Currently viewing the tag: "Virginia Key"

Remember the Virginia Key Masterplan? Work has progressed over the past year on implementing the plan, but much more needs to be done. The UEL will convene a morning discussion with Virginia Key Coalition stakeholders to discuss the ongoing implementation of the Masterplan and next steps. Speakers will discuss the recent completion of the North Point Bike Trails, planned improvements to the Rickenbacker Causeway, ongoing Marine Stadium preservation efforts, and the still unfulfilled mandate for a Virginia Key Oversight Board.

Saturday, September 24, from 10 am – 12 pm
@ the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences

visit soon for more details


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The following letter was written by Sam Van Leer in response to the Miami Herald story, “Bike-trail project a lot tougher than expected,” Miami Herald, Sept. 12, 2010.

The Virginia Key Master Plan approved by the City of Miami in July 2010 is based largely on the Consensus reached at the Virginia Key Coalition’s Charrette of September 2009. On Northpoint it protects the unique Nature Preserves and re-creates lost habitats inland, creating new opportunities for recreation within conservation. The very modest monetary investments are wise considering the stench that sometimes comes from the Sewage Treatment facility next door, and seasonal Mosquito and No-See-Um conditions.

A Public Beach is shared by people during the day, and nesting sea turtles at night. Multi-use paths may be enjoyed by all. North Ridge is planted with native vegetation selected to preserve the stunning views of the Bill Sadowski Wildlife Area, Biscayne Bay Aquatic Preserve and the City of Miami beyond. A large area is reserved for Mountain Biking. Picnic areas are along the Beach and the North Ridge. Walking paths allow people to explore the different Native Habitats found in coastal and inland areas. The campground is on high ground, with exposure to cooling and bug-abating breezes. Services are near the already-developed Sewage Treatment area.

Buffers between major human uses are absolutely essential to provide visitors with more personal experiences. Quiet nature hikers and wildlife won’t be startled by fast bikers. Campers can enjoy peace without intrusion. Mountain bikers can ride challenging paths free of walking explorers. Mountain Bikers were well represented at the Charrette’s Northpoint planning sessions, and were part of the consensus. The City Planning Department assures me that 30 yard buffers will be in all final plans. 

Oleta River State Park is frequently mentioned as an example of great mountain bike trails, and it is true that they are fun to ride. What is less understood is that bikers built trails under Australian Pines, and expect that the big trees that shade their riding will be preserved. These Destructive Exotic trees actually kill Native Habitats, and the wildlife that depend on them. In addition, Oleta trails often wind so tightly that there is very little room for Native Habitat. The land use is so intense that it is a form of development, and is not an example to follow for Virginia Key. Fortunately, there are environmentally sensitive layouts that allow for shared use between bikers and nature. 

The 2009 Charrette Plan should be followed, and Northpoint should never be used as a dumping ground again. How many public meetings must we attend to defend it?  Listen to the will of the public, and please get on with it! 

Dear Director Renfrow-

I have been advocating for mountain bike trails at North Point on Virginia Key for over 4  years now, and was pleased when the City of Miami made its decision to move forward with mountain bike trails in Northpoint.  Part of the Virginia Key Master Plan, it may be the one thing that actually can move forward now because its inexpensive and quick and will be enjoyed by many of the thousands of cyclists in Miami and the rest of Dade County.

According to City of Miami Bicycle Coordinator Colin Worth, his instructions were to get it done by the summer and one of the things that were offered to help get it done was the services and equipment of the County Water and Sewer Department.  You have the equipment and manpower nearby and I understand you have a few employees on your team who are enthused by the idea.  I also understand that the county is seeking an easement from the city to run some sort of pipe through  the area as well.

Understanding how long the government can take for some things, I had been patiently waiting to organize the volunteers, but based on the assurances I had received, we had our first volunteer day two Saturdays ago.  We initially limited the number attending to 15 or so and word has quickly spread around the nation about the amazing potential of these trails.

90,000 mountain bikers visit Oleta State Park in Northern Dade County every year, and thousands more visit Amelia Earhart County Park and they (and thousand of non mountain biker families) will enjoy the unique terrain, vegetation and view that Northpoint has.  I understand that we’re basically talking about a 2 county employees for a few weeks with some chainsaws and a bobcat and that it has been promised early on the process. Please honor the original promise and get the crew started this month so we can take advantage of the momentum the trails have generated.

Besides, it’s only getting hotter and stickier back there.


