On November 8, the voters will decide in a non-binding referendum, whether or not the city should build a new home for itself.
The question is not a new one. Various meetings have been held already including a Committee of the Whole or COW meeting recently where commissioners compared the merits of in-house proposals and speculated about the best plan of action.
“Our city hall is 60 years old and showing it,” said Mayor Phil Stoddard in a March 2015 letter to the Miami Herald. “The building is chronically wet: the carpets and walls mold so quickly they need to be replaced every 4 years and employees get sick from the moldy conditions.”
According to a 15 page full color mail out sent to residents from the city, HEI Systems was retained in 2011 to conduct a water damage assessment and they concluded that the laboratory swab samples found an “elevated fungal ecology” or sick building syndrome resulting in possible respiratory diseases such as asthma and as potentially serious as aspergilloma, or tumors in the lungs.
Although no specific employee has officially gone on record to state that they have suffered from the environment, officials have given at least one name off the record and state a natural hesitancy to come forward due to job security and health privacy concerns.
Former mayor Horace Feliu says that if you have a problem in your home you don’t just sell it. He questions the competency of the commission to serve as businessmen brokering such a high stakes deal. “We need to make sure we get the proper value for the land (if it happens), these are not businessmen, not to mention the historical value of the property.”
He echoes the sentiment of those opposed who worry about the well-being of the historically designated coral rock Sylva Martin Building on site, the potential loss of assets, increased traffic, hidden costs, and stepping into a financial imbroglio with no easy way out.
City Manager Steve Alexander said the sale of city hall is a “no brainer.” “The building has gone past its life expectancy and is not adequate for modern government. The windows and roof have been redone and we continue to have roofing issues, mold, and mosquitoes. The proper renovations would cost the taxpayers between 7 and 9 million dollars.”
He says residents will balk at an imposition of new tax fees and the money needed will not “magically drop from the sky” to make the necessary repairs and internally fund a new building.
Feliu counters that if there were not so many settled and pending law suits against the city perhaps they would have had enough funds to be able to independently afford to do what must be done to fix it.
The key points in the possible scenarios discussed include the police station movement to the inspection station east of the 70th Street post office, a new and improved library, and a maximum usage of the 3-plus acres, where city hall is located, to possibly include a residential building, senior living facility, medical office space, and perhaps a hotel or grocery store on the premises. The historic Sylva Martin building could be protected and moved to the Underline said Commissioner Josh Liebman.
“It is tough to argue against a new library, new city hall, new police department, increased tax base, and beautifying the city at no cost to the taxpayers,” said Liebman. “I see the process as being seamless because the city could continue to operate in the antiquated building while the new city hall is being built in the library footprints. Once that is completed the new parcels can be built.”
Based on comments at the last COW meeting, Mayor Stoddard, Vice Mayor Bob Welsh, and Commissioner Liebman are in favor. Commissioner Walter Harris appears to be convinced so long as the sewer situation is addressed and resolved in Snapper Creek. Commissioner Gabriel Edmond wants to be assured of a fair and democratic bid process to get the most competitive results for the city and to possibly include a formal request for proposals from the public.
The sale of the city hall land or adjacent properties could yield from 15 to 45 million according to quoted figures thus far and would depend on the extent to which the property is used. Future charrettes or moderated town hall meetings would be a part of the process according to the city brochure to determine the extent of the development.
Whatever the proposed outcome, increased traffic seems to be a foregone conclusion. Efforts to mitigate that by way of opening up an additional street or two or other easements paid for by the developer would be a part of the plan according to officials as well as repair of sub-standard city sewers.
But what of all this debate being a bit premature when the ballot question has yet to be read by the voters. The undercurrent of many of the discussions revert back to the issue of sea level rising and the precarious “puddle” city hall sits in and an urgency to replace dilapidated sewers.
“Mother Nature is bigger than Uncle Sam” said Vice Mayor Bob Welsh. “We need to get 50 million to repair sewers now and that is why we are contemplating city hall. If voters say no we could approach it as a bond issue and sell bonds to raise taxes; Miami-Dade County has been doing that for 30 years.”
Should the city use the value of the existing Library and/or City Hall and Police Station property to fully fund, at no cost to the taxpayer, the construction of an environmentally sound and more efficient City Hall. Police Station and/or Library and other possible improvements to the City, such as sewer connection for residences in
Police Station and/or Library and other possible improvements to the City, such as sewer connection for residences in low-lying neighborhood currently on septic tanks, park improvements or tax reduction? YES / NO
Early Voting Starts October 24