The CRA abruptly canceled a meeting originally slated for July 11, leading some residents to wonder whether the agency is being forthcoming about its proposals.
Information from several sources suggests that the CRA is leaning towards bringing a Walmart to the site located between the Metrorail Overtown Station and Interstate 95.
But bringing a big-box retailer was not the original intention when the county, which owned the land, agreed to hand it over to the city. The plan then was to use it primarily for low-income housing.
Any plan, however, had to be negotiated by the CRA with Sawyer’s Walk Ltd., and Poinciana Village of Miami, two Florida companies, over claims raised for the property. A bitter lawsuit also ensued after the county reclaimed the land and the city sued to get it back.
The meeting called by the CRA for July 11 had been intended to deal with the settlement agreement – which has been years in the making – and it is expected to be the main agenda item for the meeting now scheduled for Monday, July 25.
Some residents have begun saying they are being “lied to” about the agreement, including whether the site will be used for a Walmart or housing or both and which developer will be hired. Two developers being mentioned are Carlisle Development Group of Miami and Crosswinds Communities.
“This is crap,” said Harold Spears, 54. “[The CRA] has been meeting in secret and just wants to drop their plans in our lap. What about our needs as a community and our input?”
Johnny Ray Sears, 37, said he is angry with the CRA because “they are lying about the developers.”
“They want to bring in who they want to build and ignore that we need opportunity. We deserve honest answers,” Sears said.
David L. Karsh, interviewed just before he resigned as director of communications and media relations for the CRA to take another job, denied the meeting was canceled because the agency had something to hide.
“We just can’t present anything to the public that is not complete,” Karsh said.
The purpose of the meeting was in fact to discuss what has become known as the Sawyer’s Walk Project settlement offer, Karsh said. “But a few more questions arose before the meeting. We did not want to waste everybody’s time at a public meeting and present a settlement agreement that’s not settled.”
Miami City Commissioner Richard P. Dunn II, who chairs the CRA, acknowledged that the community is fired up over who will be awarded the contract to develop the land – “and rightfully so,”
But Dunn also denies that there is any effort to keep residents in the dark over plans for the prime piece of property.
“This was not being kept hush-hush. This [settlement] has been going on for almost 12 years and it’s all in the open,” Dunn said. “The project has been held up in litigation and we are finally ready to settle. Everything will be out in the open and on the table. I don’t have anything to hide.”
In a draft resolution that had been proposed for the CRA’s July 11 meeting and which will now come up on Monday, the agency will vote on whether to accept the settlement agreement for Sawyer’s Walk with the two companies and also with the county which had reclaimed the land.
If the resolutions are approved, the CRA can proceed with its plans for developing the site.
Just what will be built on the property has not yet been finalized, though plans have been plentiful over the years, ranging, at one stage, from a Florida Marlins stadium – which is now being built in Little Havana — to upscale condos supposedly intended to draw upwardly mobile blacks to the community to low-income and elderly housing and now to a major retailer, Walmart.
The 12-acre empty site is bounded on the north by Northwest 10th Street, on the south by Northwest Sixth Street, on the east by parts of Northwest Second and Third avenues and on the west by Northwest First Avenue.
The CRA is expected to vote on what will go on the land. The settlement accord calls for one block to be used for either up to 687 residential units and 40,800 square feet of retail space or, alternatively, up to 596 residential units, a 125-room hotel and 40,800 square feet of retail space.
The other five blocks would have 150,000 square feet of commercial space and 250 affordable residential units.
Miami-Dade County Commission Vice Chairwoman Audrey Edmonson and Miami Commissioner Dunn both lean towards a Walmart to occupy much of the retail space.
Edmonson said she knows nothing about plans for a Walmart but added, “I’m not against it. In fact, I want a big-box retailer before affordable housing goes up. I just don’t know anything about it.”
But Dunn said the plans do include a Walmart. “And Walmart amounts to jobs, something we don’t have right now in that area,” Dunn said. “I’m not saying that we will settle for sweeping floors and being stock people. I mean real jobs.”
Dunn said there are developers who “want a piece of this. If they don’t get this, there is nothing else left. It’s the biggest deal in terms of land.”
Overtown resident Carl Johnson said that his community needs jobs and better housing, adding, “and it seems that with all these secrets, some folks want to keep us needing.”
“I’ll go to the next meeting because I need to hear in person what they have to say, what they plan to do,” Johnson, 60, said. “They can’t hide information from us forever.”
Cynthia Roby may be reached at CynthiaRoby@bellsouth.net.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Miami Community Redevelopment Agency Southeast Overtown/Park West meeting to discuss the Sawyer’s Walk settlement agreement.
WHEN: 5 p.m., Monday, July 25
WHERE: Frederick R. Douglass Elementary School, 314 NW 12th St. in Overtown, 33136.
CONTACT: For more information, call 305-679-6800