New code could hit developers hard in wallet
By Risa Polansky
Some downtown Miami developers could face serious damage to their wallets from a revamped system for calculating maximum buildable space and its bonus-fee structure proposed as a benefit to the public.
The new rules could cost developers tens of millions of dollars, stakeholders said Monday at a Downtown Development Authority roundtable.
The code — Miami 21, to be heard by the city commission today (6/28) — places limits on the size of buildings in some areas such as Brickell but allows "generous room to move" through bonus fees that are to contribute to affordable housing and parks, said planner Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk.
However, because Miami 21 determines a building's maximum size based on a property's net lot size rather than gross lot size and because it requires the inclusion of parking space in calculating buildable space, a developer with a large gross lot size could end up shelling out up to $15 million in fees to build as much as he could consequence-free under current zoning code.
Some are concerned that these additional expenses — which would greatly affect a small number of large properties — could financially prohibit property owners from developing their lots or lead to expensive projects that pass costs on to end users.
"The parking will become the limiting factor for what you build," said Bernard Zyscovich, the architect behind the authority's proposed Downtown Master Plan.
You can't build big in some areas of downtown, he said, "without hitting expensive bonuses."
In part of the Brickell area, where bonus fees are at their highest at $25 per extra square foot, the maximum building height is 36 stories with the option to bonus up to 60 stories. The maximum floor lot ratio is 12, with the option to bonus to 140%.
This means property owners with a large gross lot size and large planned parking structures could take a $15 million hit in compensation for potential space lost under the new code.
Miami 21 is designed to make it "easier for the smaller to go forward," Ms. Plater-Zyberk said, because most of Miami's large waterfront buildings have been built.
Calculating parking as part of usable building space "encourages people to think differently about parking," with the aim of creating a more pedestrian-friendly, transit-oriented downtown, she said.
Requiring builders to work around the constraints through fees "incentivizes" the bonus program, she said.
"The Robin Hood effect of the bonuses — we understand that," Ms. Plater-Zyberk said. "Maybe there are better ways."
Find them, said development authority chairman Joe Sanchez, a city commissioner. "Those numbers are alarming. One thing we need to look into is more tests on real property.
"It certainly defeats the purpose of affordable housing and workforce housing."
Ms. Plater-Zyberk agreed to run more numbers based on specific lots to determine the scope of the issue and pleaded with meeting attendees not to let fear get in the way of supporting Miami 21.