Across Collins Avenue from the North Shore Open Space Park at the very northern edge of Miami Beach, one can find a line of mostly empty lots filled with rubble and scraggly grass. In recent years, there have been countless plans and small projects there including a skate park, a hydroponic garden and an entertainment complex modeled on the once-famous Wynwood Yard.
Some have come to fruition and some haven’t.
Sharon Weiss, a self-employed property manager from New Jersey, is just one of many Miami Beach residents who is understandably frustrated with the city’s approach to what neighbors call “the west lots” — really a strip of nine underdeveloped blocks.
“I don’t feel like extra traffic, foot and car, would be appreciated,” said Weiss, 46. “This is a very quiet area of the beach.”
Residents like Weiss are exasperated with the controversies that started with destruction of the historic log cabin that was built on the site in the 1930s by Emil Ehmann for his family. It was closed on June 30, 2011 due to budget cuts and served as the center of a nursery. It was dismantled on December 6, 2017. Some hoped it would be restored.
“Many residents here have written letters and created petitions against the dismantling of the log cabin,” said Miami Beach resident Carmen Cazorla-Fiori, who lives four blocks from the lots. “ It’s terrible what they did over there!”
Around the same time, Della Heiman, founder of the once-popular Wynwood Yard, made plans to open a similar facility on the lots. It would include food trucks, bars, and musicians performing — just like the Wynwood facility where Shakira once held an impromptu concert.
Residents were ambivalent. While some cheered the potential job opportunities, others worried the traffic would bring unwarranted disturbances.
After failure to comply with terms of the lease including providing a security deposit or letter of credit for $17,914, the plans for the North Beach Yard were ultimately put to rest.
The North Beach Skate Park, located on 82nd Street, actually succeeded, A small facility that opened April 12, 2018, it includes jumps and rails. Jonathan Strauss, a skatepark designer, spoke at the ribbon cutting with Mayor Dan Gelber. “I’ve built skate parks in China…all over the United States,” Strauss said. “It was so important to me to get one here.”
Though there were and continue to be plans for expansion of the skate park, some are opposed — at least to a massive expansion of the skatepark. Born in Chicago, Carmen Cazorla-Fiori has lived in the neighborhood for almost two decades. She values the few trees and natural areas on North Beach.
“Why expand the skate park on green zones and not use the cemented grounds?” she asks.
In 2019, two firms, Freight Farms Inc. and Energy Cost Solutions Group began plans to build a hydroponic garden on the site. But those plans were cancelled when the city discovered for-profit businesses couldn’t be allowed there, said former city Commissioner Kristin Rosen Gonzalez. (Neighbors strongly opposed the project.)
“Well [city leaders] haven’t done anything to the west lots,” Rosen Gonzalez says. “They run these fake campaigns telling the electorate: ‘We’re gonna build you a park.’ But what they’re doing is selling off public trust or the public land.”
Recently residents of the area began a petition to gain more transparency in the discussion of the lots’ future. About 1200 have signed the change.org petition started by residents Larry Shafer and Ariana Hernandez demanding that more and better thought be put into how to use the area.
“These people in the parks department and the city they just look at this neighborhood like we’re a colony you know?” Hernandez says. “ And it’s just like “What can we do there?”, but nobody asks anybody.”
And Sharon Weiss, the New Jersey-born property manager who wants reduced traffic, has started a petition, signed by more than 1000 people in support of a facility, SoBe Cats and Saving Sage, that has been sterilizing cats in a previously unoccupied building on the lots.
“I can’t speak for neighbors,” she says. “But I’ve been living near the west lots for about eight years and we like this to be quiet.”