Against the unanimous opposition of its Urban Design Review Board, the City of Miami issued a permit to Walmart on Monday for a controversial store in Midtown Miami.
Advocates and members of the UDRB found Walmart's plans do not conform to the city's design code for Midtown, which has successfully transformed former train yards into a walkable living, shopping and dining district between the burgeoning neighborhoods of Wynwood and the Design District.
But though the plans appear not to meet the city's design and configuration standards for both building and streets, city planning director Francisco Garcia told Miami Today before issuing the permit that "it is design-wise a worthy development project." Walmart claimed in a statement that the store will "[compliment] the existing retail corridor."
Advocates have said they will appeal the decision, and have set up a fundraising page for legal fees at Indiegogo.com.
"We have ONE last shot to end this monstrosity," reads the plea. "We need to file an appeal with the city within 15 days or else all is lost. Once an appeal is filed, our case will be heard by the Planning and Zoning Board. This is the same board that previously rejected Walmart's plan unanimously by a vote of 9-0. They too were concerned at the total lack of transparency in the building department."
Walmart has been trying to receive permission to build out a lot on North Miami Avenue between 29th and 31st Streets since 2011. Last July, the Planning and Zoning Appeals Board unanimously nixed Walmart's zoning amendment request to build loading docks on busy Miami Avenue instead of a side street as required.
After pulling its previous request, Walmart added street-level shops to its renderings, but neighborhood advocates and the UDRB still found the plans non-conformant. Among other issues, garage space above the first floor was neither wrapped in commercial or retail space nor alternately set back as code requires.
But "the only thing they did was add trees to the parking lots and add stripes to the south face, the blank side of the building," Stern told HuffPost. "You're supposed to have a unified design and it's supposed to reach all four sides of the building. That's the design standard, for gosh sakes."
The UDRB had particularly harsh words for Walmart's plans when it voted 6-0 to recommend Garcia reject the design.
“I feel like a violin and I’m being played," said UDRB member and architect-developer Willy Bermello during the panel's February review, according to the Miami Herald. At the meeting, Assistant Planning Director Carmen Sanchez denied the department was making exceptions for Walmart, saying "we simply apply the rules based on the project’s merits."
Debate over the Walmart, which would be the first within the Miami city limits, has also seen residents argue over the merits of a big-box discount retailer. But ultimately, the fight has centered on the store's compliance with Midtown zoning standards.
"What makes great cities?" Argued a resident who works as a city planning writer himself, at a hearing. "It's not mixed use. It's great design, followed by steadfast adherence to the rules."
Garcia did not immediately return a request for comment.