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Downtown Vision Advisory Committee Report

  • Downtown Vision Advisory Committee

    MEMBER 1 - Fred Landsman
    MEMBER 2 - George Kousoulas
    MEMBER 3 - Marianne Meischeid
    MEMBER 5 - Sean Grenald
    MEMBER 6 - Elliot B. Kula
    Commission Liaison - Barry Cohen

Since its inception by Town Commission approval during the January 18, 2011 Commission Meeting, the Downtown Vision Advisory Committee (DVAC) has arguably proven to be one of our most effective advisory organizations, through a process that has included actionable items at every meeting, that Surfside has seen. The DVAC, originally consisting of sixteen stakeholders, includes representatives from each appropriate Town board and committee,  a mixture of single family and condominium residents (including both full time and “snow bird” representation), Surfside business owners and operators, as well as representatives from such local organizations as the Surfside Civic Association and the Surfside Business Association. From the initial meeting on February 15, 2011 this committee has treated all that attend the monthly meetings as part of the committee; evaluating all contributions to the discussion items and initiatives. Feedback from many residents, board and committee members and downtown business operators and owners formed the consensus that there is a need to reinvigorate the Surfside business district after years of conversation and little tangible action.

With the Miami Dade County Property Appraiser preliminary tax roll for 2011 release on June 1, 2011, acknowledging the continued decrease in property values in Surfside, and the workshop on the Five Year Financial Plan that demonstrated the need to diversify the Town’s source of property tax from the current 80/20 split (residential/commercial) to a more balanced distribution, the Town Commission saw the necessity for a proactive approach to diversifying Surfside’s tax base. The comprehensive vision for downtown, developed in a broad based community stakeholders’ process, was presented to the Town Commission on June 14, 2011 as a path to revitalize the downtown business district with the ultimate focus on supporting existing businesses, attracting new businesses and creating an environment that will support the diversification of the tax base.

As the need to strengthen Surfside’s downtown as the social, cultural and economic center of the Town was established, the DVAC was directed to return to the Town Commission with a comprehensive vision for the district. A broad series of recommendations (the “vision”) was presented to the Town Commission on June 14, 2011 in an effort to establish a path forward. The status of the elements of the vision are included in this update. There is clear consensus from this committee that these initiatives for downtown, taken as a package, would provide a beneficial blueprint for a revitalized downtown. While some of these have been achieved, or are being implemented on a continuous basis, all the initiatives are interconnected. Operating on the basis that a thriving downtown can enhance the quality of life for Surfside’s residents and improve the visitor experience, the committee continually and passionately addresses many issues such as:

  • Downtown Code EnforcementFrom the very first meeting the DVAC has exhibited a unanimous displeasure in the public and private maintenance of Surfside’s downtown. Based on consensus from the committee the Town Code Enforcement identified all external code violations in the downtown business district. Courtesy notices were sent to all applicable business owners/property owners. The Town Manager has assured the committee that all violations would be addressed through the Code Enforcement process until full compliance is achieved. This means that penalties will soon be applied to non-responsive property owners and eventually the matter could go to Special Master. Violations that do not require permits such as clean windows, clean trash behind buildings, remove illegal signs and clean alleys behind stores were expeditiously completed. Violations that require permits such as painting the building, repairing windows and façades as well as exposed electrical wires (etc) required more time to complete. However, it is visually evident that this has been an overwhelming success as the downtown district has not looked better in many years. With the purchase of the Town Commission approved power washer, the gum has been removed by Public Works staff from the sidewalks in the downtown district and the overall appearance of the sidewalks has improved dramatically. All of the palm trees in the district have been pruned. These completed projects, are interconnected to the parking lot improvements, new landscaping contract, vacant window coverings, news rack and awnings ordinances (see below). This is a testament to the Town’s response to the DVAC members concerns and to the overall continued commitment to enhancing the aesthetic of Surfside’s downtown. 

  • Parking Lot Improvement/Landscaping: The parking lot on 95th Street and Collins Avenue, including the extension lot, has been repaved, striped and landscaped. This project is on-going with recent re-landscaping of the 94th Street and Municipal Parking lots. The addition of central parking pay stations has forged the way for a more welcoming experience to visitors and residents’ using the Town’s parking facilities. The holiday season forbearance on citation writing was also successful.

