The Miami-Dade County Public Works Department informed a group of Belle Meade residents that closing off public access to Belle Meade would not be allowed at a neighborhood meeting Tuesday night. In a letter addressed to Miami Commissioner Sarnoff,  County PWD Director Esther Calas had this to say:

The Manual of Uniform Standards for Design, Construction and Maintenance for Streets and Highways (Florida Greenbook), developed by the FDOT provides minimum standards for the design and maintenance of County and municipal roadway systems, including pedestrian facilities such as sidewalks.  Chapter 8 of the Greenbook provides that “ All new highways, except limited access highways, should be designed and constructed under the assumption they will be used by pedestrians.”

Chapter 15 of the Greenbook provides that if traffic diverters are being installed to redirect vehicular traffic, such as a street closure, as has been in the Belle Meade neighborhood, “Bicyclists and pedestrians should be provided access through traffic diverters.

The Greenbook provisions are consistent with the Miami-Dade County Comprehensive Master Plan (CDMP), which provides that pedestrian and vehicular networks should serve as connectors between neighborhoods, while the walling off of a neighborhood from arterial roadways should be avoided.  It further states that pedestrian circulation shall be provided between public places through connectivity of sidewalks and supplements by pedestrian paths.”

Furthermore, the Pedestrian Safety Guide and Contermeasure Selection System, published by the U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration, states that if a street closure is implemented, it should always allow for the free movement of all pedestrians including wheelchair users and bicyclists. Moreover, emergency vehicles should be able to access barricaded streets.  Additionally, street closures must be implemented so as “not to adversely affect access to destination in the community by pedestrians and bicyclists.”

Therefore, based on the attached local, state, and federal provisions and as stated by our Assistant County Attorney’s email, the modification of the existing barricaded streets to include blocking pedestrian access along the sidewalks in the Belle Meade neighborhood cannot be allowed. However, as an option pedestrian free movement may be provided through the installation of concrete pipe bollards.”

Belle Meade residents where quick to point out that the communities of Miami Shores and Coral Gate had completely closed off road access to pedestrians and bicyclists. Mr. Gaspar Miranda, Assistant Director of the Miami-Dade County Public Works, told the audience that both communities had been advised that the street closures had to be removed, setting the stage for a showdown between local NIMBY’s who fought for the walled neighborhoods and County officials.  The Coral Gate wall in particular was only recently completed and was strongly supported by Mayor Tomas Regalado. How can City of Miami officials, from the Mayor to the public works department be so oblivious to County, State and Federal regulations?

In October Commissioner Sarnoff told Belle Meade residents that he would support the fencing of Belle Meade and he even offered to pay for it with public funds.  He instructed the Belle Meade HOA to gather a petition of support. In response, the Belle Meade HOA went door-to-door to get signatures and a surprising 78% of Belle Meade residents supported the fencing of Belle Meade.

Interestingly, the only residents that were asked to vote were neighbors to the east of NE 6th Avenue. Residents and businesses that to the west of NE 6th Avenue were never asked if they supported the fencing of Belle Meade. I’m guessing that if a petition were circulated to them, most would not support severing public access to Belle Meade.  While the County’s statements may make the closings a mute point, in order to make the process truly democratic all neighborhood stakeholders, including those to the west of NE 6th Avenue, should be allowed to voice their opinion.

It appears that the fencing of Belle Meade may not move forward, or at the very least there is a long road ahead for everyone involved. Our readers know that we here at Transit Miami do not support gated communities; they do more harm then good. Fences divide communities and remove “eyes from the street”, perhaps the greatest deterrent against crime. The less people walk the more dangerous an area becomes. Truly vibrant neighborhoods are those that are walkable and allow residents to interact with ALL their neighbors and local businesses by foot and bicycle. Everyone, including the elderly, the handicap and the carless, depend on easy access to businesses on Biscayne Boulevard.

As the neighborhood continues to improve and more businesses come to the Upper East Side the area will naturally become safer. As a resident of Miami for many years, I have witnessed incremental and steady improvements to the Upper East Side - which is one of the reasons I moved here. Yes, more needs to be done, but severing Belle Meade from its surroundings is not the answer.

