Support the Crespogram
NUMBER 9 - MARCH 14, 2018
For some folks the cache of living in a house where there is a little plaque on the front yard, or on the wall of the house declaring that the house has been designated a historic landmark is important to them.
At the same time, not everyone has an appreciation for history, even their own, so sometimes knock-down, drag out fights take place between opposing sides on whether to declare a house, or a commercial building, or even a neighborhood as a "Historic site," because of its age, its architectural style, or because George Washington or Jose Marti once slept there.
Miami has had its share of those kinds of fights, like the one over the efforts to declare St Jude Melkite Greek Catholic Church on Brickell Avenue as historic, and the one over whether to tear down the Babylon apartment building on Brickell Avenue because the new owner wanted to built a 48 story condo, or the fight over another building that developers wanted to tear down known as The Office In The Grove.
What was significant with all of these fights was that there was a certain amount of fairness between those wanting to save, and those wanting to tear down these buildings, because both sides could afford the lawyers and all the ancillary costs associated with either trying to save, or knock the buildings down.
In the West Grove there is a new fight that is beginning to be waged, and this fight is not only NOT fair, but there is a definite belief that the city has put a thumb on the scale intended to run roughshod over the very folks they claim they are trying to look out for.
Last year, in response to claims that developers were swarming throughout the West Grove trying to buy up every piece of vacant land, and every ratty old house that they could, Commissioner Ken "Selfie Boy" Russell, who had been subjected to numerous and vociferous complaints about his failure to look out for the Black residents of the area who claimed that they had been instrumental in putting him in office responded to these outcries by turning the problem of trying to stop the developers from the area being ravaged by developers wanting to build an increasing number of big, boxy, modern houses over to the City's Planning and Zoning Department, and the newly hired Historic Planning Officer.
Russell's solution was to try and save the old, wooden houses built by many of Miami's original Black settlers known as "shotgun houses." The law already allowed that to happen by dealing with each house individually, but the historic preservation folks wanted to streamline the process and make it easier on themselves by bundling these houses up to make it easier to run them through the bureaucratic process leading to historic designation, and so the response they came up with was to create a new category within the Historic Preservation Ordinance that would be called "Multiple Property Designation."
Instead of trying to declare the entire West Grove as a "historic site," this new designation would let the historic preservationists go around and cherry pick particular houses that they wanted to include as part of this category.
When this was presented to the city's Historic Preservation Board, they wasted little time in approving the changes, and at the October 26, 20197, Commission meeting Russell sponsored the Resolution making the necessary changes to the Historic Preservation Ordinance.
Russell urged that this language be approved because:
"It's important to do quickly, because homes are being lost every day."
Russell also stated that there were less than 20 of these so-called "shotgun houses," left, and most importantly he rattled off a list of various sources of money that would be available to these home owners to fix these homes up.
Commission Chairman Keon Hardemon had more substantive concerns about the process and the impact that it would have on these homeowners because of the straightjacket that comes with having your property declared as "historic," and the costs and hurdles that come with even the most insignificant changes that a homeowner might want to make.
And of course, the most important impact of all is to the ability of the owner of one of these houses to be able to sell it, because once a property is declared "historic," anything short of a nuclear bomb attack prohibits any of these houses from ever being demolished or replaced.
In the end, none of this mattered, and the changes were approved, because, as the Commission said, "homes are being lost every day."
Here is the portion of the Commission video.
NEITHER GEORGE WASHINGTON OR JOSE MARTI EVER SLEPT IN THE WEST GROVE, BUT SOME OF MIAMI'S POOREST BLACK PROPERTY OWNERS ARE DESTINED TO GET SCREWED THERE
Of course, once the changes were approved, the so-called need for speed to save the houses that were "being lost every day," seemed to vanish.
It took from the end of October to the first week of March of 2018, before the city's Historic Preservation folks decided to call for 2 Public Meetings.
In their defense, they would no doubt argue that it took that long to collect the information on just which homes qualified to be included in this new designation list, and it turned out that Russell's original claim of less than 20 houses, ended up being 51, although in a drive around the West Grove yesterday I was shown other houses that seemed identical to the houses included in this new list, but that had not been determined by the preservation folks of so being qualified.
Also, there was obviously all the detailed information that one would expect that these historic preservation folks needed to prepare for the property owners to provide them with the kind of information that would make all of this easy for them to understand, and lastly, there was the need to reach out and contact all of the property owners so that they would know about, and therefore would hopefully attend one of these 2 Public Mettings.
In fact, NONE OF THAT HAPPENED!!!!!!
The first Public Meeting, held last Saturday ended up being held under a tree at Armbrister Park because it turned out that the city employee responsible for opening the building for the meeting never turned up.
At the 2nd meeting held on Monday night, a number of folks did show up, but upon questioning, it was revealed that even though these were Public Meetings, there had been no legal requirement for the property owners to be individually notified, so they weren't.
In addition, even though these were Public Meetings of some importance and significane to the residents of the West Grove, not only was there no one from the City there to videotape the meetings, but they didn't even bother to bring along a tape recorder to memorialize the meeting on audio tape.
Since I operate on a premise that politicians and bureaucrats in Miami will, if given the opportunity, try to lie to or screw residents given any opportunity, I almost never show up at a Public Meeting without my own video camera.
