324-acre 'downtown Kendall' project to encourage mass transit, pedestrian traffic
By Frank Norton
Miami-Dade County's 1999 development code for Kendall is a blueprint for a massive transformation of the area that already includes plans for 10 projects on 324 acres.
Seven individual projects have county approval, and two are already under way. Most include a retail component but are largely residential in nature, leading planners to forecast up to 35,000 new residents moving to the area surrounding Dadeland Mall that is being called downtown Kendall.
A zoning designation of metropolitan urban center, adopted for the area by county commissioners in 1999, set the stage to attract pedestrians, residents and mixed-use development with ground-floor shops and cafes, said Carey "Lee" Rawlinson, Miami-Dade assistant director for planning.
It also makes use of the county's big investments in mass transit, he said.
Four years ago, Mr. Rawlinson helped create zoning codes for the massive plan that he and others are calling new urban development - an architecturally varied cityscape designed around the pedestrian rather than the automobile.
Specifically, the county's metropolitan urban designation calls for:
nMixed use as opposed to exclusively business or residential.
nRetail components that meet the street.
nAesthetic pedestrian corridors.
nTightly framed streets to create a main-street feel along Kendall Drive, Dadeland Boulevard and Snapper Creek Canal - three primary pedestrian corridors.
nBuilding height regulated by number of stories rather than feet.
nHabitable ground-floor space cloaking garages.
nDoors and windows facing streets.
When fully built out - probably in two or three decades - downtown Kendall's population will be double the current size of Opa-locka, county planners estimate, with most residents living within walking distance of the Metrorail line. In contrast, the US Census in 2000 reported 3,800 residents in the eastern portion of Kendall, an unincorporated portion of Miami-Dade County.
Downtown or eastern Kendall's population is expected to cluster around Metrorail's Dadeland North and Dadeland South stops - a critical component of the county's plan to create population density around existing transit hubs, planners say, instead of sprawling development that clogs roads and highways.
About 90 miles of crisscrossing lines are expected to be added to the 27-mile Metrorail within roughly the same time frame as the development of downtown Kendall.
Mr. Rawlinson said that under the zoning plan, each developer is responsible for building sections of roads consistent with design and building standards to ensure continuity. Sufficient water and sewer utilities, he said, are in place.
If growth does come, the county's Department of Planning and Zoning will be responsible for overseeing the development of buildings and roads to ensure that projects are consistent with zoning regulations in the metropolitan urban designation, he said.
Although skeptics downplay the vision as a distant fantasy, planners and developers see it as a dream come true. This month, two of downtown Kendall's most ambitious projects are moving toward reality.
The urban vision got its start in 1995 when chambers of commerce, the county government and Kendall residents and businesses began working with Miami-Dade Transit, Florida's Eastward Ho! program, the South Florida Water Management District and other agencies to build consensus on the future of the neighborhood. At that time, suburban Kendall's growth was sprawling around the huge but dated 1.4 million-square-foot Dadeland Mall, built in 1962.
Design firms Dover Kohl & Partners and Duany Plater Zyberk were contracted in 1998 to organize a town-hall meeting in which participants and the consultants planned key concepts for the area.
After refinements and an ordinance-writing process, the County Commission unanimously approved a development code encompassing the North and South Dadeland Metrorail stations and resembling plans often endorsed by new urbanists, who champion a style for community building that integrates various inhabitants into a tightly knit town center. The idea is to enable users to live, play and even work in the same neighborhood, hopefully mitigating added traffic congestion.
"In just about a year-and-a-half, downtown Kendall will house over 3,000 new condo units, adding nearly 7,000 residents to the area," Victor Dover of design firm Dover Kohl & Partners said earlier this year.
In creating the development code, planners also defined building height limits in terms of number of stories rather than feet.
"If you say they can build 200 feet high," Mr. Rawlinson said, "they're going to cram in as many floors as they can fit. The ceilings will be as low as they can get itn and everything will be the same height - no variety.
"We wanted people to invest in expensive buildings that are going to be here for at least 50 years - not buildings that are going to get redeveloped every 15 years," he said.
In addition, "it was so important for us to link land use to existing infrastructure because we'd already made such a tremendous investment in mass transit." he said.
"Automobiles are not given priority here," Mr. Rawlinson said recently to hundreds of South Florida real-estate executives who gathered to learn about the project.
County planners, private developers and real-estate experts said building the community around an existing transit hub underscores a return to urban centers linked by mass transit.
"Right now, we've got strip malls and shopping centers but nothing that ties the area together into a downtown where you can hold the kind of special events that would really bring this community together," Mr. Rawlinson said.
The area's several high-rise and high-density projects are seen by planners as an attractive alternative to sprawl.
Projects that have been approved by the county for the swath of land 9 miles southwest of downtown Miami and forming a triangle around Dadeland Mall include:
nDowntown Dadeland - 416 condo units by Gulfside Development Co.
nMetropolis at Dadeland - 397 condo units by Terra-Archiplan International.
nFairfield at Dadeland - 403 rental units by Centres Dadeland Limited Partnership.
nMarriott City Kendall - 128 guest rooms by MDM Hotel Group.
nThe Colonnade - 555 condo and townhouse units by Lennar Homes.
nThe Village at Dadeland - 745 units by Premiere Design Homes Inc.
nTowers of Dadeland - 218 convertible apartments by The Green Companies.
In addition, there are three unnamed residential developments in the conceptual phase.
"Every 100 homes we put up in downtown Kendall is 100 fewer we have to build out in the farmland," Mr. Rawlinson said.
Designers such as Mr. Dover agree that both urban and natural environments will benefit.
"It's growth in the right place, near transit. It's very exciting to accommodate our growth without spreading out in an auto-dependent form and draining the Everglades."
The area's largest project is already under way. Downtown Dadeland, a seven-building mixed-use project, is to feature mid-rise residential complexes with ground-floor shops and cafes.
Site preparation has begun as builders dig out a 30-foot-deep parking garage on a 7.5-acre plot to serve the entire site. Total construction costs for the project are estimated at $80 million.
Developers think many of the parking spaces may not be needed.
"More than being right next to Metrorail is the fact that you're going to be centrally located," said Jackson Ward of Gulfside Development. He said that with the dedicated half-cent sales surtax, Metrorail will become part of an expanding and increasingly marketable system that will attract residents to the area.
Construction on Downtown Dadeland is expected to begin by this summer and take about 18 months to complete, Mr. Ward said. Unit price will range from about $150,000 to $500,000.
Another project set to break ground this month is Metropolis at Dadeland, a 25-story twin-tower development being created by Miami-based Terra-Archiplan. The mixed-use project calls for 397 condo units.
"This is priced for families and young people that want to be centrally located," said Terra-Archiplan principal Pedro Martin. Prices range from $150,000 to $395,000 he said, and although the project is almost two years from completion, 95% of the units are pre-sold.
"There are a lot of very serious developers planning to build there," said broker Ron Shuffield of Esslinger-Wooten-Maxwell, which has sold 70% of Downtown Dadeland's units, "and there's no supply at all." He said there are fewer than 40 condo units for 36 square miles south and west of downtown Kendall.
"The biggest draw for this development," Mr. Shuffield said, "is the lifestyle that is being created. You can walk downstairs after you get home from work and have dinner or an ice cream cone without ever seeing your car. It's not rocket science. It's what every major (metro area) in the country has done."