John Voss

President Virginia Key Bicycle Club

Vice President Oleta River Adventure Association

Charity Chair, Everglades Bicycle Club

The City of Miami commission was busy this week. This morning I received a press release highlighting their recent sustainable initiatives, including:

  • The Bicycle Masterplan.  “a map of over 285 miles of inter-connected bicycle routes to be implemented in the City by 2030. These bicycle routes include bicycle lanes, greenways and innovative new bicycle facilities. The Plan also introduces bicycle parking standards and calls for the implementation of bicycle parking racks, shelters or lockers at nearly 1,000 new locations throughout our city.”
  • A Green Job Training Program: “following the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s grant to help train City residents for jobs assessing, remediating and redeveloping brownfield sites.”
  • A zoning Bicycle Parking requirement for large developments.
  • A new landscaping ordinance. This one is just ok. While I appreciate the effort at supporting the Tree Master Plan, and encouraging drought tolerant species, the ordinance has very little mention of native plants, or minimum requirements. This was a great opportunity to require property owners to plant a certain minimum percentage of native plants  (I would say 60%) - helping the overall goal of greening the city and restoring vital habitat connections. A win-win.

Ironic that the city would tout all of these great initiatives (I say sincerely), while simultaneously completely cutting the Department of Sustainable Initiatives (the brainchild of many green initiatives that have generated millions of dollars in grant funding and cost savings). Too bad. It seems in this town we are always moving two steps forward and three steps back.

PS. They also put off a vote on the Virginia Key Masterplan. A victory for environmentalists who have been fighting for less development and more environmental restoration. Interestingly, Commissioner Sarnoff seemed to hint that the island would not be off-limits to development, only that the plan needed further study. He made some excellent points about the existing surface parking, and the potential future of the Marine Stadium. (Even hinting that the future visitors of the stadium might not be younger generations, but more of the ‘Viagra crowd’. Awesome.)

In a separate victory for cyclists, the commission did vote to move forward with the BMX and off-road coarse in the North Point area. Kudos Collin Worth and others who helped convince the Commissioners that this was an important and worthwhile amenity.

The Waterfront Advisory Board approved the revised Virginia Key Master Plan last night in a 9-0 vote.

Conditions included a ban on hotels on the 1,000-acre, publicly owned barrier island, and development of a transportation plan to reduce automobile use on the key. The board also endorsed an administration recommendation to create an “implementation committee” to figure out how to make the plan, which is unfunded, a reality.

The board also recommended putting back in the plan one element the administration eliminated, but that appeared to enjoy broad public support — installing mountain bike trails and a BMX bike run on the key’s North Point. City Commissioner Marc Sarnoff and Miami-Dade Commissioner Carlos Gimenez, whose districts include the island, both sent aides to the hearing to express support for restoring biking to the plan. (Herald)

These are all good improvements. Kudos to the many activists who helped shape the plan and reach a consensus on some of the more contentious issues. While everyone might not be happy with the outcome, it is a reflection of a balancing act between many different groups and their needs.  My main beef remains (as with most urban planning projects in this town) the total lack of defined public space. Garages (where they remain) are unlined, and buildings are scattered around with no particular design or reason. EDSA should know better (although that is what we get when we hire a landscape architecture firm to practice urban planning). Sigh.


Very Cool. Thanks to Sam Van Leer, Executive Director of the Urban Paradise Guild for this cool photo of a Sandhill Crane on Virginia Key. He had this to say about the re-appearance of the bird (a first in an area heavily damaged by decades of environmental abuse):

The bird was  in an area that has been undergoing habitat restoration for years by members of the Historic Virginia Key Beach Trust’s Nature and Environment Committee. Urban Paradise joined that effort at the beginning of this year, performing hundreds of hours of Intensive Stewardship to remove and control Invasive Exotic Plants.

To me, the bird’s existence there is a statement of how, with some human TLC, nature can recover some of the ground it lost. It is a harbinger of Virginia Key’s future, and how the people (and economy) of Miami can benefit by recovering such lost treasures.

I agree Sam. Lets hope that the approved Virginia Key Masterplan recognizes the opportunity to restore a native habitat in an area so close to our urban core.

VK Pedestrian and Bike circulation

Last week the Urban Environment League (along with a consortium of other community and environmental groups) hosted a design charrette for Virginia Key. The intention was to allow interested citizens to offer changes and suggestions to the City’s proposed master plan. Some of the community recommendations can be found here.Many critics of the City’s plan argue that it doesn’t do enough to protect and enhance the natural character of Virginia Key. The City’s previous masterplan (prepared by landscape architecture firm EDSA) was rejected at each public meeting it was presented at, and faced widespread community criticism for allowing too much development on public land. While the revised plan reflects a reduction in development, community residents still feel it does not go far enough in protecting (and rehabilitating) the natural resources of the island.

