Before a sparse audience of property owners huddled in a meeting room at the Miami Beach Golf Club, Miami Beach Planning Director Thomas Mooney said planning for sea level rise is the most difficult task facing the city.
“Had we known what was going to happen, we would have built the roads and lands higher,” he said at the Tuesday evening meeting, adding that many older buildings in Miami Beach are currently below sea level.
To prevent the man-made island city from being underwater in the next 50 years, Mooney laid out how new zoning laws require new construction be three to four feet above the current sea level. Mooney joined a four person panel that also included developer Scott Robins and local preservationist Daniel Ciraldo for a monthly forum put on by Miami Beach United, a grassroots organization of city residents.
“Miami Beach is at the forefront of this thing,” Robins assured the crowd. “People are looking to us for answers.”
In addition to the new zoning, Robins, who chairs the Miami Beach Sea Rise Committee, discussed plans to raise roads, sidewalks, and right-of-ways in flood prone areas of the city such as West Avenue by one-and-a-half to two feet. Construction of the project’s first phase between 17th Street and Lincoln Road began in February. Combined with storm water drainage and sewer improvements that include more pumps to deal with heavy rain and high tides, raising West Avenue will ensure water doesn’t drain unto private property, Robins said.
Still, Ciraldo expressed concern about the city’s booming real estate cycle, which is adding new buildings at a record pace. “In a perfect world we would have a building moratorium during the next three to five years,” Ciraldo said. “If we could take a pause, we could really see how [the city’s sea level rise initiative] works.”
Robins disagreed, noting the influx of new property owners paying taxes and fees is going to help fund the sea level projects. “We have raised $100 million by increasing water bills by $7 a month,” Robins said. “Miami Beach is a wealthy city. People are moving in. A healthy tax base provides a lot of money to combat the threat of sea level rise.”
Following the meeting, Robins told The Real Deal that people buying condos and single-family homes are not as concerned about sea level rise as longtime residents are. “You’d be surprised how much people tune the issue out,” he said. “Some people are tuned into it, but most aren’t.”