Miami Commissioners to discuss homeless, Virginia Key, Freedom Park

Where will the city of Miami hide its homeless population? That’s something commissioners may discuss at Thursday’s commission meeting.

Last month, Commissioner Joe Carollo first proposed a concentration camp of “tiny homes” on Virginia Key to, basically, bus the homeless to and hide them away from anyone in the city. Such an eyesore!

That did not sit well with Key Biscayne residents, environmentalists, beach enthusiasts, black Miami’s — because it was once a blacks only beach — Miami-Dade Commissioner Raquel Regalado, whose district includes the Virginia Key, and even homeless advocates who say it is not the place to gather homeless because there are no services there.

After announcing the plan, Mayor Francis Suarez and Carollo quickly backed off and told City Manager Art Noriega to look for alternate sites.

Read related: Joe Carollo’s war with Virginia Key smells of future development coming

Still, the Virginia Key Park Trust fears that their budget may be cut by the commission — as Carollo threatened at the first budget hearing — in retaliation for not going along with his ridiculous plan. Carollo suggested not only denying the additional funding requested by the Virginia Key Beach Park Trust to hire five more staffers, but taking back the $300,000 already budgeted. 

“This is one trust, one organization that, unlike the Liberty City one and others, has not been run properly,” Carollo said.

All of a sudden? After the homeless camp backlash?

“The Virginia Key Beach Park Trust has been working diligently to provide the public a historic recreational facility for family and community events, concerts, eco-history tours, meetings and a pristine natural beachfront for water activities,” reads a statement issued by the Trust Wednesday asking the public to attend the meeting and support them.

“The Trust organization has put in countless effort and time to partner with other organizations like Debris Free Oceans, Girl Power, Louis Vuitton, The Children’s Trust, Walmart, Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church, Chapman House, Florida International University, Dade Heritage Trust, Hadley Park Seniors and the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau to name a few to support and maintain the mission of the Trust,” the statement said.

“The threat of development has been a constant battle for the Historic Virginia Key Beach Park (HVKBP) and the island of Virginia Key specifically. The establishment of the Virginia Key Beach Park Civil Rights Task Force in June 1999 was a direct response by the community opposing private development on the beach park,” the statement said. “The City of Miami Commission then decided to create the now Virginia Key Beach Park Trust (VKBPT)… to oversee the development of the historic beach park property where they have made countless improvements.” 

Said Virginia Key Beach Park Trust Chairman Patrick Range: “We don’t hold all the cards but the public must maintain their voice.”

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The mission of the Virginia Key Trust is to carry forward the vision for the development and use of Virginia Key Beach Park, promoting and maintaining absolute public ownership and access, fostering its perpetuation as a passive open green-space that includes nature trails, recreational facilities and museum structures appropriate and compatible with the nature of Virginia Key; preserving it as a valuable resource to be enjoyed for posterity, and to honor the rich historical legacy of the social and civil rights history of South Florida.

Many in the community have called upon Commission Chairwoman Christine King, the only black commissioner on the dais, to protect the historic integrity of the park.

But King may need Carollo’s vote when she asks her colleagues to use 25% of the future rent received from the Miami Freedom Park lease, which was approved in April, for the Anti Poverty Initiative that was established by the city in 2014 to help the neediest residents achieve self-sufficiency.

One quarter of $3.78 million is $945,000. Paid over 30 years, that would come to $28.4 million.

But King may need Carollo’s vote and could trade hers for his on her item.

Read related: Miami Freedom Park scores yes vote for massive stadium real estate complex

Other commissioners, however, may have other plans for those funds. And we still don’t know if Miami Freedom Park is ever really going to happen. Miami-Dade County has issues with the proposed office/retail/hotel complex with a side stadium. So does the Federal Aviation Administration, which is concerned with its proximity to Miami International Airport.

It will be years, if ever, before any rent is paid. Miami’s poor really can’t wait that long without making major sacrifices.

The agenda for Thursday’s meeting is fat with other items.

There is a lease for the police department’s internal affairs unit on the agenda as well as several housing projects planned for District 2 by outgoing Commissioner Ken Russell. Both he and Commissioner Alex Diaz de la Portilla have sponsored ordinances on the pilot scooter program and could possibly make it permanent.

Carollo also has an item that would allow for outdoor advertising signs at Bayfront Park and Maurice Ferre Park. Does former Commissioner Marc Sarnoff have anything to do with that?

Commissioners could also transfer $2.07 million of Community Development Block Grant coronavirus funds from the Department of Housing and Community Development’s Small Business Emergency Loan Program to the Parks Department for eligible park improvements. And they want to split up the remaining $52.6 million in Miami Forever Bond funds between them to allocate to parks and cultural facilities in each district.’

Oh, and they could name the 58 acres of land from 14th to 19th streets on Northwest 37th Avenue as “Jorge Mas Canosa Park.”

The meeting begins at 9 a.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 3900 Pan American Drive. The city’s second and final budget hearing will begin at 5 p.m. You can find the agendas and watch the meetings live here.