The Sails' development moves forward

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Outcome of two of three recent South Florida cases benefitted boaters’ access

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Waterfront advocates in land use-conflicted South Florida scored two victories this summer, but lost some ground in a third case.

In Fort Lauderdale, city commissioners approved a scaled-back version of a highly touted megayacht marina and hotel complex.

And in Miami, a federal appeals court ruled in favor of marine businesses fighting a city effort to change protective zoning on the Miami River.

The setback came in Miami where public access to boat ramps in Coconut Grove was lost.

Here is a rundown of developments:

The Sails
In Fort Lauderdale, city commissioners approved a smaller rendition of The Sails megayacht marina and hotel complex on 17th Street Causeway and the Intracoastal Waterway by a vote of 3-2 in July. The action settles the developer’s $59 million lawsuit against the city. The city had rejected the development as proposed last summer in a controversial 4-1 vote because of its huge scope. “The Sails is full speed ahead,” said Frank Herhold, executive director of the Marine Industries Association of South Florida.

“We’re ecstatic about the city commission’s turnaround on this issue.”

The developer said the project’s size was reduced 29 percent. The wet marina for megayacht dockage is proposed for 2,200 linear feet, with 150 dry storage slips for smaller craft.

The developer’s lawsuit was based on the fact that no zoning variance was required for construction of

The Sails because the property was already zoned for business use. The site, better known as Pink City, housed a marina, hotel and office for decades.

The developers intend to replace the worn, 8.5-acre parcel with a new, state-of-the-art hotel, office and marina complex.

The Sails represents a $100 million investment with secured funding. It is to be located at the southeastern foot of the 17th Street Causeway Bridge, across from Port Everglades. Opponents said the project was too big, with its planned 30 deep-water slips to accommodate 500-foot megayachts, with drafts of more than 20 feet and mixed-use development.

“We need those new slips, especially the dry stacks, online as soon as possible, as well as the much-needed deep water dockage,” Herhold said. “Developers Tom Gonzalez and Ron Mastriana are commended for their perseverance in this saga.”

Miami River
Marine businesses along the Miami River are fighting to maintain zoning protections the Miami City Commission wants to strip away.

The Third District Court of Appeal recently reversed three rulings of a lower court that would have allowed the city to break its own comprehensive plan and rezone parts of the Miami River from waterfront industrial to commercial — a change that would allow residential condominiums. The rezoning would have been incompatible with the Miami River as a working river because it would not have protected water-dependent industrial uses from encroachment with exorbitant tax assessments to marine businesses, according to Frances Bohnsack, executive director of the Miami River Marine Group.

Since the city was not allowed to break its comprehensive plan, they are formulating a new plan that would coincide with residential development. Condo development is knocking next door and the city is making it hard for marine businesses that employ 15,200 people to survive on the Miami River, said Bohnsack.

“Instead of having a marine industrial zoning code, the proposed version will have something called D1 (light industrial) and D2 (heavy industrial),” Bonsack said. “What is now the marine industrial zoning will be collapsed into D2. At first glance, this does not seem particularly devious until you realize that D2 has restricted hours of operations (not good for the shipping industry that has to come in under high tide), and new setback requirements for both the street side face of the property and the riverside face — these make already shallow properties practically unusable for marine industry because of limited upland space. D2 also has restrictions on the hours when cranes can be used, again limiting shipping operations.

So what we have is the city again changing tactics to try to eliminate the industry through another route, since all previous city efforts to do so have failed. We will bring this to the attention of the Department of Community Affairs.”

“[The city of Miami] is going to keep on trying and we’re going to keep on fighting,” Herhold said.

Coconut Grove
The Miami City Commission approved a master plan July 24 for Coconut Grove that closes the Seminole Boat Ramps for public access and limits their use to members of the Coconut Grove Sailing Club and the U.S. Sailing Center.

“The proposed Coconut Grove master plan ignores the largest sector of the Miami Dade boating public — those who keep their boats on trailers,” said Herhold in a letter to city commissioners. “Boaters already lost the use of the launch ramp located at the current Shake-a-leg location several years ago.”

Some 75 percent of the boating public in Miami Dade (or about 48,000 people) own vessels 26 feet or smaller, which are considered trailerable. This area of Biscayne Bay is one of very few areas that can support additional powerboat usage, according to the existing Manatee Marina Sighting Plan.

“As a community, we should be looking for additional places for new ramps,” said Ed Swakon, president of the Marine Council of Greater Miami. Swakon said the commission is considering replacing the Seminole Ramp in Dinner Key with another ramp on Virginia Key, which is several miles away and requires a pay toll.

“It puts you in a different part of the bay that is not accessible to offshore channels and is quite congested to travel to,” Swakon said. “Virginia Key has manatee congestion and there is no guarantee that environmental agencies would allow a ramp (in Virginia Key).”

Herhold and Swakon said there was no public input during the deliberations. “It was a foregone conclusion (by the proponents of the master plan) that the ramp had to go,” Swakon said.

“The Marine Council of Greater Miami opposes any loss of the public’s access to the bay,” Swakon wrote in a letter to the Miami Herald. “We don’t need guarantees that the plan will be built. We need guarantees that the boating public retains the access to the bay it deserves.”

This article originally appeared in the September 2008 issue.

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