Facing legal challenges from business operators and concerns over the “street party” on Ocean Drive, City Commissioners voted 5-2 this week to reopen the street to one lane of traffic flowing southbound. It won’t be immediate, though. Miami Beach City Manager Alina Hudak said the plan will take 45 days to implement.
The full closure was implemented last spring to give residents a place for socially distanced activities during the pandemic and then for restaurants to have outdoor dining options as part of a COVID business recovery program. Since then, two lawsuits have been filed – one by the Clevelander and a second on behalf of numerous properties owned by the Nakash family – seeking a reopening of Ocean Drive. The closures, according to the operators, negatively impact hotel guests by forcing them to be dropped off on a side street and having to cart their own luggage to hotel entrances, resulting in lost business for the hotels.
As the City is currently operating under an expired Miami-Dade County permit to keep the street closed and with a Court hearing scheduled for November 10 in the Clevelander’s suit, Commissioners had to consider their options after City Manager Alina Hudak and City Attorney Rafael Paz said there is a possibility that a judge could force the City to reopen Ocean Drive completely, meaning two lanes of traffic in both directions. While County Commissioner Eileen Higgins said the County would look to support the City in what it wanted to do with Ocean Drive, Hudak said what the Court might do is unpredictable.
With $20M in General Obligation (G.O.) bond funding, the City is going through a master planning process that would prioritize the pedestrian experience. Since the pandemic closure, Commissioners have debated what to do with Ocean Drive short-term after concerns were raised about the “street party” atmosphere.
This week’s meeting was the last for Commissioners Micky Steinberg and Michael Góngora who are term limited. Facing the Court hearing and with two new Commissioners in the coming month, the Mayor and a majority of Commissioners decided it was better to take the action to reopen to one lane of traffic flowing southbound.