The Unheralded Herald

by Bernard McCormick Wednesday, October 13, 2010 1 Comment(s)

Nobody around here seems to read The Miami Herald anymore, so we take the occasion to bring you up to speed on what you may have missed. On Sunday, Carl Hiaasen, the Herald’s star, on and off the newspaper pages, got off on Amendment 4. He did not exactly endorse it, but he gave an eloquent expression of the reasons so many people support it. The amendment will probably fail, and it should, because of unintended consequences, but the motive behind it could not be more valid. People are fed up with crooked politicians ignoring the will of the people when it comes to development.

When we say “crooked” we don’t necessarily mean money-crooked, in the sense of people taking flat out bribes such as we have seen in Broward County. Hiaasen used gentler terms, but he clearly meant that zoning hearings are a charade. Planning and Zoning Boards, and then local city commissions, pretend to listen to the public, when in reality the votes are counted months before they actually are cast. Behind the scenes players, lobbyists for developers, have gotten the word to the civil servants, also known as staff, that certain deals are done and they better like it or hit the road. It doesn’t make any difference if 100 percent of the people in a neighborhood oppose a development; it is going to pass because the deal is fixed.

There is no better local example of this than the fight between the First Presbyterian Church and its Colee Hammock neighbors. I have a dog in this fight; in fact, I am the dog in the fight because I live there. And I can say without fear of contradiction, that almost everybody who lives in this historic neighborhood is against the massive expansion of the church. There are some renters who may not care, and commercial property owners on Las Olas who want a massive building next to them, because then they can then go to the zoning board and say, in so many words, “You gave it to them, now I’m next. You gave them five stories. I only want ten.”

What makes this case so interesting is that many members of the church are opposed to the expansion. Only a few members live in Colee Hammock but they are among the most vocal opponents of their own church. Among them is Andy Costa, who is a member of the Session of the church. That’s a ruling body of about 25 people. Costa, who lives close to the church and is one of those whose property values will be most affected by the expansion, has made himself a pariah because of his opposition. He is convinced the fix is in. Fix is my term, not his. But not all the First Presbyterian members are happy. The church has never had a vote among its own members on this project. If they did, they might lose.

Says Costa: “There are certainly a lot of people who have withdrawn pledges. Many friends I have in the church have asked for money back. I just know for sure there are many people against it. The Session has chastised me for coming out and voicing my opinion. I am supposed to be silent, not profess my opposition, but I do it because it’s my right. Many people think the church doesn’t need this extra space to grow the ministry. I told them, I’m not your enemy. I begged them to get out of their seats and walk the neighborhood, to see what they are destroying. Nobody did it.”

If this sounds like anger, it’s exactly what Carl Hiaasen has sensed on a much broader level. Colee Hammock, which has people of wealth and smarts, is filled with signs rooting for Amendment 4. Many of the residents don’t think it is a good idea, but they are not tearing down signs. They are mad as hell. The politicians don’t seem to get it. But they will soon enough.


Bernie we need more writers like yourself. I think...

This Comment had been Posted by mmccormick

Bernie we need more writers like yourself. I think there will be at least 2 new Commissioners / Mayor in 2012!

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