May 16, 2024 - News

Fight to save Little Haiti green space from developers

An aerial photo of the green space in Little Haiti

Photo: Courtesy of Casey Zap, Miami Tropical Botanic Garden

A pair of local organizations are urging Miami residents and community members to raise enough money to save 3 acres of green space in Miami's Little Haiti neighborhood.

Why it matters: The space is considered one of the "last remaining slices of the Everglades within the city," according to the nonprofit Miami Tropical Botanic Garden, which is located on the land.

  • The nonprofit's executive director, Casey Zap, told Axios he has a contract to buy the land, which is home to fruit trees, animals and native plants. (Zap currently leases the space and also lives on the property.)
  • If he falls short of the $4 million price tag, it's set to be sold to developers who plan to build luxury condos, Zap said.

The big picture: The Little Haiti neighborhood in recent years has undergone drastic changes because of new development and an influx of businesses — and the potential sale of the green space further fuels concerns about gentrification.

  • In December 2022, a developer purchased nearly two dozen properties along the district's main corridor, leaving many residents fearful of accelerated redevelopment, the Miami Herald reported.
  • Earlier this year, a prominent Miami developer proposed bringing big-box stores, a new Tri-Rail station and nearly 5,000 affordable and workforce apartments to the neighborhood, the outlet reported.

The intrigue: The green space has often been used for community gatherings and educational workshops, including butterfly gardening, foraging for food and plant-sharing events, Corinne Mariposa, founder and director of Miami Seed Share, told Axios.

  • "We deserve a natural space" and the hope moving forward is to open the space up to the public for even more events, such as free yoga, Mariposa told Axios.
  • Future plans include beekeeping and special needs education programs.

The latest: Zap is aiming to raise the $4 million to purchase the land from the owner before June 26, after which his contract window expires, he told Axios.

  • One of the nonprofit's board members has given the down payment for the property — about $100,000 — and more than $35,000 has been raised from community donations, which shows there is community interest, Zap said.
  • The garden is hosting fundraiser events, such as plant sales every Saturday and workshops throughout the rest of the month and into June.

Reality check: The biggest challenge facing the effort is time — and finding more money.

  • The city of Miami Commission has expressed support for rezoning the land into a public space and designating it a botanical garden, but any loans the nonprofit qualifies for would come in after the June deadline, Zap said.

Yes, but: "This isn't a David and Goliath story," Zap stressed, adding development is inevitable and the Australia-based owner isn't "a bad guy."

  • Instead, he told Axios, "this effort is more about preservation and building relationships that doesn't fuel the force of gentrification."
  • He sees this moment as an opportunity for wealthy newcomers in Miami to form alliances with locals to create something positive for the community.

Bottom line: "Maybe Miamians can't see it yet, but we're fighting for [the city's] soul," he said. "This is about what kind of city we're going to be. Because once it's gone, it'll be gone forever."

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