An alternative strategy for residents and businesses to help advance redevelopment would be to engage local groups like the MiMo BID and the MiMo Biscayne Association. The MiMo Business Improvement Committee is a voice for the business community and with a broad base of support could become a strong advocate for the neighborhood. Similarly,  The MiMo Biscayne Association has been promoting the area successfully for some time - they understand the value of historic preservation and are another organization which businesses and residents should support.

You might be saying, “Thats great for the long term -but how do we improve safety now??” Here are a couple of easily implementable suggestions for making my beloved neighborhood a little safer.

1. Maintain the landscaping that exist along NE 6th Court - policing by Belle Meade residents and police officers would be more effective with clearer sight lines

2.Take action on the abandoned Vagabond Hotel (tearing it down is not an option)

3. Maintain a strong Citizens Crime Watch program

4. Increase the presence of City of Miami Police

Bollards, as suggested by the CPWD, would not allow cars to access the neighborhood.

The abandoned Vagabond Hotel is cesspool #1 on the Upper East Side for crime, drugs, homelessness and probably prostitution.

Check out the new Citizens' Crime Watch sign. Belle Meade neighbors mobilized after a daylight armed home invasion in October.

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Related posts:

  1. Belle Meade Moves One Step Closer to Fencing Itself from Community
  2. Belle Meade Moves One Step Closer to Fencing Itself from Community
  3. Belle Meade Should Not Become a Gated Community; Let’s Keep it Walkable.
  4. Belle Meade Should Not Become a Gated Community; Let’s Keep it Walkable.
  5. Let’s Stop Pointing the Finger at Fire-Rescue; Blame the County Public Works Department

13 Responses to County Public Works Department Says “No” to Gating Belle Meade

  1. kevin says:

    I’m against any form of gated communities, but isn’t putting up bollards the same in theory as literally fencing off Belle Meade? Yes, it still allows Belle Meade residents to walk around the area, but it also still allows thieves to walk on in. Also, bollards break up the city’s road grid, which means people are going to have to take more circuitous routes from their homes to destination.

  2. Felipe Azenha says:

    With the exception of ne 76th street, motor vehicles cannot enter Belle Meade from ne 72nd Court-77th street. Green barriers which are overgrown currently serve as natural obstacles that prevent cars from entering the neighborhood along ne 6th ave. These green barries do not allow for good policing of the streets. They are dark and scary, particularly at night. These natural barries should be removed and replaced with bollards. Street lighting should be added to make it more inviting to walk. Cars do have to go a few blocks out of their way. I’m willing to live with bollards as long as pedestrians and bicyclists can come and go as they please.

  3. Rog in Miami Gardens says:

    Where is there ANY study that supports the claim that walling off communities prevent or dampen the effects of crime? If someone really wants to commit crime in a neighborhood, no wall or partition is going to stop them. A friend of mine lived in a gated community called Coconut Quay here in Miami Gardens, and there were burglaries constantly. It got so bad that some residents began speculating that it must be an inside job. My friend ended up selling the property (just before the bottom fell out), and moving back to Atlanta.

  4. GreatNews! says:

    Good to hear this.

    I just received info on Operation Street Walker. Police are looking for community residents to show up at hearings for multiple prostitution offenders for longer sentences. Really need to crack down on the demand for them!

    The Vagabond could be an awesome venue for a number of activities. It’s pretty sad that many people just crapped on the ideas that were at least in motion there. Hope they are happy with the result…

  5. ruhappy says:

    Dear Great News:

    Re the Vagabond - What did people “crap on”? Are you speaking of the un-permitted flea market or the overpriced boutique?

    Oh, by the way have you signed up yet to help with Operation Streetwalker?

  6. ReRUHappy says:

    It was constant fighting with the owner of the place, see at least 2-3 articles about it in the Biscayne Times. At least he was putting money into it and had some ideas. Ridiculous to freak out about changing the sign on the place when the whole building is now going to fall apart. It’s pretty easy to do nothing and complain.

    And regarding the ‘overpriced boutique’, what does it matter what they were charging to you? They were in business (and knew plenty about fashion) and now it’s a place where homeless can catch some rest/a BJ.

    Haven’t signed up for Street Walker yet. Not sure I support it, like the drug war, targeting the supply is not the most productive way to go about it. How about just having a cop drive the 20 blocks non-stop on Fri/Sat nights? Or even embarrassing the johns. I’d also be up for just walking the stretch in large groups to let the pimps know they aren’t welcome.

