Miami Beach pursues a South Beach baywalk

Plans for a public baywalk stretching from Lincoln Road south to Fifth Street were unveiled at a meeting last week.

(FILE PHOTO - 12/11/08 ) The new Biscayne Bay Walk behind the Capri directly on Biscayne Bay in Miami Beach.



Ambitious plans for a continuous baywalk, linking Lincoln Road to Fifth Street along Biscayne Bay, were welcomed by residents Wednesday during a public meeting at the Miami Beach Botanical Garden.

Though years away from completion, city planners have begun developing conceptual designs for the 8- to 10-foot-wide concrete walkway that would run along the shore, behind condo buildings, over piers -- and possibly even above the MacArthur Causeway.

The essential elements are already there: Segments of the baywalk have been constructed. Completed portions are behind the Bentley Bay at Fifth Street and West Avenue; behind the Floridian condo at 650 West Ave.; along West Avenue from 13th to 14th streets; and at 16th Street, behind the Capri Condominium.

The biggest hurdle the city faces is getting property owners who haven't yet constructed a baywalk to sign off on the use of their land -- or, in some cases, water -- said Assistant City Manager Tim Hemstreet.

''The baywalk is a little unusual,'' Hemstreet said, comparing the project to other public amenities like the cutwalk at South Pointe Park. ``The city does not own or really control most of the property.''

Public response to the plan was overwhelmingly positive. When asked what they thought of the plan, the crowd burst into applause. But some expressed reservations.

''This is a great plan,'' said Ray Breslin, president of the Collins Park Neighborhood Association. ``Sometimes we dangle things in front of the public and make them think they are going to get things that never happen.''

Last year, the city won a legal battle with The Waverly at South Beach to open a portion of its baywalk -- along West Avenue, from 13th to 14th streets -- to public access.

The city is still fighting another condo -- the Flamingo South Beach, at 15th Street and Bay Road -- in federal court over opening its baywalk. The Flamingo is challenging a 1997 development review board order requiring public access, said Assistant City Attorney Gary Held.

The developer of the Mondrian Hotel is also still wrangling over terms for an above-water baywalk at West Avenue and 10th Street.

The same development firm -- Crescent Heights -- proposed an elaborate plan to link the baywalk at the Bentley Bay to the one south of Fifth Street with an elevated walkway above the MacArthur Causeway.

The city has not signed off on that plan yet. Hemstreet cautioned that it would be ''more difficult than any other element'' of the baywalk plan.

Other considerations are environmental permits, required by local, state and federal agencies, said Christy Brush, director of Coastal Systems International, the firm creating the master plan for the city. Some of the permits could take years to acquire, she said.

The city's next step is to develop a schematic design and apply to the Florida DEP for a conceptual permit, which could take up to 18 months, Hemstreet said.