This from the UEL blog:

The morning underscored what citizen activism can achieve when done in a way that is both cooperative and constructive. Despite various points of view there was a unanimous view heard in the hall that the exercise was useful - if it finds listeners among city and county commissioners and other public officials – few of whom showed up.

The City’s revised plan (which has not taken into account this round of citizen involvement) is being presented before the Waterfront Advisory Board Monday, October 5 at 6:30 p.m. Miami City Hall. Please look over the City’s proposal, found here, and let the board know what you think.

Earlier this week, Urban Environment League member Blanca Mesa posted an comment on Transit Miami regarding Virginia Key and its zoning category under Miami 21. The proposed Miami 21 atlas calls for the northern portion of the site to be classified T-6, which would allow higher development of the site (as reflected in the currently stalled Virginia Key Masterplan). I contacted the city to voice my conern over this inappropriate designation. Planning Director Ana Gelabert-Sanchez sent me this reply:


The existing Zoning Atlas (under 11000 ZO) designates the North Point as C-1 Restricted Commercial.

The Virginia Key Master Plan proposes parks related facilities, enhancing existing natural areas and site buffers within the North Point.

At tomorrow’s City Commission hearing we will be proposing the change from C-1 restricted Commercial to CS Parks designation.

Hope it helps to clarify the issue.

Thanks Ana. This is the right move for Virginia Key and for Miami 21.

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Our friends over at the Urban Environment League Blog have been doing a great job of covering the latest on the Virginia Key Master Plan. Check out the complete May 20 presentation here.  Given the upcoming Planning Advisory Board vote, I thought to highlight some of the good and not-so-good aspects of the plan.


The Virginia Key Master Plan is divided into 7 areas: the Fishing Pier, the Marina and Sports Stadium Basin, the Bill Sadowski Critical Wildlife Area, Rickenbacker roadway changes, the Regional Active Recreational Area,  Shrimper’s lagoon and a coastal hardwood hammock restoration, and  Northpoint Recreational area.


As you can see from the aerial above, most of the key is comprised of natural areas that  surround a WASD plant.  The large area of recreational fields to the south of the water plant is part landfill/part impacted mangrove habitat.


The pedestrian connection under Rickenbacker looks nice, as do the improvements to the marina.


Regional Active Recreation Area

The Recreational area is over-programmed as a Regional Recreational facility. If anything this area begs for environmental remediation, and passive uses such as nature trails. Apart from the 7 multistory parking structures arranged haphazardly around areas called ‘mangrove habitat’, it looks like the planners had their way with the baseball field/tennis court template.


Basin Area Properties

This area has great possibilities, but in its current form is still off. With the recent push to make the Marine Stadium a historic landmark, the plan rightfully uses the stadium as an entry focal point. The big problem with the area is not the size of the development, but the tenuous relationship between the buildings and the public space they try to form.  The development fails street-side by turning its back on the Parkway, rather than having an active street-front with shops that hide the parking and provide a destination for pedestrians.


The ambiguous public realm continues once past the entrance as you veer off of the main axis to enter a circular open area. A simple rearrangement of  the structures around the park would yield a much better definition of public space, while also creating active places people will want to visit.

I hope the Planning Advisory Board and City Commission both think carefully before adopting this plan.  EDSA Planners and city officials should take a ‘less is more’ strategy with Virginia Key, and let nature do most of the heavy lifting.

It seems that once again, the debate on whether or not to restore or destroy the Marine Stadium at Virginia Key, is alive and well. As a big supporter of architectural preservation, it seems to me that the answer is clear. The building is so profoundly unique, all lovers of modernism would insist on it’s restoration. The mind boggling structure, visually defies the laws of physics with its incredible cantilevered roof. While many other such buildings met with the wrecking ball shortly before the resurgence of interest in mid century modern, this outdoor public venue, due in part to its non-central location, has remained in disrepair. It seems to me that if a proper restoration could be executed, this unique setting would be a big draw for a number of varied performances.

With so many amazing 20th century masterpieces, Miami is once again an example of a particular originality not found anywhere else in the U.S. This collection of buildings should be preserved at all costs. There is an active community striving to see to this. The recent declaration of Miami Modern, or MiMo historic districts, both along Biscayne Boulevard in Miami and in North Beach, in the city of Miami Beach, brought a collective sigh of relief..

There are however many worthy historical buildings that do not fall within any of these historic districts. Bay Harbor Islands is home to an extensive collection of such jewels, and it seems as if the city officals will not declare them protected, despite the vocal preservationists doing their best. By virtue of its massive scale and futurist beauty the Marine Stadium of Virginia Key is arguably the most significant of all these buildings. I will continue to keep all who are interested, informed as to how they can contribute to the struggle to honor South Florida’s architectural heritage.

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