  • Vacant Windows Ordinance: In order to address the aesthetic look of the ground floor vacant property windows downtown, Town Staff were requested to amend the Town’s ordinance that addresses vacant windows. Approved by Town Commission on June 14, 2011, the Town now requires downtown property owners to pay for the Town installation of a Town issued external decorative window covering when their ground floor properties are vacant. Through the use of Surfside photos, many donated by resident photographers, this initiative has positively impacted the visual aesthetic of downtown creating an ‘art in public places’ experience. The next installment is set for 9569 Harding Avenue where the property owner contacted Staff to notify of a vacancy and request a covering.

  • News Racks Ordinance: Thisinitiative also addresses the downtown, and overall Town, aesthetic by requiring news rack dispensers to adhere to a specific desired look. The ordinance, passed by Town Commission on July 12, 2011, requires Staff to work with a dozen publications identified as having a presence in the Town through their present use of news rack dispensers. A six dispenser news rack was ordered and delivered with placement set for Harding Avenue at 95th Street by end of January 2012. Staff will continue to assist all publications in effecting compliance of the new ordinance. 

  • Awnings Ordinance: Part of the on-goingeffort to create a more aesthetically pleasing downtown environment, clearly defined guidelines for awnings will be coming before the Town Commission for final approval on the January 17, 2012 agenda.

  • The Moratorium Ordinance: The Town Commission adopted a Moratorium Ordinance on second reading at the April 12, 2011 Commission Meeting. The moratorium restricted the downtown property owners to only renting their ground floor spaces to retail and/or restaurant businesses for six months. The intent of the moratorium was to allow the DVAC enough time to discuss the issue of restricting service industries from the ground floors of downtown buildings and to return to the Town Commission with a recommendation. While the moratorium has been rescinded, Town Staff were instructed by the Town Commission to return with recommendations from the DVAC within three months. 

As a direct result from the enacting of the moratorium, the Town Manager was contacted by concerned downtown property owners regarding the restrictions and a meeting was held with owners on April 26, 2011. Sixteen property owners, a number from the same family trust, representing approximately seventy percent of the buildings downtown were in attendance. During this meeting a series of conceptual initiatives were discussed and approved by consensus from the attendees in exchange for terminating the Moratorium Ordinance prior to its sunset date.

These initiatives were subsequently presented to the DVAC at the April 27, 2011 meeting and were approved in principle by consensus from those in attendance. Some members at that meeting still expressed their concern for giving up the restrictions on street level service businesses as they strongly felt that this was the only method to achieve the type of dynamic and vibrant downtown that all favor. The DVAC requested Town Staff to return at the next meeting, held on May 12, 2011, with a more specific written statement, including timelines, for ratification by the members so that this vision could be presented to the Town Commission for review at the June 14, 2011 meeting.

At the DVAC meeting on May 12, 2011 a memorandum listing the rescinding of the moratorium with corresponding initiatives to be taken as a package was presented. Designated representatives of the property owners, accompanied by some of their service oriented tenants and concerned residents, came to the meeting as a reflection of their commitment to the vision. Upon discussion of the initiatives, since approved in principle by the DVAC and the property owners, it became apparent to Town Staff that the division between the various stakeholders was deeper than expected. The DVAC voted six to three to adopt the vision, with the rescinding of the moratorium, but to revisit a plan for restricting ground floor uses to retail and/or restaurants with a distancing/grandfathering provision. As this is a non-negotiable action for the property owners to support all the elements of the DVAC vision, the owners left the meeting quite distressed. Upon further reflection and heated discussion amongst the DVAC it was decided that a second vote should be conducted regarding the vision. This second vote resulted in a seven to two vote in favor of rescinding the moratorium as soon as possible and to approve all of the initiatives presented as a package. The DVAC directed the Town Staff to return at the May 25, 2011 meeting with a more definitive plan of action, including specific timelines and commitment requirements from the various stakeholders, for ratification before presenting to the Town Commission for review at the June 14, 2011 meeting. The consensus from the DVAC members was that the Town needed something to bind the property owners to all of the initiatives that they have presently committed to in good faith only.