  7. Frank Rollason says:

    Community neighborhoods are defined by the natural boundaries which are considered by all to be the neighborhood itself. Belle Meade has been defined since the 20′s as bounded on the west side by NE 6th Court. We did include our neighbors on the island to have a vote since they would indeed be impacted by a fence on 6th Court. Those individuals living outside Belle Meade live outside Belle Meade. What is so difficult to comprehend about this concept? The vote on the fencing was actually 92% in favor of the fence of all those who voted. We were not able to contact 59 out of the total 399 residences counting the island. There were only a total of 25 “NO” votes. The 76% figure was a scenario I developed in my final report to Commissioner Sarnoff that if all of the 59 not contacted voted “NO” then the percentage in favor would be 76% - well above the 60-70% that the Commissioner requested to garner his support. What is lost site of in all this pro and con is that we live in a democratic society based on the premise of the vote. We select our leaders by the vote, we go to war by the vote, and we are entitled to set policy and direction by the power of the vote. One thing is very clear when votes take place - some win and some lose. Those opposed to the fence were given every opportunity to voice their positions and I have made every effort to keep all informed at each step along the way. TransitMiami and their supporters have every right to voice their opinions - valid or not - fact or fiction, but the bottom line is that the residents of Belle Meade have voted and the fence was overwhelmingly supported. The stop placed by the County in no way diminishes the wishes of the Belle Meade community. On the 4 suggest tacts by TransitMiami, I can only tell you that the HOA has pushed hard to get the Vagabond Motel properly secured and received only lip service from the City. We have pushed hard for more police presence and have been successfull through the cooperation of Police Commander Morales in making that happen. The HOA has championed more Crime Watch participation and the response from the residents has been dismal at best with very few exceptions. That leaves the issue of whether or not the existing barricades should be open to view or blocked by landscaping. To that I would say, there is no imperical evidence that barricades one way or the other has a positive or negative impact on crime, but I would guess that it does make it a little more difficult for the “shoppers” to evaluate what is parked or lying in the yard if they cannot see beyone the barricade. All this being said, it appears the fence project is dead, so we are now looking for alternative measures that can help mitigate crime in the Belle Meade neighborhood and that would be east of 6th Court for those that cannot fathom the concept of neighborhoods.

  8. Paco Becerra says:

    Thank you Frank Rollason for your comment/note

    “I felt it was good to get a few facts out, keeping in mind that many people posting to this type of blog don’t like to let the facts get in the way of the “truth”! ” and “people post using fictitious names and are usually vicious and serve no purpose”
    Great Comment/Note!!!

    We were mislead by Commissioner “S a r n o ff.” A Commissioner elected by us, what a waist. Hoping he is not running for re-election.
    Thanks you Frank and the Association for a great job.!!! for trying and believing.

  9. Tony Garcia says:

    Paco and Frank - what type of blog is “this type of blog” I wonder? Just because you don’t agree with the what we post, does not make your version of the facts any more valid. We advocate for better neighborhoods and a better city - let’s keep the conversation focused on the issue and stay away from ad hominem arguments that dont advance the discussion. Thanks,
    Tony Garcia, publisher TransitMiami.com (PS. If you were wondering, that is my real name - I promise.)

    PPS. Community neighborhoods are defined by their centers - NOT their edges as you erroneously described.

  10. Felipe Azenha says:

    Dear Frank,

    First of all, thank you for posting with your complete name. We really appreciate it. We would also like to thank you for clarifying the voting results. We here at Transit Miami pride ourselves in presenting the facts;we do not like to distort them. Whether 76% or 92% of Belle Meade residentssupported the fence is somewhat immaterial. Commissioner Sarnoff told the Belle Meade HOA if 60-70% or more of the residents supported the fence hewould also support it and pay for the fence. It is glaringly obvious that Belle Meade residents strongly supported the fencing of Belle Meade. The vote, within Belle Meade, was not even close; we acknowledge this and have never denied it.The Belle Meade HOA did what was asked of them. They went door-to-door with an impartial petition, never offering an opinion, and should be commended for their initiative and their community involvement.

