February 5, 2021 | Miami Herald
BY MARTIN VASSOLO
One of Miami Beach’s biggest parks is getting a makeover.
North Beach Oceanside Park, a 28-acre lush woodland along the beach between 79th and 87th Streets, will undergo a $12.8 million transformation that includes a new playground, renovated dog park, expanded walking paths and improved lighting.
The plan, which has been years in the making, aims to address safety concerns while revitalizing the park. Proposed changes also include renovating the restrooms and pavilion areas, constructing new decorative entrances to the park and replacing the current fencing with hedges and lower fences.
The city’s Design Review Board unanimously approved the project on Tuesday after hearing largely supportive comments from Miami Beach residents who called into the meeting to discuss the redesign.
It is not clear when construction will begin at the park, which would require it to be closed. The city has considered setting up a temporary dog park across the street on Collins Avenue.
“This is good for the neighborhood,” North Beach resident Sandra Stendel said after the vote. “I think it’s going to be nice.”
A rendering shows the proposed 79th Street entrance to North Beach Oceanside Park as part of a redesign of the Miami Beach park. CALVIN, GIORDANO & ASSOCIATES VIA THE CITY OF MIAMI BEACH
Stendel, who frequently visits the park, said she has followed the project’s progress since around 2017, when she participated in community meetings on the issue. The first iteration of the plan, which the city approved that year, involved relocating about 800 trees, which Stendel said she and others opposed. The city backed away from that approach last year when bids for the project came in over budget. The new plan reduces tree impact by about 85% and relies on raising the crowns of the trees to provide more visibility.
“What we felt was that we don’t need another South Pointe Park,” Stendel said, referring to the more exposed South Beach park.
The expanded walkways will connect to the recently approved North Beach beachwalk extension, a paved multi-modal path that will connect South Pointe Park to North Beach Oceanside Park along the city’s seven-mile Atlantic coast.
Miami Beach to continue uninterrupted beachwalk through North Beach. Miami Beach is one step closer to having an uninterrupted beachwalk along its seven-mile coast, which will give pedestrians and bicyclists a single, paved pathway that will run from South Beach through North Beach. BY DANIEL A. VARELA
As part of construction on the beachwalk, 183 palm trees and 82 others will be removed from the park, but the city will plant 433 new trees.
In addition to approving the park project, the board also recommended Tuesday that the city try to preserve the massive pile of sand at the southeastern edge of the park — known affectionately by residents as “The Hill” — which is currently planned to be taken apart for use in the beachwalk project.
Several residents at Tuesday’s meeting urged the city to build around the hill or at least build a similar elevated structure to rival the ocean views one can see from the hill, which is a city stockpile of sand meant for use in public projects.
“It is the only place in North Beach or Mid Beach where you have any elevation to view the ocean,” said resident Tanya Bhatt, a member of the activist group Miami Beach United.
The main objection to the park plan came from a married couple who own a condominium at Eighty Seven Park, a property that adjoins the park and contributed funding for its redevelopment. They favored the 2017 plan because they said the large-scale relocation of trees would have made the park safer.
“It is beautiful, but it’s overgrown,” resident Brian Rounick said prior to the meeting. “I am an environmentalist, as anyone would be, but not at the expense of human lives when we’re living in an urban area.”
Rounick, who lives part-time in Miami Beach, said he has been woken at night by homeless people gathered in the “overgrown jungle” below. He said the thick canopy of the park, and its blind spots, “could cause a human being to lose their life.”
The new plan was recently endorsed by Miami Beach Police, but Rounick said additional police and community vetting is needed before the project can go forward.
“The security concerns have not been addressed,” he said. “This is about allowing the community to have the time to vet the plan.”
Since the inception of the project, city contractor Gianno Feoli said his team has worked with police to ensure the park would be safe.
The current proposal incorporates police recommendations, like trimming the underbrush of trees to increase visibility and connecting the park through walkways to limit dead ends, said Feoli, the director of landscape architecture and urban design at Calvin, Giordano & Associates, at Tuesday’s meeting.
The original plan to relocate hundreds of trees was not proposed as a safety measure, he said.
Although the original proposal involved relocating trees, the “density of the canopy of the park was going to remain the same,” Feoli added.
“I think it’s important to recognize that the [original proposal] did not relocate trees as a function of safety, they were relocating trees as a function of creating views, which is what we’re doing today in the proposed plan that we’re providing,” he said.