The Planning & Zoning Board met on May 26, 2011 and thoroughly discussed rescinding the Moratorium Ordinance and for the grand vision to be presented to the Town Commission on June 14, 2011. Understanding that every item needs significant research and discussion and must be vetted through the various Town Departments, Boards, Committees and Town Commission, the Planning & Zoning Board unanimously approved the rescinding of the Moratorium Ordinance and the acceptance of the package of vision initiatives previously approved by the downtown property owners and DVAC that are presented in this memorandum. The Town Commission subsequently voted to rescind the moratorium and to accept the vision initiatives as on-going discussion and vetting initiatives.

Upgrading Alleys: A study of the Town’s parking lots and alleys was awarded on June 14, 2011.   This study included the viability of upgrading the alleys, both privately and publicly owned, on both sides of Harding Avenue. The plan also addresses the possibility of creating a breezeway from the east side of the Abbott Avenue parking lot through to the west side of Harding Avenue. Financing could be achieved by a joint venture with the property owners of the private alley and the utilization of parking funds. In effort to move forward, the Development Impact Committee secured a financial commitment from the Grand Beach Hotel Surfside developers to underground the utilities in the alley west of their Collins Avenue West building and the CVS expansion also includes requirements to address the utilities on the building facing the Abbott parking lot. The Town Commission was presented with conceptual renderings of what the alleys could become. The next step would be the completion of an overall vision and strategic plan for the alleys.

Wayfarer Signage Program: As part of the parking lot/alley improvement study, a wayfarer program was identified. The Town Commission was presented with renderings of potential Town entrance signs, parking identifiers and beach informational signs. The approved consultant is formulating the required specifications for such signs so that the project can proceed to a competitive bidding process. The entire project will be brought back to Town Commission for approval.

Branding: Through multiple DVAC meetings and a workshop devoted to branding conducted with presentations from branding experts, DVAC has decided that this issue needs to be tackled by professionals that specialize in this arena. Staff will prepare on RFP and return to Town Commission for discussion and direction.

Business Improvement District: The Town Manager will continue to meet with the downtown property owners and tenants over the spring to develop a possible Business Improvement District (BID) for the Downtown District. The basic premise of a BID is that the Town agrees to continue to provide a basic level of service and that incremental services such as extra police protection for expanded special events, maintenance for specialty landscaping, downtown marketing programs, cleaning after special events, and the retention of consultants to secure tenants are funded with a self imposed charge on the owners which is generally passed on to the tenants. The use of these funds is governed by the board of the BID. The process for establishing the District and ensuring that funds are collected and property spent is governed by State law and an agreement with the Town Commission. This initiative will soon be detailed to the Town Commission before embarking on a competitive bid process to secure an experienced firm to assist with the BID process and implementation.   

Facade Upgrading Program: The Town Manager will begin an effort to create a consortium of banks operating in the Downtown District to develop financing for a facade upgrading program for the district’s property owners and businesses. Proceeds from the Parking Fund could be utilized to reduce the interest on loans granted for facade improvements. Miami-Dade’s “Mom & Pop” grants, set to be rolled out on January 17, 2012 (see below) may be able to assist some of the downtown businesses with such facade adornment improvements as appropriate awnings and signage.

Abbott Avenue Parking Garage Feasibility Study: A feasibility study would address a garage project on the Abbott Avenue parking lot, an upgrade to the alley on the east side of the parking lot to facilitate a more pedestrian friendly environment and access to the Harding Avenue east side businesses, as well as the possibility of rezoning the west side of Abbott Avenue from 95th to 96th Streets to allow very limited commercial use and/or live/work use in the existing homes. An appropriate landscaping buffer on the west side of the Abbott Avenue homes would also be addressed. A proposed RFP to retain a consultant to complete the parking structure study appears on the January 17, 2012 Town Commission Agenda.

