Currently viewing the tag: "Gated Community"

Commissioner Sarnoff invited the Belle Meade community to Legion Park earlier this evening to discuss the on-going saga of the Belle Meade fence.  Earlier this year the County Public Works Department said that erecting a fence would be considered illegal if the public right-of-way were severed.

The issue of the fence first came up last year after an armed home invasion in Belle Meade. Commissioner Sarnoff listened to the concerns of Belle Meade residents and said he would support and pay for the fence.

After the County Public Works Department issued their statement Commissioner Sarnoff looked for a compromise. The proposed $70,000 fence now includes ADA approved gates at all intersections and will also allow  pedestrian and bicycle ingress and egress to and from the Belle Meade community.

What a waste of money. This fence will do nothing to deter crime. Even if the fence didn’t have a gate it wouldn’t make Belle Meade any safer. Commissioner Sarnoff was very careful to say that “for now” the gates must remain unlocked and that State law could possibly be changed if pursued. Sounds like if the fence does go up, the next step would be to put Belle Meade on lockdown.

The $70,000 to pay for the fence would come from some Quality of Life/Homeland Security Bond. What a joke.  How can we possibly justify spending 70k on a fence that will do nothing to improve our quality of life in District 2. How about working with the FDOT to allocate this money to restriping Biscayne Boulevard? Let’s add parallel parking and make the Boulevard a true commercial corridor where people can actually cross the street safely. The more businesses that thrive on Biscayne Boulevard, the safer Belle Meade becomes.   That’s how you improve quality of life, not throwing up a 6-foot fence that will do absolutely nothing to make us safer.  This is government waste at its finest.

Please email Commissioner Sarnoff and let him know that he should allocate this money to more worthy projects that will actually improve the quality of life for District 2 residents.

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The City of Miami Commissioners  approved a resolution back in October 2010 to fence a public street on NW 15 Street and NW 25 Street, thereby restricting pedestrians access to our public streets.

In February of 2011 however, the County Public Works Department told Belle Meade residents that it could not build a fence because it restricted access to pedestrians and cyclists.  The County PWD pretty much deemed the fence illegal because it conflicted with the Comprehensive Plan.  Here is what the NW 15 Street and NW 25 Street resolution said…

A)The Department of Public Works shall approve the design and the Department of Capital
Improvements shall install the fence and barricade to prohibit vehicular and pedestrian
access, ensuring no public access;
b) the fence and barricade shall be maintained by the Department of Public Works ; and
c) all applicable laws.

I’m confused…So who’s in charge here? The County or the City? Shouldn’t the City have checked with the County first?  I’m glad the County PWD does not allow  fencing that restricts pedestrian and cyclist access.  If this fence did actually go up, it should come down along with the $1.7 million tax payer funded wall surrounding Coral Gate. What a waste of money.

Personally, I would like to see the planning department involved in this dialogue. From the email thread that I received it does not appear that the city’s planning department was ever consulted.

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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.

Last night about 70 Belle Meade residents showed up at Legion Park to hear the details about a proposal to fence off all access to Belle Meade on NE 6th Court.  Currently, pedestrians and bicyclists can enter and exit Belle Meade through NE 72nd Terrace and NE 72nd -77th Streets. Motor vehicles can only access Belle Meade via NE 76th Street.

The majority of the residents voted for the complete fencing off of all entrances on NE 6th Court.  There were about 6-7 residents, including myself, that were willing to find some common ground and voted for an amendment that included fencing, however the fencing would have unlocked gates to allow for public access. The total cost of this project was about $15,000 and the initial burden of this cost, as well as maintenance of the 6 ft fence, would fall on the homeowners. Public access on these streets would effectively cease to exist, but the City of Miami would continue to provide all public services to the community (Fire, Police, Public Works, etc.).  Belle Meade would not become a private community.

Although most of those present at the meeting support fencing, a majority of Belle Meade homeowners is still required to sign a petition in support of fencing for it to become a reality.  Once the petition is signed by 60%-70% of the homeowners in favor of fencing it will be presented to the city of Miami Commissioners for a vote and final approval.

Commissioner Sarnoff was present at the meeting as well.  After listening to the homeowners he told the audience that if he lived in the community he too would want to fence off NE 6th Court. He then proceeded to show support by offering to pay for the new fencing with our tax dollars. Additional police patrols, an effective deterrent against crime, was not really discussed.

