boarding, and other quiet activities.

Respect the Neighbors The Legion plan should consider the needs of the Bayside residents to the north, along with those of the Nirvana Condo residents to the south. Current zoning would allow for five-story buildings lining Legion Park and the boat launch. Although legal, this would block bay views for Nirvana residents. The developers should tier back their structures, staying lower near the bay, then increasing height moving west.

The developers should strive to increase views from Biscayne Boulevard to the bay, and treat the current American Legion parcel as smaller blocks, to add to the small-town-village feel that residents desire.

Go Higher Than 35 Feet on the Boulevard The area just south of Legion Park does not abut single-family residences. It makes sense, then, that higher development would take place here.

The current, controversial 35-foot height limit along the Boulevard does not contemplate where higher buildings might be appropriate, but this location is unquestionably one of them. At the Legion site, five- or seven-story buildings along Biscayne Boulevard would work well. This can be addressed with a Special Area Plan, which the developers may well need to create in order to revise zoning that would allow for mixed-use and higher, more dense development.

Public benefits are a huge part of making Special Area Plans a reality, and so for the Upper Eastside, we should see this redevelopment as an opportunity for the public to benefit.

This Legion Village has the potential to energize Legion Park, revitalize local businesses, alleviate parking issues, and provide residents with first-class public spaces and activities for young and old.

While I’m saddened by the relocation of our displaced residents, and I’m also not thrilled to see the former post-World War II Mid-Century Modern American Legion Post building disappear, these veterans, men and women, will soon have a modern, world-class waterfront facility overlooking Biscayne Bay. Let freedom ring!

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