The Current Forty Foot Height Allowance and Amalgamation of Properties: Presently the buildings in the Downtown District can be forty feet in height. In an effort to encourage property owners to voluntarily seek longer frontage national retail and restaurant tenants for their ground floor properties, buildings could be redeveloped to the maximum four stories presently allowed and would not include restriction regarding residential use. Property owners could voluntarily amalgamate buildings to achieve this initiative.  This initiative has not begun and will be discussed with the Planning and Zoning Board before a recommendation for the Town Commission is formulated.

Development of an East West Corridor on 95th Street from Abbott Avenue to the Beach: The Development Impact Committee worked on the preliminary design theme for this project which was presented to the Town Commission. This initiative saw a significant contribution from the developers of Grand Beach Hotel Surfside and financial commitment from the developers of 9501 Collins Avenue. An improved linkage on 95th Street, and eventually 94th Street, to Harding Avenue will help ensure that this project becomes an asset to downtown and increase business development as well as augment visitor satisfaction and enhance the downtown experience for our residents. A workshop is planned in the near future to enhance understanding of the concept.

Rebuilding of Harding Avenue Sidewalks: If the Town Commission determines the need for a garage on the Abbott Avenue parking lot, and the project moves forward to completion, then the Town Administration will address expanding the sidewalks on Harding Avenue between 94th and 96th Streets in the Downtown District by removing some of the existing parking spaces. This would be feasible as adequate parking would now be available in the new Abbott Avenue garage. A small number of spaces on Harding Avenue would remain for bus lay-bys and a valet parking service. The wider sidewalks would provide more space for outside café seating and enhanced landscaping and streetscaping.  A Sidewalk Café Ordinance would govern all aspects of café seating and street use (see below). The financing of this project is yet to be determined but could be achieved through a joint venture with the Town and an assessment on the downtown properties.

Sidewalk Café Ordinance and FDOT Agreement: The Town Commission will review an agreement with the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) governing the use of Harding Avenue business district sidewalks and café seating in the near future. FDOT requires these agreements with all jurisdictions that have café seating on FDOT sidewalks. This agreement, based on the one FDOT presently has with Miami Beach, will lay the foundation for an overall Sidewalk Café Ordinance; set for first reading at the February 14, 2012 Commission Meeting. This ordinance will define all aspects of café seating and umbrellas, including signage and menu posting, while maintaining ADA compliance.

Miami-Dade “Mom & Pop” Grants: These yearly grants, due for release on January 17, 2012 are distributed through Commissioner Heyman’s office and are available to approved businesses in Surfside. They do not require matching funds and may be able to assist our downtown property owners and business operators on aesthetic improvements, marketing plans and securing inventory. Once Staff receives information on this year’s grants, and subsequent requirements, outreach will be conducted to assist in securing as many of the grants as possible for Surfside’s downtown.

Through the actions of the DVAC and the property owners, and with Town Commission support, Surfside’s downtown is experiencing an increase in the upgrading and maintenance of the buildings and the public spaces within the district. Vacant properties are being leased and interest in the remaining vacancies is increasing. The Town will continue with Code Enforcement to ensure that this mission achieves its goal of positively impacting the aesthetic environment, safety and image of downtown Surfside. The Town will also continue its efforts to increase maintenance of the area such as the steam cleaning of sidewalks and to work with DVAC and other relevant boards and committees on additional short-term aesthetic upgrades. The FDOT repaving project will also add new crosswalks at all intersections and at the mid-block pedestrian lights.

The clear intent of the property owners, DVAC and Town Administration is that the initiatives and vision evolve in a very short time frame as directed by the Town Commission and with minimal cost for consultants. The initiatives and vision provide a path to sensitively bring our downtown to a more contemporary place without losing its hometown feeling. This is also a necessary element of the Town Commission’s stated goal of creating property tax equity and fairness through expansion of commercial uses without deteriorating our quality of life. It is the unanimous recommendation of DVAC to continue with the path forward with these initiatives and others that may develop along the way. As so much has positively shaped the downtown through all of these efforts, now is not the time to become complacent. A renewed focus and commitment is required by DVAC, the Town Administration and Town Commission. DVAC has pledged to continue with the process as it is energized by the results and momentum. Staff is committed to reinvigorate the number of stakeholder members to ensure a robust and diverse group to take the vision to the next level for Commission review and endorsement.