After more than an hour where their integrity was often attacked, Key Biscayne Village council members Tuesday unanimously approved the Strategic Vision Plan – a
nonbinding guide to the island’s future that was four years in the making.
An exasperated Mayor Joe Rasco and his colleagues passionately defended the Vision Plan, rebutting critics who fear it is a blueprint for overdevelopment – or as one speaker said “a Disney World style village.”
Rasco said once upon a time a “small minority” also opposed the Village Green, the Community Center and the formation of the Fire Department.
“This document is about ideas. We may like them, we may not like them,” he said. “Do we have to implement these tomorrow? Absolutely not.”
For some of the public comment, a few critics attempted to “gaslight” the Village Council with unsubstantiated claims when it came to the Vision Plan: that candidates lied to voters during the last election, that the process wasn’t transparent or that officials refused to listen to them. Some speakers even vaguely suggested legal impropriety.
“I feel as though you all are trying to do a work around. And what is that, if not a broken promise?” said H. Frances Reaves, a condominium leader and former Council candidate. But in fact, Rasco and Council Members Oscar Sardiñas, Fernando Vazquez, and Ed London all repeatedly said they supported the Vision Plan during the 2022 campaign.
Betty Sime Conroy, a member of the very first Village Council and frequent critic of the plan, said, “I feel very sad and disappointed even saying this but so many of my friends have sent you all emails, people have wanted to talk to you about these issues. And we’re getting ignored.”
There were over 20 public meetings and many layers of community outreach including direct contact with island businesses and condominiums, supporters said. “There will always be those that choose to politicize some of the issues. But it’s more important to be actively involved in the process and contribute,” said Lucía Marin, a former member of the Vision Board.
Alan Fein, a former council member, urged the Council to act after years of meetings, saying critics had made no new arguments and were simply seeking delay.
“No matter what you do, no matter how many meetings you have, at every step along the way, people will say, ‘What’s the hurry? What are you doing? How did I just find out about this? This needs more study.’ And people will tell you that you’re a socialist, or a communist, or a right-winger,” he said.
The Strategic Vision Plan identifies short, medium, and long-term improvements, and the path to implementing them. It addresses key challenges for the island and proposes an array of potential solutions. However, it is very clear in its executive summary that it will hold the line on population density or commercial intensity.
Council Member Allison McCormick spoke to those critics who screamed “time” to speakers who supported the Vision Plan whenever Rasco allowed a few extra seconds for them to finish their thoughts.
“There were worries about what kind of community our kids are going to inherit. I’m a little more worried about our kids watching some of the conduct in the room,” she said. “Rhetoric,” said Vazquez.
In one of the more poignant speeches, Oscar Sardiñas recounted his move back to the island. He said critics of the Vision Plan offer no solutions, calling it “noise.”
“It’s a vision. It’s delivered where we all live today. Back in the past, now in the present, and it will continue to deliver in the future,” he said. “It is concerning to me that sometimes we forget and find a way to demonize vision.”
Former mayoral candidate Fausto Gomez complained – like others – that the Vision Plan incorporated “New Urbanism” to increase density and transform the island into a developer’s dream. New Urbanism is a widely-adopted school of city planning that focuses on walkable communities less tied to automobiles. More recently, it has sought to incorporate sustainability as a design goal.
Council Member Brett Moss, an architect, responded that Gomez had missed the point that the Village’s consultant, DPZ Codesign, was working to reduce suburban sprawl.
London said he reached out to critics on social media, asking them for reasons why they didn’t like the Vision Plan. None got back to him, he said.
McCormick praised her colleagues’ comments.
“This might be like the proudest moment I’ve had on Council,” she said. “I am so happy to be surrounded by people who are so committed to their community.”