The Magic City Special Area Project (SAP) in Little Haiti has raised a lot of topics our community is grappling with: issues of race and poverty, gentrification and sea level rise, affordable housing, and traffic.

It has also raised the issue of the rights of residents to take part in the planning of their neighborhoods, particularly given there are currently four SAPs in process in Little Haiti and northeast Miami.

SAPs allow developers that have acquired nine or more acres of land to ask for an “upzoning” to build at a greater height and density that they are allowed to “as of right.”

The Miami 21 zoning code and Miami Comprehensive Neighborhood Plan expressly ensure that all residents have a place in the future of the city. These rights are the foundation of building good communities that respond to the needs of all residents, including renters and owners.

We are seeing these mandated policies and procedures to protect the character of neighborhoods and provide community members a way to meaningfully engage in the planning process being flouted by the very government officials residents rely on to represent their interests.

Commissioner Keon Hardemon, whose district includes Little Haiti, took the position that renters were not entitled to participate in the Commission meeting at the same level as owners.

I am co-counseling with Meena Jagannath and Jean-Luc Adrien at the Community Justice Project and asking the court to overturn the decision to exclude renter’s from participating in the future of their neighborhoods and the approval of the Magic City SAP.

The impact of undermining community participation in SAP applications is particularly pronounced given that the sheer size of such projects has the potential to fundamentally change neighborhoods in one fell swoop.

It is precisely when so much is at stake that it is critical that residents be able to actively take part in the proceedings.

The lack of community participation also led to a terrible deal, with Commissioners getting a measly $31 Million in community benefits from Magic City on a $1.5 Billion project.

One only has to look at another recent SAP to figure out that this is unacceptable. Bal Harbour was able to negotiate $100 million of community benefits on a $500 million SAP development.

Our communities need to demand more of our elected officials and developers to ensure that SAPs complement and help our communities, not destroy them.

We have filed our suit to ensure that all resident voices are heard, whether they are owners or renters.

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