The Miami Police Department Commander for the Upper East Side was also present at the meeting. He told the residents that he believed fencing would help to deter crime in the area, but acknowledged it would not eliminate crime all together.  He also pointed out that the area had seen a reduction of crime year-over-year.

Although I do respect the Commander’s comments, everything I have researched has shown that gated communities are not safer than non-gated communities.  In other words, defensive planning does not work. Communities that have transitioned from non-gated to gated initially show a drop in crime, however after about a year, crime levels return to pre-gating levels. Below is an excerpt from research that was conducted in Miami:

The city of Miami reports that “some forms of crime such as car theft are reduced, at least immediately after the streets are closed. However, data indicates that the long-term crime rate is at best only marginally altered” (Blakely, 1995, p. 1).

You can read more about the research that Blakely conducted here.

You can also read this article from the well respected Next American City that discusses the social implications of gated communities on the surrounding neighborhoods. This article goes on to say:

In truth, there is no evidence that homes in gated communities maintain their value better than those in non-gated ones. Nor is there evidence that gated communities are safer.”

One of the best forms of policing is self-policing by residents. Erecting a fence will destroy the walkability of our community, thus decreasing self-policing by residents. Walking an extra half mile to get to Jimmy’s or another nearby establishment is easier said than done. The elderly, persons with disabilities, our housekeepers, and parents with strollers will all suffer if a fence is erected.  So will the businesses on Biscayne Boulevard.

The MiMo Business Improvement District should not support the fencing of Belle Meade.  Businesses within the MiMo district will be harmed by the lack of pedestrian accessibility from Belle Meade. Walking an extra ½ mile for some residents will become a deterrent to engage with businesses on Biscayne Boulevard. Once potential MiMo customers from Belle Meade are in their cars, they can easily choose to shop or eat at a non-MiMo establishment which is more accessible by car and has parking easily available.

I am a new resident and want to make Belle Meade as safe as possible. I respect the opinions and views of my neighbors and share the same safety concerns as all of them. Even with the guard gate on 76th street, defensive planning has already proved to be ineffective. More defensive planning will most likely show the same results. A majority will decide how Belle Meade proceeds and my hope is that together we can find a solution that may actually deter crime.

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My wife and I moved to Belle Meade about two months ago.  We fell in love with this neighborhood on the Upper East Side because of the walkability to the Mimo district and because the area has some beautiful historic homes (we purchased a 1940’s bungalow).

Belle Meade today is a semi-gated community. It lies east of Biscayne Blvd and is wedged between Biscayne Bay, NE 6th Court, NE 72nd Terrace and NE 77th Street. It is only accessible by car through a guard gate on NE 76th Street. Bicycles and pedestrians can enter and leave the community through any one of the streets that connect to NE 6th Court.

There has been a bit of a crime wave going through the area. A few weeks ago the police busted a house in Belle Meade that was dealing drugs. Yesterday there was an armed robbery/home invasion one block from my house. Residents are upset, and rightfully so. But now there is talk about closing off all the bicycle and pedestrian access points on NE 6th Court, thereby creating a totally gated community.

I am not a fan of gated communities.  I believe that erecting concrete walls sends the wrong message to the greater Miami community. For a community to be truly integrated barriers should not be erected to separate the haves from the have-nots. In addition, research suggests that gated does not equal safer. One thing is certain; they give a very false sense of security to the individuals living within these communities. Creating a proper neighborhood watch program is the answer and will show far greater results then erecting walls.

In The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961), author Jane Jacobs suggested that crime could be reduced by having “eyes on the street.” We can increase eyes on the street by forming a neighborhood watch program. We can also keep the existing eyes on the street by encouraging people to walk or bike, rather than forcing Belle Meade residents to get in their cars every time they need to run an errand on Biscayne Blvd. Erecting walls will only reduce the eyes on the streets of Belle Meade.

We must keep our neighborhood walkable. There is considerable evidence and research which proves that homes in walkable neighborhoods command a premium over non-walkable neighborhoods.

My hope is that one day the guard gate on NE 76th Street can come down too. We should work with the surrounding neighborhoods to make them better, thereby reducing crime and making the entire Upper East Side a more vibrant community.

You can check out how walkable your neighborhood is on Walkscore.