Here is my video of Monday night's meeting.
There are any number of choice moments on this video of people expressing their anger and frustration over the way in which these meetings were organized, and questions about the impact of this designation on property rights and the inability of some folks to afford the costs to challenge this designation, and then there are also memorable moments like retired City of Miami Fire Captain Elvis Cruz - who forever will be known as the guy most credited by Marc Sarnoff personally as being responsible for his getting elected to the City Commission, where he rewarded Cruz's efforts by getting the Commission to impose a 35 foot building height restriction in the Mimo District on Biscayne Boulevard - telling the Black folks how this historic designation would be great for them, because they, like the collection of mostly White folks living in their large Mediterranean houses bordering Biscayne Bay in his Moringside District, could expect to see home prices explode, (See video at 55:29)
Then there was the allegation of Courtney Omega, a former employee in both Commissioner Russell's office and the OMNI CRA, who claimed that she had on more than one occasion been told not to worry about making sure that residents were properly informed of meetings where their interests were being discussed, because "we need to move forward, and you need to get on this game plan." (See video at 1:14:50 of the meeting below.)
And of course, my favorite, the City of Miami employee from the Historic Preservation Department deciding that in the middle of this contentious meeting it was as good a time as any to tell everyone in the room that they needed to call their City Commissioner to get them to appropriate more money, for more employees for this department. (See Video at 1:13:30)
Also, I must point out that if you'll look back up at the flyer - a flyer that was posted on social media - you'll see that it was only in the last line of the text where the word "historial" appears, and no where does the term "historical preservation appear.
I do not believe that this was an oversight.
Historical Preservation folks have a certain arrogance about the righteousness of their cause, and thanks to a number of court decisions, they now seem to operate on the premise that they don't really have to consider the rights of individual property owners when they decide that there are properties that they've determined need to be protected.
That's why, even though the so-called Public Meetings were supposed to be about explaining the process leading to a number of these "shotgun houses" in the West Grove being designated as requiring historical preservation, these city officials didn't feel any need to spend the time and effort to notify these property owners about this meeting, and in fact, they probably figured it was in their interest NOT to go out of their way because of how it might upset some of these folks.
The really nasty part about all of this is that the only time that property owners need to be notified is when the city historic preservation folks submit a "Notice Of Preliminary Evaluation" to the Historic Preservation Board as the first formal step to declare these houses for historic designation.
When that happens, then these people are SCREWED, because once you're on the list, there is no way to voluntarily opt out!
The only way you can get off the list at this point is to either appeal to the City Commission, or go to court.
Both of the options requires real money for skilled land use lawyers, and this is not the only time lawyers come into play with historical designation properties. Just about any change to a historically designated property comes with legal costs, and oter costs no one in their right mind would consider necessary under normal circumstances, and short of a nuclear bomb attack, these houses can never be torn down.
THE POLITICS OF RACE AND ETHNICITY
I don't want to say that race or ethnicity played a part in how the decisions regarding this latest effort to place these "shotgun houses" under historic preservation this have played ou - YES I DO - but first consider how impersonal the above flyer posted on the City's social media sites announcing these 2 Public meetings are, and then consider the below "invite" from Mayor Tomas Regalado, to the residents of Little Havana, several years ago when there seemed some limited interest to designate East Little Havana as a historic district.
No fancy panel of experts for the Black folks in the West Grove, other than an Assistant City Attorney who kept responding that he couldn't speak to any issues of policy, and a couple bureaucrats who kept tap dancing around troublesome questions from an irate audience.
Not even Commissioner "Selfie Boy: Russell showed up for the meeting.
The only conclusion that was reached at this meeting on Monday was that there needed to be another Public Meeting, and that before that meeting took place the property owners needed to be identified and contacted, a process that neighborhood activits Kathy Parks claimed could probably be done in a couple hours..
Because there is no legal requirement for that to actually happen, I tend to doubt that it really will. but if it does, and if it is indeed the intention of Commissioner "Selfe Boy" to look out for the best interests of the Black folks who own these "shotgun houses," then I would make the following suggestion.
He should make sure that ALL of the property owners on the list of 51 houses prepared by the City be notified by certified Letter, and that those who respond and show up at the meeting have a RIGHT - NOT AN OPPORTUNITY, BUT A RIGHT - to be presented with reasonable, rationale informations about all of implications of what historic designation really means - both short and long term - and that they then clearly be able to express their personal opinion as to whether they want to go along with this.
If a majority do, good luck to them. If a majority don't, then the City and Commissioner need to acknowledge that maybe though well-intentioned, this was NOT A GOOD IDEA and move on.
It's either that, or since this revision to the Historic Preservation ordinance allows for "thematically-related significant properties" to be roped together and designated as such, then the houses of the Mayor, the City Commission, The City Manager and all the Historical Preservation bureaucrats in the city should be designated as "HOUSES WHERE ALL THE PUBLIC OFFICIAL WHO LIKE TO SCREW OVER THE TAXPAYERS LIVE," and ALL of those houses should be similarly protected by historical preservation.
If it's good enough for poor Black folks, then it ought to be good enough for dipshit politicians and their flunkies!
It's Miami, Bitches!