‘Why are we the guinea pig?’: Climate change project divides a Miami Beach neighborhood

Miami Beach’s answer to sea levels pushed higher and higher by climate change — raised roads — has been endorsed by international experts and scientists as the future of infrastructure in a warming world.

But at home, the idea has split a tiny, tony neighborhood in two, with some residents developing an opposition homeowners group to battle what they call a “coup” from the original association. They say the elevated roads will push water onto their yards and sink their property value.

“Why are we the guinea pig for every coastal city on the planet?” said Bob Kunst, president of the newly formed nonprofit We Love Lakeview. “What the city is doing is putting our homes up for sale.”

Lakeview, a sleepy neighborhood best known for its extravagant Halloween trick-or treating, is next up on the list of neighborhoods the city plans to revamp to be sea rise ready. Miami Beach is regularly cited as “ground zero” for climate change and has hundreds of millions of dollars of real estate at risk as early as 2060, when scientists say the world could see between 14 and 34 inches of sea rise.

Business and academic experts has confirmed the city’s strategy of raising roads is the right one to keep public property safe from floodwaters. Topographic maps show that the Lakeview has miles of road with less than two feet of elevation above sea level, particularly on the bay side, and the city’s current plan includes raising all public roads to 3.7 feet.

But residents insist Lakeview has no flooding problems and worry that the project will ruin the peaceful neighborhood they call their “Garden of Eden.”

They remember two years ago, under a now-scrapped version of the project, when City Engineer Bruce Mowry made housecalls to explain what would happen to their homes with elevated roads. Nicole Florin, a longtime Lakeview resident, said Mowry told her that even with higher roads, rising floodwaters would eventually spill onto her property and she’d also need to elevate her house to protect against sea level rise.

“He told me it’s a knockdown,” she said. “It’s scary.”

Florin said if this road elevation project goes through she’d have to consider selling her home and moving.

The backlash built over the summer, when the president of the long-dormant original home owner association and nearly two dozen other homeowners asked the commission to hold Lakeview’s place at the front of the line for resilience projects, which include fixing old pipes and raising roads.

The discussion on Nextdoor, a neighborhood social media platform, grew contentious. Several people posted photos of homes next to newly raised roads from previous projects with red text reading “which way will the water run from the street?” sloping down driveways.

There were allegations that the city purposely had not cleaned street drains to increase flooding in the area and pressure residents into agreeing to the project. City records show the drains have been cleaned six times in the past six years: once in 2012, twice in 2013, once in 2014, again in 2016 and as recently as April 2018.


Rina Bass, 32, walks through her Lakeview neighborhood with a chart breaking down which doors she needs to knock on as part of her efforts to stop Miami Beach’s planned project to make Lakeview climate change ready by raising roads.

Alex Harris aharris@miamiherald.com

In October, Florin joined a handful of residents to canvass the neighborhood and gather signatures on a petition with two options: stop the project altogether or pause it until there’s more information. Of the 212 homes in the neighborhood, 83 homes endorsed one of these two options.

Some of the upset residents formed a nonprofit to challenge the old HOA, which is holding new elections in January. Earlier this month, they showed up at the city commission meeting in freshly printed lime green “We Love Lakeview” T-shirts to demand the city stop all work on the project for six years.

The time frame is a reference to the last neighborhood at the top of the list, Upper North Bay Road, which earlier this year successfully negotiated with the city to delay work on their street based on the same complaints Lakeview residents have.

Work in Lakeview isn’t set to begin for nearly two years, said Public Works Director Roy Coley. The city just entered negotiations with a consultant who will examine all city resilience projects and make sure they include more natural and landscaping-based solutions.


Bob Kunst, the new president of nonprofit We Love Lakeview, plans to lead his neighbors in a fight against Miami Beach’s plan to make his neighborhood climate change ready by raising public roads and installing new drainage.

Alex Harris aharris@miamiherald.com

“It’s hard for us to comment on your concerns because we don’t have a plan to look at and neither do you,” said Mayor Dan Gelber. He promised residents that they would have ample opportunity for comment in the future and invited them to speak at the upcoming sustainability and resiliency committee meeting.

That answer did not satisfy more than a dozen residents that showed up. Outside commission hall they talked about sending “5,000” emails, tweets and WhatsApp messages a day to commissioners until the project is halted.

If that doesn’t work and the city decides to go through with the project, Kunst said, the group is prepared to consider litigation.

“We have to escalate,” he said.