In My Opinion
Construction boom is no boon to residents
By ANA MENENDEZ
To understand Marc Sarnoff’s victory, take a drive — or try to — down Northeast 25th Street.
Three new buildings are going up in the one-quarter-mile section east of Biscayne Boulevard. Another half-completed building stands across the boulevard. Six construction cranes dangle over the street, which is plastered with ”no parking” signs.
With construction trucks, blocked lanes, surveying crews and frequent power outages, the street offers a glimpse into the chaotic side of the city’s unprecedented construction boom.
Someday, someone may sit in a loft boasting ”10-foot ceilings w/direct bay & downtown Miami views.” For now, there’s just a lot of dust.
”It seems the city hasn’t taken into consideration the local community,” said Luis Alonzo, 33, an artist who rents an apartment in one of the few original bungalows still left on the block. “This is not a Fortune 500 city. It’s like you’re turning your back on your local residents.”
NOT IN MY BACKYARD
Marc Sarnoff is a Coconut Grove lawyer who made his name by opposing a Home Depot in his neighborhood. When he joined the race to represent the Grove, Brickell and much of downtown Miami, he was little more than a NIMBY long-shot.
Linda Haskins, who had been appointed to replace the swinging Johnny Winton in District 2, had the backing of Miami Mayor Manny Diaz. She also had lots of cash — more than $700,000, and the support (unsolicited, she says) of Home Depot publicist Seth Gordon.
The suburbs are full of not-in-my-backyard campaigns. But in the Grove, the fight against Home Depot was an epic production that eventually led to a documentary film. As more and more construction projects took over old neighborhoods, the Home Depot fight came to symbolize a more general discontent with the pace of development across the city.
Near the end of the campaign, Sarnoff, who raised less than $200,000, got some help from the Miami-Dade Democratic Party. But he hardly needed it. He’d long ago secured the support of those so thoroughly fed up with the way the city has managed development that he probably could have raised just $5 and still walked away with the election.
WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE?
Marc Sarnoff has said his win was nothing more than a win for Marc Sarnoff. And Diaz told The Miami Herald that he shares Sarnoff’s development concerns.
Also, some people believe in Santa Claus.
Everyone else knows the upset was as close to a referendum on Diaz’s vision of the city as we’ve seen so far.
”I liked [Diaz],” said Tema Burk, who owns another 1930s-era bungalow on Northeast 25th Street. “But I don’t know what happened to him, he started out so gung-ho. Somewhere along the line he lost his way.”
Burk, who rents out the place on 25th Street and lives in Coconut Grove, says she voted for Sarnoff. Her disappointment with the way the city has managed development was the main reason.
”Change is going to happen no matter what,” she said. “But it’s unfortunate; the whole character of the city has changed and there’s no way we’re going to get back what we’ve lost.”
Her concerns are also personal: In four years her property taxes have quadrupled. In 2002, Burk paid about $5,000 in taxes for the 3,914-square-foot house now wedged between two apartment buildings.
”I just got my tax bill and it’s $22,000,” said Burk, a real estate broker. “I’m in shock.”
Across the street, Alonzo wonders how long he’ll be able to live in the neighborhood.
The relentless construction has been a hassle. Sometimes the street is barely passable. But he and his wife pay $1,100 a month for a space that includes two bedrooms, a studio and a balcony. At the end of the block, new condominiums will go for more than $1 million.
Alonzo says his landlords ”have been very cool.” They haven’t raised the rent. But out front there’s a familiar sign: “For Sale.”