City of Miami returns Miami 21 land plan revamp to limbo for indefinite stay
By Risa Polansky
Miami city commissioners' on-again, off-again relationship with proposed new zoning code Miami 21 is off again.
A plan to approve the code next month and its mapping in the fall turned sour last week, when Commissioner Tomás Regalado appealed to fellow commissioners to give residents a better chance to understand the complex code and growth blueprint.
"When we are prepared, we should vote on it," he said. "But it is unfair to vote on something that people don't know. To me, Miami 21 is another Global Agreement done in a way that people don't have the information."
The commission agreed last month to scrap its original plan to approve the code in quadrants, deciding instead to roll it out citywide. They later set a special meeting for April 8 to approve only the code portion, with mapping to follow.
But property owners in areas outside the east quadrant, where the plan has been in the works since 2005, met the new idea with criticism, asking for more time and more say.
Last week, commissioners Marc Sarnoff and Angel González voted with Mr. Regalado to cancel the special meeting.
The reprieve pleased some taxpayers.
"There are so many unresolved issues on that thing," said Richard Strell, a commercial Realtor and president of the Neighborhood of Edgewater Association of Residents.
He called the plan to vote on a code without accompanying mapping "insane."
Residents might support the code as a whole, he said — until they found out six months later what their property was zoned: "Now that we know what our property classification is, we don't like it."
Planning Department Director Ana Gelabert-Sanchez said in an e-mail last week, before commissioners cancelled the April meeting, that "the code will not be implemented until all properties have been given a zoning classification (mapping). As part of the process, we will be going out to the remaining quadrants to seek community input."
Still, Mr. Strell said, "it will not have been implemented — but it will have been approved."
Planning Advisory Board member Beba Mann, who stressed she was speaking as a property owner, not a board member, was glad the vote was postponed.
"People were very upset it was coming for a commission vote without going to the rest of the quadrants" she said. "And I was one of those people."
Miami 21 came up for a vote in June, but commissioners deferred it, requiring first three informational meetings in each of the remaining quadrants to give the rest of the city a better taste of the proposed new code.
But those "were not workshops like they had with the first quadrant. They were more of an informational type of meeting," Ms. Mann said. "You cannot just rush something like this without getting the input of the entire community. Now, we are really going to continue the process that was supposed to have happened, where the remaining quadrants are going to have a say."
Charles Tavares, a Brickell real estate investor, agreed also that "Miami 21 can be a great thing if (it) is done right," but lamented the lengthy process.
"Ever since the city created the concept of rezoning and remapping the whole city, it has created a de facto moratorium on many projects that otherwise would have come to fruition," he said in an e-mail, "mainly on much needed commercial, offices, medical buildings, hotel projects and large scale mixed use projects that need at least certainty about what kind of zoning and therefore project they are entitled to develop."
As "one of the largest property owners in Brickell," Mr. Tavares said he's "had many large developers from the USA and Europe not move forward in beautiful large-scale projects because the uncertainty Miami 21 has created."
He does, however, still have contentions with the plan as drafted.
"On Brickell West for instance, what they are proposing basically is nothing but the same old decadent and obsolete code. Why waste such a great opportunity?"
People in other areas also have concerns, Mr. Regalado said.
Residents in Shenandoah are "up in arms" at the idea of limiting the heights of hedges and fences, he said, and there's been an "uproar" over the possibility of Coral Gate losing its conservation zoning.
Commission Chairman Joe Sanchez, who voted against cancelling the special Miami 21 vote, worried about the cost of hosting more meetings to fully vet the code to the rest of the city.
Mr. Regalado said he intends to present an "information plan" outlining how to answer questions without running up costs.
He suggests outreach to neighborhood associations through commission and Neighborhood Enhancement Team offices, as well as through the media, rather than hosting more meetings.
"Instead of asking the people to come to us, we should go to the people," he said. "That's our duty."