    We are arguably the greatest country in the world because we are an open democracy. If this vote were truly democratic, 399 residents and businesses to the west of 6th Avenue should have had the opportunity to vote. We should not selectively choose who can vote, the streets are public; they do not belong to Belle Meade residents. As a neighborhood we all should have voted.

    That being said, neighborhoods are made of centers-NOT edges. Belle Meade is a small single family residential area which is part of the larger Upper East Side neighborhood. Many of us depend on the businesses in the Upper East Side neighborhood for our daily needs. We are only a small part of a much larger community and we must have a symbiotic relationship with our neighbors. Belle Meade will only become safer if the entire neighborhood becomes safer.

    With respect to safety improvements, I believe we need more lighting and at the very least need to maintain the shrubbery at the intersections. It is important to make the area inviting to walk. In addition, police patrolling the area cannot see down the street, which decreases their ability to patrol effectively.

    The Miami Police Department has said that Belle Meade has one of the lowest crime rates in the city. Building a stronger neighborhood will make the area safer for everyone. There isn’t a short term solution to reduce crime. It will take time. Simply putting up a fence and hoping that it will make things safer won’t work. We need a long term strategy to make the neighborhood safer. As the neighborhood improves, crime will decline. I

    One of the most important things Belle Meade residents can do is support local businesses in the neighborhood. The MiMo BID will play an important role in promoting area businesses and attracting more businesses to the area. However, businesses will only come to the area if Biscayne Boulevard becomes more business and pedestrian friendly. Both go hand in hand.

    The current FDOT design is completely auotcentric. In order for businesses to survive 3 very important things need to occur.

    1.Parallel parking needs to be added to Biscayne Boulevard. Accessible and easy parking is essential for the survival of retailers and restaurants.
    2.More crosswalks need to be added so that residents and visitors can comfortably cross Biscayne
    3.The design speed of the roadway has to be commensurate with the speed limit of 35 . mph. The current design speed of Biscayne Boulevard is about 45 mph.

    The MiMo BID, the MiMo Biscayne Association and the South Florida Bicycle Coalition are already working with our elected officials to make this a reality. As more businesses come to the neighborhood, it will become safer. We need to advocate for long term sustainable solutions. In the end we all want the same thing-a safer neighborhood.

  11. Paco Becerra says:

    Mr. Garcia
    With all my respect and to be clear, I’m in agreement with the outcome of this petition.My disagreement is… if we knew from the very beginning that this petition was not able to pass we will not be here today …time wasted. Let me remind you that in October Commissioner Sarnoff told Belle Meade residents that he would support the fencing of Belle Meade and he even offered to pay for it with public funds. He instructed the Belle Meade HOA to gather a petition of support and they did proceed to do that.
    We elect people for guidelines and advice and to teach us how to proceed in cases like this.Unfortunately he was not aware how THE COUNTY PUBLIC WORK DEPT. works.
    What drove me to support this petition? It was simple… in behalf and support of a fa., a robbery at gun point and other fa.facing criminal acts,did happen at the center of Belle Meade neighborhood and not at the edge, if that is the way you define
    “Community Neighborhoods”.

  12. Tony Garcia says:

    Thanks for your response Paco - just trying to referee the discussion! I’m sensitive to the crime problems of the area, in my professional planning experience we never advocate for closing off access to neighborhoods as a crime preventer. There is ample empirical data that shows that crime is not lowered by street closures and gates - criminals simply shift tactics. Revitalizing the surrounding area and having eyes on the street are the only ways to achieve true safety.

  13. Felipe Azenha says:

    @ Paco
    My guess is Sarnoff knew from the beginning that the CPWD would not approve the fence. He is a smart man, a politician, and an attorney. He waited for everybody at the meeting to speak before taking a position and then he chose sides. He saw votes and told everyone at the meeting he would pay for the fence. He comes out looking like the good guy fighting for the community.
    He took a similar strategy with Home Depot in Coconut Grove where he is a resident. He led the charge against Home Depot, probably knowing very well that there was nothing he or the Coconut Grove community could do stop Home Depot from opening a store in Coconut Grove. He took the lead and gained support from the Coconut Grove community. His campaign against Home Depot was the catalyst that helped launch his political career, which eventually propelled him to Commission seat. Brilliant.

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